The Power of Mind/Body Exercise: dealing with a compromised immune system

Hello and Happy Spring!

Wherever you are in the world reading this post, I hope you are starting to see the snow melt, and the flowers bloom. It has been a very slow process here in Northern Virginia, but we are all very hopeful for the spring sunshine.

It has been a while since I have posted, and truthfully a tumultuous time in my life. I wanted to make sure I had a great post for you guys when it came about. This month, I want to spend some time touching on the importance of exercise, not just for the physical body, but for the mind, too.

As some of you may know, by profession I am a personal trainer and a yoga teacher/ yoga therapist. I did not choose this field, rather it chose me. I started experiencing depression and anxiety at age eight. Since about age twelve, I went out for runs and moved around in my spare time. This is normal (or was normal in the 90’s, hello technology of 2018), but it always helped my anxiety and depression. By the time I was in college, I was using exercise as treatment almost every day. When a period of really high anxiety would come about, I would stop what I was doing and do as many push-ups as I could. On the rare occasion that I experience that “angry” anxiety today, I still do push ups in the moment! It works so well because you are literally pushing the stress out through your muscles and into the floor- very powerful. It doesn’t hurt to work the body a little extra, too ;). When you are stressed and anxious, your adrenal glands release the hormone, cortisol. When people just sit there while the cortisol is being released, they feel much more anxious! Doing an isometric movement, like a plank or pressing the hands together as hard as you can (great for traffic), will go a long way.

A couple of studies have been done recently and articles have been posted to the Huffington Post, The Atlantic, and Harvard Medical Publishing, regarding the effects exercise has on anxiety and depression. These articles say that exercise alone is more effective than any anti-depressant on the market. This is HUGE news, but is it really that surprising?

When you get up and move you are doing SO many good things for your body and your mind. You are activating your lymphatic system, which is our drainage system and helps fight colds. You are increasing your circulation, producing feel good hormones, and creating more oxygen. The benefits are ENDLESS. Some people have bad experiences with exercise and think all exercise is painful and dreadful. That is where they are wrong! You may have to change the way you relate to exercise. For example, why not just call it movement instead of exercise? Once a day, you can make it a goal to just move, whether you are walking the dog or just stretching in your cubicle, start small and build up over time.

It also helps to find a form of exercise you really love. Studies show that when people aren’t enjoying the style of exercise they are doing, they don’t reap as many benefits physically. That is that mind-body connection at work. If you love punching the bag with boxing gloves, your mind and body are going to benefit more than if you are stomping away at the treadmill and feeling annoyed!

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I do movement every single day. It wakes me up, replenishes me, and reminds me that I am alive and well. Strength training reminds me of how strong I am and makes me feel like I can conquer the world. Running around the yard with my dog makes me feel playful and young. The past few months have been physically and emotionally straining for me, but I still manage to move each day and it helps so much!

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I went to a functional doctor to try to figure out some tummy troubles I was having (GI upset). All of my GI tests came back pretty normal, but we discovered that my immune system was compromised. How could this be? I am working 12-hour days, working out for an hour each day, and feeling pretty normal. As we dove deeper and deeper into fancy blood work, we learned that I have a detrimental allergy to mold and may have been exposed for years. My brain is inflamed, which inflames the stomach and creates more anxiety- yikes.

Forty supplements later and lots and lots of worrying, I am starting to remember what is really important. With a compromised immune system I am probably the strongest I have ever been, physically and mentally. Past experiences with these vague health concerns have taught me that you cannot become attached to how you feel every day, because it is always changing. If you get attached to things that are changing, you will always be suffering (thank you, yoga sutras).  What you can rely on is your breath. Each time I think about a symptom I am having, I take a few deep, slow breaths. The symptoms are a result of me living in this world, my breath is a result of the true me.

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If anyone is suffering with anything (physical, mental), I urge you to try daily movement. If you don’t know where to begin, start looking at YouTube videos for inspiration. There are so many great workouts on YouTube and a variety of intensities and lengths for all levels. For me, the movement reminds me that my body is an amazing machine, and the deep slow breathing reminds me of who I truly am: mentally and physically strong, with a passion for fully understanding how to love and care for myself.

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Remember, the body benefits from movement and the mind from stillness. When you move, you can still the mind. Kill two birds with one stone!

If you are in the Northern Virginia area and interested in personal training/yoga/ yoga therapy, feel free to contact me! I provide a discount to my readers 😉

 

Get up and move!

Lots of love,

 

Maddie Siegel