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Exercise: How it Affects the Brain

Many studies have shown exercise to help depression and anxiety, improve sleep, reduce stress, and even improve the symptoms of ADHD. It’s important that you pay attention to any changes that you notice in these areas, in addition to changes you are seeking that bring you closer to their goals. Oftentimes, clients are thrilled to report that they feel calmer, happier, sleep better, and experience less brain-fog!

Can exercise be helpful in the healing of extreme cases of mental illnesses?

Therapists are now recognizing the benefits of exercise in their therapy sessions focused on depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and eating disorders, among others. With medications that target these mental illnesses, there are often long lists of side effects, some of which can worsen the illness it is trying to treat, or even cause another mental illness in its place. Not only is exercise being acknowledged for the impact that it can have on such illnesses without the risk of side effects, but it is also being acknowledged that exercise can be successful in preventing the return of symptoms.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is among other mental illnesses that exercise is beneficial for. Studies have shown PTSD to have negative effects on the brain and nervous system of the body.

Exercise allows someone suffering from PTSD to approach their hyperarousal symptoms in a safe and controlled environment, allowing the body to change its perception of these symptoms as healthy, instead of as signs of danger. This allows your nervous system to also find balance and release traumatic memory, in simpler terms.

How to Get Started When Starting Seems Hard

Is getting started easy? Not always, unfortunately. Depression could cause a lack of motivation to get started. Those who suffer from PTSD or anxiety may find the different sensations of working out to be very uncomfortable in the beginning, as they can be similar to their symptoms. One who is chronically stressed may become overwhelmed at the thought of adding something else into their routine.

It does get better because you get stronger! Just keep these things in mind as you begin your fitness journey:

  • Keep at it! Give yourself time to get adjusted to your workout routine and be patient if you don’t see changes as quickly as you’d like. The wait is worth the results! Listen to your body.
  • Start out slowly and gradually add to your fitness routine, as you feel more comfortable. Spending hours a day exercising isn’t NECESSARY!
  • Start out with 30 minutes a day for 3 days per week, and work your way up to 30 minutes a day for 5 days per week. Even a walk with a friend or fun aerobics class counts!
  • Talk to someone who supports you in your journey. They will understand your efforts and encourage you but also validate the struggle to do so.

Diana Smithson is Owner of Stronger Today Fitness, a Small Group/Personal Training Studio in Surprise, AZ. Her passion for Fitness and Health creates excitement and encouragement to all she trains with. She enjoys being in the mountains, hanging with her family and sleeping.

Disclaimer: This article was modified from its original version found on https://blog.findyourtrainer.com/2019/06/06/how-exercise-can-benefit-your-mental-health/

active adults walking

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 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!).


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

Unknown food

Body Image and Disordered Eating

Nearly 8 million individuals in the US currently have a diagnosable eating disorder. Though that is a big number, it’s not big enough to guarantee that everyone reading this knows someone who is impacted.  

Here’s the thing, that number DOES NOT include those with more subtle disordered eating symptoms. This broadens the scope quite a bit. 

What if we looked at diagnosable eating disorders as the far end of a spectrum?

Let’s call the other end, healthy intuitive eating.  

What does that mean?  Healthy intuitive eating means that you eat when you are hungry.  It also means that you eat what you are hungry for, and you stop when you feel satisfied.  

There are people that fall on that far end. Truly. I have even met one or two!  They are not unicorns- possibly the closest living things though. 

Let’s label everything in the middle as “disordered eating”.  This would include behaviors like overeating, food restricting, skipping meals, over-exercising, overly rigid eating schedules and so many more.

The majority of people, that I know anyway, lie somewhere in that space. Would you agree? Where do you fall?  

The big difference between eating disorders and disordered eating is that the latter is typically not lethal and is not all-encompassing. 

The big similarity is that more often than not, individuals impacted have a poor body image.  

Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:

  • What you believe about your own appearance 
  • How you feel about your body
  • How you sense and control your body as you move.  
  • How you physically experience or feel in your body. 

Many of us internalize messages starting at a young age that can lead to either positive or negative body image. Let’s clarify what that means.

Positive body image is a clear, true perception of your shape; seeing the various parts of your body as they really are. Body positivity involves feeling comfortable and confident in your body, accepting your natural body shape and size, and recognizing that physical appearance says very little about one’s character and value as a person. 

