The Miraculous Effects of Mindful Exercise
For the past 50 years or so, people living in Western societies have become more and more dependent on prescribed medications that are supposed to cure all kinds of ill health and even stop us from developing life-threatening diseases in the first place.
30 years ago, when I was an academic researching into women’s health, I became pretty sceptical about the benefits of some of the prescribed drugs that more and more women were taking on a daily basis. But my scepticism was clearly not widely shared, because since that time, we are all taking more prescribed drugs, rather than less. Finally however, I am sensing some kind of shift in the air.
For example, there was a programme on BBC 1 last week in which a doctor persuaded patients taking prescribed drugs for raised cholesterol, blood sugar levels and blood pressure to take a 30 minute brisk walk five times a week. His experiment showed that this small amount of moderate exercise was enough to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels in several ‘at risk’ individuals.
So it finally seems that Westerners may be beginning to accept what Chinese Taoists have known for centuries – even relatively gentle exercise can improve our overall health and well-being quite dramatically.
But in my experience, the many benefits of gentle exercise are greatly enhanced if we exercise mindfully. For example, we can all go for a lovely walk in nature, but if our minds are busy worrying about the past or the future, we will tend not to notice the incredible natural beauty all around us and thus miss out on a wonderful opportunity to lift our mood as we give thanks for the infinite grace of Life Itself.
Gloria and I were in San Diego a few years ago, and early one morning, I went for a leisurely walk around the Bay and was thrilled by all the fabulous wildlife that I spotted. Meanwhile, several Americans ran past me with loads of keep-fit gadgetry all over their bodies. I could see that their minds were so absorbed in their futuristic goal of getting fitter that they totally missed the perfection of the present moment! Meanwhile, they looked at me strolling along without any fitness gear whatsoever and I am sure they thought to themselves, ‘What the hell is she doing?’
Since I took up infinite Tai Chi nearly 20 years ago, I have been very pleasantly surprised by how strong and flexible my physical body now seems to be. Despite my advancing years, I wake up each morning totally pain free and ready to leap out of bed, although I have noticed that I no longer leap out of a car quite as easily as I did ten years ago!
But for me, the greatest benefit of practising Infinite Tai Chi has been the dramatic change in my outlook on life. As a young woman, I was actually chronically depressed and anxious virtually all of the time. Moreover, my core belief was that life on earth was extremely hard and pointless. I was so neurotically involved with my own emotional pain, that I hardly ever noticed the beauty and unconditional support of the world around me.
Today, I am a woman transformed! I give heartfelt thanks virtually every day of my life for the incredible gifts that the universe keeps offering me. I absolutely love teaching two classes of Infinite Tai Chi a week to older people who are just so wonderful to spend time with and such an inspiration to me. I also love going for gentle walks along the River Mersey that – surprisingly – runs through the suburbs of South Manchester. The other day, the river was glistening in bright, dappled sunlight, whilst the trees along its banks were beginning to turn a golden colour, and my heart was so full of gratitude that I was almost in tears.
Now, I am not claiming that taking a Tai Chi class once a week, or going for a walk in nature once or twice a week will totally transform your life for the better in a very short space of time. It has taken me many years of pretty diligent practising - including a daily meditation practice - to get to the point where my life is a joy, rather than a nightmare. But I do know that mindful forms of exercise such as Tai Chi and Chi Kung not only improve our physical health, but can also play a key role in improving our mental outlook on life.
Please do not just take my word on this. Try it out for yourself. Make a commitment to spend just 30 minutes three or four times a week doing some kind of mindful, holistic exercise, such as walking in nature, and at the end of one month, review your physical, mental and emotional health. If you really do this, and do not notice any improvement whatsoever in any aspect of your well-being, contact me and I will send you a voucher for a free one hour Infinite Tai Chi class with me! (But you will have to get to Manchester to cash it in).