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Can movement be therapy for emotional stress?

The more rhythmic and intense the movement, the greater this effect, since it elicits focus.

Emotional stress makes life overwhelming. Sometimes, we experience an extremely stressful or disturbing event, while at other times we accumulate the stress of upsetting interactions over time. In either case we are left feeling emotionally out of control and helpless. Our minds feel like a hamster spinning away on a wheel, leaving us drained, heavy, disconnected and incapable of making rational inferences and decisions. Our bodies feel like logs being lugged around, making daily chores onerous.

Irrespective of how it’s triggered, emotional and/or psychological disharmony has wide-ranging physical reactions and symptoms. While most of us know of the emotional impact (feelings of sadness, anger, fear, guilt, self-doubt and many more) the physical impact is not widely spoken about. This could include muscular tension, aches and pains, difficulty sleeping or insomnia, breathlessness among others.

Everyone’s triggers and responses are unique. Healing from emotional stress, hence, cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. If symptoms persist for long or are severe, do seek professional help. That said, there are a few practices that can aid in self-healing.

Movement

Movement can be therapeutic for a number of reasons. As we know, stress impacts mental and physical equilibrium, turning the body into a repository of unpleasant side effects. A prolonged state of negative emotions like anger, fear and hyper responsiveness in daily life, adversely impacts the muscular and nervous system. Movement and exercise can help address this at a dual level. At a physical level, it helps by releasing endorphins (aka happy hormones) and calming adrenaline. The more rhythmic and intense the movement, the greater this effect, since it elicits focus. Target at least 30 minutes of exercise/movement on most days. It could be any activity that interests and engages you, be it dancing, yoga, sport, running, swimming, cycling. It might feel better to do it in company, to help break any self-imposed isolation. You could split it up over intervals during the day (though half an hour is not much of an ask to reset yourself and get your mind, body and life on track!).

Mindfulness

Try to pay full attention to the activity and how you perform it. Stay with the process. The mind will eventually tune into the rhythm of the body, making you more ‘mindful’ of the activity and yield a positive sensory outcome, including from deep within. For some, this may be attained with gentler workouts, and for some more intense activities could derive the response, depending on one’s personality as well as physical capacity. Remember, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way here. The beauty of movement is that it serves all, and it can be scaled up and down dynamically to make you feel most connected and generate positive inner vibes.

Deep breathing

Focus on the act of breathing and on how the breath goes in and out of the body (‘mindful’ breathing). It acts as another powerful therapeutic tool. This is true even during movement. Movement becomes more mindful when you focus on the breath while executing it, maximizing positive benefits physically (more oxygen, less physical stress) and mentally (greater connection with self, less mental stress). It aids in giving the mind a much-needed break while energizing the body.

Good sleep

Try maintaining sleeping and waking up time and hours even though it may seem silly or impossible. For those with sleeping difficulties or insomnia, the body clock needs resetting, requiring some repetitive reinforcements to break the negative cycle. It’s essential to retrain the body and mind to rejuvenate, rest and recuperate.

Changes won’t happen overnight, but all these practices together can go a long way to impart a greater sense of control, which propels us towards a happier state. It’s about reclaiming peace, being kind to ourselves and catalyzing inner healing.


Vani Pahwa is a Functional Fitness specialist with over fifteen years of experience, and cutting-edge certifications from leading internationally-accredited and globally recognized fitness institutes. She is also a Cancer Exercise Specialist (perhaps one of the first in the country). Sought after for her multi-disciplinary fitness modules and expertise, Vani has conducted fitness workshops for leading corporate houses, conditioning and training camps for various sports communities, training programs for coaches, personal training programs for CEOs of multi-nationals, athletes, junior and senior sports professionals among others. Her combination of specialties, client profile and range, and extensive work experience makes her unique in the country. She is the founder of Body in Motion.

Original article published in a leading national daily:  https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/movement-as-a-therapy-for-emotional-stress/article26566357.ece

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Could Emotional Patterns Make Us More Susceptible To Cancer?

There is a lot of research, clinical data and statistics related to cancer – types, causes, and treatments – available to anyone interested in looking them up. There are, of course, the usual suspects /causes of cancer (more on that later). But there could be a case made out to look beyond the obvious. Scratch deeply and look below the surface. There is another omnipresent trigger we lug around and don’t give this Machiavellian it’s due. It coexists as both cause and effect, feeds off us, is often suppressed, and is usually the last to be addressed, if at all.

‘Unaddressed and unresolved emotions’.

The source of these could be singular, or more likely, multiple. Cracking or crumbling relationships, pressures of work (often tied up with a sense of ‘worth’ & ‘success’), irritants at home (from the mundane to the serious), overwhelming sense of responsibilities as a spouse, parent, child, maintaining a lifestyle, etc. come to mind easily. This tangle slowly and silently claws away at body, mind and soul. Some may immediately label it ‘Stress’. But this emotional web can manifest in other physio-psychological avatars too. It is silent and deadly. It attacks all systems- skeletal, muscular, nervous, circulatory, etc. All organ systems on one hand, and cognitive and emotional on the other, interfering with and impairing our quality of living and coping abilities. While one needs to clearly distinguish and recognize medical reasons for what they are, the truth is, this silent trigger is omnipotent. Abstract though it may seem, emotions wield the power to mess with our tangible systems. They have the capability of producing unwanted, negative, and damaging results in the human body. Sometimes, drastically so.