A negative body image, on the other hand, involves a distorted perception of one’s shape. Negative body image involves feelings of shame, anxiety, and self-consciousness. Those with negative body image are constantly comparing themselves to others without recognizing that they are essentially comparing apples to bananas… oranges aren’t far enough away…  In such comparisons, they determine their perceived self-worth or value.

As with disordered eating, body image concerns can affect most of us. Recognizing the positive in our bodies can have a huge impact on both of these things.  When you are stuck in a spiral of negative self talk, try thinking about things that your body can do.  It is easy to judge your looks by looking through unrealistic lenses, but what if you took a moment to appreciate the amazing machine that you possess.   

Webinar with Karli Taylor and Christine Conti


Karli Taylor is an entrepreneur and leader passionately working to shape the nation’s fitness and wellness industry through innovative programming that can be incorporated into any lifestyle.  Karli has been in the industry for over 20 years. Beginning as a group exercise instructor and personal trainer, she worked her way to an executive position at a fitness chain in the northeast where she worked behind the scenes for 5 years, until her love of teaching drove her to leave the corporate office for the gym floor.  She is the co-founder and creator of BarreFlow, through which she certifies fitness professionals around the globe.




Taking Fear from Foe to Friend

Step One: Acknowledge and Accept Fear  

Acknowledging and accepting your fear is the first step toward limiting its power over you. Acknowledgement requires you to admit that you have fears, and acceptance requires you to realize their power. Congratulations, you are human! We all have fears, but the ways they affect our lives depends on the relationship we choose to create with them.  

  • Don’t be a Denier. Deniers bury their fears so deeply that the fears often go unrealized, gaining an unknown power over the Denier. The danger is that at any moment, the Denier may be confronted by their formerly hidden fears, which seem to come out of nowhere, overwhelming the person’s thoughts, decisions, and actions. Just because you  deny them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. 
  • Don’t be a Pretender. Pretenders admit their fear, but rely on their ability to vanquish, destroy, eliminate, and ultimately control it. They live under the misguided belief that they can make fears disappear. The problem arises when the fear the Pretender thought was destroyed comes back with a vengeance at an inopportune time. As with the Denier, that re-emerged fear can affect thoughts, decisions, and actions, potentially  placing the person on the pathway to unwittingly forfeit their dreams.  

Once you acknowledge the existence of your fear and learn how to address it productively instead of fighting it, you reclaim some of your power over it.  

Step Two: Find Your Fear’s Origins  

  • Determine where your fear originates and gain a deeper understanding of yourself. Knowing “the why” is a power diffuser. Is your fear based in lack of self-worth, self-love, self-doubt, rejection, or feelings of failure, or trepidation of success? If so, where did  this emotional trigger come from? Examine the negative assumptions you are making  and determine their source. This could be a childhood experience, something someone  said that you internalized, or some other event that created a negative self-assessment, which in turn is creating a fear. Knowledge is power, and it places you on the pathway toward healing.  
  • Take action to heal your fears’ origins. Healing comes through loving yourself and  seeking a deeper and richer understand of your authentic core. In my book, Yes! Commit. Do. Live, I explain, your “passions, loves, talents, gifts, and desires, along with  your character values, all inform and empower you.” These elements form your inner core. So let your fears reveal more of this inner core and show you something important that you may not have recognized. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, a deep dive into your inner core could unearth your talent for storytelling, listening, and  using empathy to connect with others. Nurturing those talents, which are all  components of a great public speaker, would empower you to meet your public  speaking fear. So, use that inner core power to meet and ultimately tame your fears.

Step Three: Focus on the Positive  

  • First, ask yourself what opportunities and adventures are now presented due to the fear  that has arisen. What possibilities for building new talents and skills are now open that were previously closed to you? Write them down and celebrate them as “what can be,” and then start envisioning them as “what is.” For example, that fear of public speaking could be preventing you from experiencing new opportunities in your career, family,  and friendships that could change your life. By focusing on the positive aspects of what  can be and the emotions that flow from that positive outlook, you shift your mindset away from negative thinking.  
  • Second, remember that negative thinking is often at the core of our fears. Without facts or evidence, we allow negative thoughts to paralyze us and convince us that  defeat/disaster is inevitable. By choosing to focus on the positive outcomes we can gain from facing the challenge, we gain power over negative thinking.  

