Why a healthy mind equals a healthy body
Matthew Jenkin puts his mind at rest to get his body in gear during his Olympic body challenge
Oscar Wilde famously said he could resist everything but temptation. I can resist everything except a vodka Martini and a double chocolate gateaux.
Or at least, that was the case before I started my three month challenge to look and feel like an Olympian before the London 2012 games.
With the help of the UK and Europe’s number one nutrition brand, Maximuscle, I have ditched the cakes, carbs and calories in favor of a healthy diet and a grueling workout regime.
But staring longingly at Channing Tatum’s delicious torso for an hour a day wasn’t enough to get me in the gym four times a week and keeping my hands out of the cookie jar and away from the mini bar.
In short, if you want a strong body, work on strengthening the mind as well.
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation not only leads to increased motivation, discipline and patience, but also results in better recovery, fewer injuries and lasting results.
From the LA Lakers to the US Olympic team and superstar golfer Tiger Woods, athletes all over the world have admitted to using meditation techniques to improve sporting performance.
So if it’s good enough for the big boys, it’s good enough for little old me.
But if you think meditating is about sitting on a lonely mountain, mumbling mantras and levitating six feet in the air, then think again.
According to former personal trainer turned Tibetan Buddhist monk turned social entrepreneur Andy Puddicombe, meditation is a form of mental training which anyone can benefit from and advocates a more pragmatic approach.
‘Mindfulness is being present in the moment and not being caught up in thoughts about the past or thinking about the future,’ explained the founder of Headspace, a project which aims to demystify meditation.
Puddicombe and his team have been gaining the attention of not only the mainstream media but also charities and global corporations such as Goldman Sachs, which are eager to incorporate mindfulness into their company practice.
He says the benefits of using mindfulness for improving fitness are twofold.
‘It’s amazing that this idea still prevails that more effort necessarily leads to better results,’ Puddicombe said.
‘In the world of sport you see this is simply not the case. If you look at Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in the last Olympics, the guy looked so easy, so relaxed, but yet he was focused. If you can bring that sort of efficiency to your workout then you’re going to get more out of it.
‘If we want to get the best out of your workout, you’ve got to focus.
‘You see loads of people in the gym, taking their phones in, reading the newspaper, but there’s no way you’re going to be at your best if you’re getting distracted.’
Secondly, Puddicombe claims that meditation can also aid all important rest and recovery.
He said: ‘Most people go at their exercise in a kind of gung-ho way and don’t necessarily realize how important taking a break is.
‘Unless you’re on steroids, you can’t go six times a week, be at your max and go back and do an effective workout. Your body can’t recover that fast.
‘Having the ability or skills which allow physiological recovery to speed up and allow you to step back from active engagement is really useful.’
Perhaps the biggest barrier to pushing your body further is what is commonly known as ‘hitting the wall’.
At that stage, the body experiences a huge amount of resistance and tension and it’s the feeling that you can’t go on.
Puddicombe says the only way to smash through that wall is to be ‘present’ with the pain and not to ignore it.
He said: ‘If you’re concentrating on the pain in the sense that you’re thinking about it and wishing it would go away, that’s really not helpful and you’d be better off being distracted.
‘But if you can be present with it and experience it, rather than thinking what it feels like, then there’s no longer any conflict in the mind and the pain very often passes by.’
Having learnt meditation at London’s Kagyu Samye Dzong Tibetan Buddhist center, I know from personal experience the enormous strength it has given me throughout this challenge and scientists have been discovering the same.
Headspace point to studies which show that not only does mindfulness help you better concentrate on the muscle groups which you need to work, the resulting release of cortisol to the brain has been linked to maintaining muscle and reducing body fat, helping you keep those guns looking fit and uncovering that elusive six pack.
If that wasn’t evidence enough, studies have also found a link between meditation and self-control.
Researchers found that after just five days of 20 minutes practice per day, meditators had increased blood flow to a part of the brain that helps people regulate their behavior and emotions in accordance with their goals.
After six hours of meditative practice they found that connectivity in this region, the anterior cingulate cortex, started to change. After 11 hours clear structural changes were observed.
The findings suggest that even short meditative training can help improve the efficiency of those parts of our brains that regulate our desires and impulses.
That means less chance of giving into those little temptations and keeping you on track to achieving your fitness goals.
For easy to learn mindfulness techniques, Headspace has developed an app for Apple and Android and is offering Gay Star News readers 25% off when they quote this code – GSNOFFER
The offer is for one week only though, so hurry and get some Headspace before it expires.
Along with a healthy diet plan recommended by Maximuscle nutritionist Gareth Nicholas, I have been working out three or four times a week, including taking the Maximuscle Promax Diet shake and Thermobol and CLA-1000 supplements.
Follow my Olympic body challenge progress on Twitter @matthewjenkin