SHOULD WE BE LOOKING MORE SERIOUSLY AT OUR EMOTIONAL HEALTH IN OUR BATTLE AGAINST CANCER?

A long, relaxed conversation with a cancer survivor friend brought this aspect to the fore yet again. He has overcome cancer twice and tried all treatments – mainstream and alternate, including adopting a complete lifestyle change which most of us can only aspire to. But there remains an unaddressed issue. After years spent on this journey of cancer, getting on and off track, he calmly mentioned this point in relation to his experience of it. It was interesting to hear him analyze his own life experiences. Aware of what’s impacting him (acknowledging the source of his emotional drain), he recognizes the need let it go, and admits that he hasn’t been able to yet. Driven by his emotional moorings, he hasn’t been able to sever this source of recurring negativity in his life despite nudging by family, friends, healers and a few doctors.

He further went on to calmly say that till such time as he lets go, he is not fighting the root causes of cancer completely. (I say ’causes’ so as not to make an oversimplified case of cancer triggers, especially in relation to emotional health, nor is it my intention to present this as a thought in conflict with medical advice or challenge it.) He intends to seriously weigh the worthiness of continuing with this emotional baggage and its impact on his body.

DOES THIS MATTER?

He isn’t the first person – or the last – to have mentioned this connection. There is something more than pure abstraction at play here. And it’s worth acknowledging the elephant in the room. We are, after all, feeding it and it is rolling its weight all over us. Emotions impact us and negative emotions more so. Our bodies respond in myriad ways trying to combat it. Labored breathing, racing/irregular heart beat (cardiovascular), tight muscles (muscular), tingling in fingers/toes (neural), aches and pains (skeletal and muscular), compromised digestion, high/low blood pressure (other body systems)… these are just some common perceptible symptoms and responses to our altered emotional states. We have all experienced them to varying degrees and at different points in our lives. Not to mention what happens to our (emotional) responses and thought process.
It becomes a cause of concern when this altered state continues for a longer period of time. The body appears to adapt and these symptoms become silent and internal in nature. The impact, meanwhile, continues on a wider, cellular level, and various manifestations of this silent aggressor may emerge over a period of time, including possibly, as cancer.

SHOULD WE EMPOWER OURSELVES BETTER?

Does it mean all cancers are somehow the result of negative emotions or negative emotions will always lead to cancer? There is no definite, categorical ‘Yes’ as an answer. But, it could prove helpful investigating and addressing how our underlying emotive states may be leaving us exposed to greater possibility of serious health conditions, including cancer, along with all other clinical causes. As a precautionary tool, I reckon paying attention to emotional health plays a rather important role. We know that a healthy and fit lifestyle has so many advantages in serving as prevention for many health conditions. ‘Fitness’ needs to encompass emotional and mental health (strength and fortitude) too, by constantly sieving out the negative and enhancing the positive. It requires acknowledgement and working upon, with a conscious approach. As a cancer coping mechanism, focusing on positive emotional health and reducing negative (draining/sapping/unhappy/stressful/fearful) emotions plays a powerful role.

Emotions have the power to alter the human state at the conscious and subconscious levels. They can be an ally or a foe in our battle against ill health. They have the ability to align internal systems/processes to either facilitate or hinder external efforts.

So while one may refrain from an outright ‘yes’ to the question raised above, one cannot say an outright ‘no’ either. As science discovers deeper working of the human ecosystem, it is increasingly revealing the intertwining of our emotive state with our physical one.

Humans are emotional beings.

We cannot challenge it nor ignore the fabric that differentiates us. When one goes against the basic grain it creates friction. Prioritizing striving for a residual state of positive emotional health needs a deliberate plan and push. It is not easy. But neither is cancer nor its treatment. Using different techniques to spot and train our emotions, create emotional alchemy, makes sense now more than ever before, with different types of cancers spiraling and affecting all age groups, sometimes with the known triggers missing.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” –C. G. Jung

Originally printed on bodyinmotion.in. Reprinted with permission.


Vani Pahwa is a Functional Fitness specialist with over fifteen years of experience, and cutting-edge certifications from leading internationally-accredited and globally recognized fitness institutes. She is also a Cancer Exercise Specialist (perhaps one of the first in the country). Sought after for her multi-disciplinary fitness modules and expertise, Vani has conducted fitness workshops for leading corporate houses, conditioning and training camps for various sports communities, training programs for coaches, personal training programs for CEOs of multi-nationals, athletes, junior and senior sports professionals among others. Her combination of specialties, client profile and range, and extensive work experience makes her unique in the country. She is the founder of Body in Motion.

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