As a state and federal prosecutor, I was afraid at the beginning of every trial. What if I didn’t succeed? What if I made a mistake? However, none of these fears were based on facts. By focusing on creating a positive outcome for the victim and empowering them through the trial  process, I could move forward through my fear. According to Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark  Robert Waldman in Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversations Strategies to Build Trust,  Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy, a single positive or negative word can actually alter our brains. There is neurological power in positive thinking, so the time is now to live in the  positive.  

Step Four: Transform the Feelings  

  • You can use your body’s responses to gain more control of your fears. What happens to you when fear arises? According to MedicalNewsToday, for some people, their limbs shake, their breathing becomes shallow, their mouths get dry, and their hearts race. While these reactions may on the surface seem negative, those physical manifestations  are tied to the excitement of the moment.  
  • Once you are aware of your fear responses, redefine them. Remember, there is power in positive-thought realignment. When I left the practice of law to begin a singing career, during my early musical auditions, I was confronted with the physical manifestations of fear. I had a choice. I could allow those manifestations to derail my singing career, or I could retrain my brain and body to create a new understanding of  what those manifestations represented. I chose the latter—and you can, too. Here’s  how: 

Redefine those manifestations and repeat the new definition continuously until they feel real.  Repeatedly tell yourself this new positive understanding:  

  • My body’s shake is the energy surge that fuels my excitement. 
    • My shallow breathing is my body’s signal to slow down and take in rich oxygen.
    • My rapid heart rate is my body’s preparation on a cellular level to ready me to  step into my excellence.

Visualize your success over your fear and allow the positive emotions that flow from that  success to flood your body, head to toe.  

Find your calm and peace the “DDB” way—engage in deep diaphragmatic breathing. At each fearful moment, use the 5-5-5-5 breathing pattern: Inhale for a count of five, hold for five, exhale for five, and repeat for five. This practice allowed me to stay present and focus on the beauty of the moment.  

Reset those feelings further by recording your successes and focusing on each time you were able to feel the fear and do it anyway. I allowed every positive audition to reinforce my new positive understanding of my body’s response to each exciting opportunity. This process of transference turns negative thinking positive.  

Step 5: Look at Fear as Your Friend and Celebrate It!  

Fear is an extension of ourselves. It moves us. It represents a chance for a beautiful life transition. Fear offers an opportunity for immense growth and introduces us to new and wonderful challenges. It can be a gateway to the most beautiful, exciting opportunities, helping  you to unleash talents and unearth new passions.  

By taking the preceding steps, you are able to tame your fears. Remember, fear is not a villain, so there is no need for an epic battle. Instead, fear requires a relationship with yourself. It is a welcomed companion, a catalyst for change to constantly challenge your status quo. So, the next time you feel fear, ask, “What opportunity lies on the other side?” Challenge yourself to live through it. Do what makes you shake! Do what makes you shy away! It may not  be easy, but it’s essential for continued breakthrough as you journey to your highest state of  excellence.  

When you’re willing to feel the fear and move forward anyway, you position yourself to truly  write your story, live your purpose, elevate your thoughts, visualize your success, and live a life  without regret and with passion, laughter, self-determination, and endless optimism.  

Join Lisa for her webinar, How to Take Your Fears from For to Friend

Lisa Charles is a federal prosecutor turned singer/actress, wellness expert, certified health coach/consultant, and an acclaimed speaker. She served as the Fitness/Wellness Research Coordinator for the Rutgers University Aging & Brain Health Alliance, and is the CEO of Embrace Your Fitness, LLC, and the Author of YES! COMMIT. DO. LIVE.

  • Join my email list at yescoachlisa.com
  • lisa@yescoachlisa.com
  • IG: @lisaembracefitness

Harness the Limitless Potential of Your Mind with Meditation

The mind is a powerful tool or weapon that can be used to work for us or against us. Everything begins with a thought. From the moment we wake up until laying our head on the pillow each night, our mind is consumed with thoughts; more than 60,000 a day by the time we reach age 40.

95% of those thoughts occur in the subconscious mind, making us unaware we have them or even what they are most of the time. Thoughts run on autopilot throughout the day unless we do the internal work to become aware of them and shift our thinking.

Awareness is the first step to reprogramming the mind with different thought patterns. Once we begin practicing a mindful lifestyle and becoming aware of the thought patterns that are regularly showing up in our lives, we can then learn and use tools to reprogram the mind to think differently. Think of it like this: the brain is the hardware, and our mind is the software, the software we use daily determines how we think, feel and react or respond to various situations.

The good news is, it is possible to “rewire the brain” a term referred to as neuroplasticity. The latest technology in science reveals that by creating new neural pathways in the brain, we are capable of rewiring neural pathways, creating new neurons that fire together which allows us to think and process differently, thus leading to less reactionary responses and more responding to our external environment.

The question is how do we do this if our mind is on autopilot and we are mostly unaware of our thoughts?

One answer is through the long-practiced method of meditation, a process of refocusing the mind. Meditation is a mental exercise that with practice trains the brain to think and process differently. It is through refocusing the mind to think about one thing and ultimately “no thing” that allows for us to tap into our subconscious mind and create new programming.

Often people say they cannot meditate or can’t calm their monkey mind. That is true for those who do not practice training it to be different. Being mentally fit is a practice that requires exercise, just as muscles do when training in the gym or recovering from a physical ailment. The mind must also be exercised and taught to think and react differently.

There are many different modalities to the practice of meditation, just as there are many workouts in the gym to become physically fit. It’s about exploring the types of modalities and finding one that works for you or your client. Mental resilience is built each time new neural connections are made, each time we go through a challenging time and overcome it, we become more mentally fit thus giving us resilience for the next time we face something hard.

Understanding how the brain works and how it pre-dispositioned to think negatively over positively, allows us to have compassion and patience with ourselves while learning to create a consistent routine of practicing meditation. Discovering the mind/body connection and how they work together also empowers us to be able to choose differently in situations where we become aware we are reacting from autopilot rather than choosing to respond.

Meditation is currently a $1 billion industry and is rapidly growing. Learning how to use meditation in your own life, while also learning how to instruct others through science-based, proven modalities expands your revenue offerings as well as helps clients heal faster and live happier lives.

Webinar with Briana Bragg

Join Briana for Re-booting the Mind/Body Connection for Empowered Living. This webinar will provide an overview of the mind/body connection with techniques to un-entangle from autopilot, and update our subconscious programming to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life – while teaching your clients to do the same.

Briana Bragg is the founder of Vacation of the Mind®, a mental wellness company dedicated to helping one million people or more reduce stress, refocus the mind, and lead healthier and happier lifestyles through practical techniques of nature-centered mindfulness and meditation.  Briana is the author of “Journey into Tranquility®”, a meditation teacher training course that utilizes science-based methodologies of nature, meditation, and creative visualization in a three-step process Breathe, Refocus, Journey, curating guided journeys that connect people to nature and stillness. Briana’s dynamic energy and passion are fueled by her devotion to the well-being of others.


Trauma-Informed Care for Personal Trainers

You may ask yourself, what is trauma informed care? Is this about having trauma ourselves so we can relate? Is this about understanding what trauma is? In actuality, trauma informed care is the idea of being mindful that others have past trauma that can influence how they feel, see, and interact with the world around us, and us as providers being mindful of that within our actions. To further explain, it goes back to being mindful of how the things we say and our own actions can inadvertently impact others, and how we can become self aware of that to help our clients feel safe and at ease to the best of our abilities.

We entered into a helping professional field to help individuals become stronger, better, happier and healthier, and yet sometimes, our clients & patients still struggle even with our best efforts. There might be times where we feel like we’re banging our head against the wall, even though we are doing everything we can to help! In my upcoming webinar, we will be looking at what some of those barriers are. We’ll discuss how something as simple and direct as changing how we say things, and having a sense of mindfulness to an individuals background and history, can not only change the dynamic of the relationship, but improve growth in treatment.

One important thing to remember is the intention of this is not to focus on what we might be doing wrong, but rather to expand in areas that we can grow in. We all are helpers because we want to see individuals grow and heal, and when we become trauma-informed, it can allow us to be aware of potential barriers, while at the same time, understanding how to overcome those barriers.

Join me for for my upcoming webinar on this topic of trauma informed care for personal trainers and medical personnel. I’ll discuss what trauma informed care means, how it can impact clients, and how the lack of trauma informed care can impact client care.

Bradley Lawrence Mallett, MA, is a Licensed Professional Counselor, EMDRIA Approved Consultant and Certified EMDRIA Therapist. After completing his Master’s in Counseling,  he became a counselor and pursued work within mindfulness, DBT, and trauma-focused care as a way to deal with anxiety management and trauma processing. Bradley strives to help individuals and communities learn about themselves, what their own barriers are, and their strengths as a way to help bring about the change that is needed and desired.


Balance Distorted Thinking – How to Say No to Negativity

Start with these methods to boost your mood naturally and defeat negative thinking.

Some days I feel more anxious than others. Feelings alter the way we think, and thoughts can turn negative feelings like depression, anxiety or anger into a positive experience just as easily if we practice self-help exercises (psychological not physical, in this case) to dissolve the issues. Usually there is a trigger that sets things reeling. Certain exercises can facilitate a shift from negative thinking or illogical thoughts to a happier, more balanced feeling.

Realize that life throws us curve balls just to keep us grounded (pardon the pun). Staying positive is not realistic or easy. For every negative emotion (for instance, sadness over the loss of a loved one or friend), there’s both a healthy and a negative version. Here are some useful tips that can make a difference.

Have a Laugh

Fun is cheap. If you have forgotten how to have fun, don’t wait for the next wedding or family reunion to laugh it up. Research shows that having fun and laughter decreases levels of the damaging stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. It also helps to laugh because it supports our immune system and protects us from illness. One minute of laughter boosts your immune system for over 24 hours. I am sure my last cold was short-lived because I made it a point, even when I felt terrible, to watch a funny movie or read an entertaining book. Turn off the news at dinner time or before you go to sleep.

Call a Friend

When feeling down, reach out to friends who don’t allow you to dwell on your pain, but also don’t ignore it. Stay away from the “Debbie Downers.” “If we surround ourselves with people who are joyous, hopeful, or make us laugh and live in the moment, that makes us feel much better.” – Helen Grusd, Ph.D, clinical psychologist

Say Thanks

You probably have a lot to be thankful for, despite bouts of pain or an injury that may have slowed you down. Focus on gratitude. Perhaps make a list you read out loud to yourself (it helps to hear yourself say the words) every day, and eventually you can memorize it, as it becomes a part of your consciousness and diverts any negative feelings that keep you stuck.

Do Something – Anything

  • Go out and shop for your favorite bath scent and take the best bubble bath since you were five years old.
  • Start a journal. When you see the words pop from the page it creates a different reality.
  • Agree when people might ask you to join them in an activity. Say yes to more things instead of no. Saying no will isolate you more in life.
  • Play more, be child-like and I can guarantee the benefits will pay off.
  • Don’t cook tonight, have your dinner delivered. Why? Because YOU deserve it!

Get Lost in a Song

It’s hard for negative thoughts to occupy the same space in your brain if you’re listening to happy music. A recent study found listening to upbeat music improves moods short term and boosted overall happiness over a two-week period. It can also reduce your level of pain. You’ll find yourself sitting less as you tap your toes to the rhythm of the song. Then, stand up and dance as if no one is looking.

Mood busters only work, like exercise for our body, if you practice regularly and before your mood sinks too low.

Go Outside

Those who enjoy spending time outdoors are more likely to like themselves. Be a nature lover. Taking a walk or hike, in addition to relieving depression, it helps distract from negative energy you might be carrying. If you would rather be outside and just pull weeds or plant a new exotic plant, that will work too. It also keeps fitness buffs energized.

Reprinted with permission from Lori Michiel. Originally published on Lori’s Fitness Blog For Active Adults and Seniors.

Lori Michiel, NASM, has been assisting seniors in their homes since 2006 with customized exercise programs including those designed to address Parkinson’s, metabolic disorders, arthritis and diabetes. These adaptive programs are specifically designed to improve balance, circulation, flexibility, mobility and promote independence. Lori Michiel Fitness has over 40 certified trainers who are matched with clients in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange Counties. Connect with Lori at www.LoriMichielFitness.com.