We often assume that exercise has to be physically and mentally taxing in order to be beneficial. The old adage, “No pain, no gain,” is treated as dogma, and as a result many people take an almost masochistic approach to working out. But while there is nothing wrong with emphasizing hard work in your exercise program, it does not need to be painful. Holistic exercise takes the opposite approach, employing workout techniques that keep the body fit while contributing to a sense of relaxation and spiritual balance. Here are just four types of holistic exercise that can hold countless benefits without the self-punishment too often associated with physical fitness.
When yoga was first introduced to the U.S. in the 70s and 80s, many people assumed that it would be a short-lived fad. But as testament to its real holistic value, yoga has grown steadily and is now recognized as one of the most healthy and balanced forms of exercise in the world. In contrast to the strenuous, high-impact workouts that can do as much harm to the body as good, yoga gives the body a workout while promoting balanced health and a sense of calm.
There are many schools of yoga, all of which originate in India and elsewhere in Asia, but the Americanized version is usually considered to be derived from Asana, a traditional form of yoga that uses postures to improve flexibility and maintain well-being.
One of the best things about yoga is that it is easy to get started. There are hundreds of advanced postures to challenge people who have been doing yoga for years, but there is also a large set of postures you can do even in your first yoga session. And as with all holistic health practices, yoga places an emphasis on your individuality; if your body does not want you to perform a certain posture, you never have to force yourself.
Qigong, a set of Chinese exercise systems used for mental and physical training, is often viewed in the West as a sort of cross between martial arts and yoga. It takes much of its philosophy and some of its techniques from Eastern martial arts, but it shares with yoga an emphasis on mindfulness, gentle movements, breathing, and flexibility. There are wide-ranging schools within qigong, but most involve a mix of yoga-like static postures with meditative breathing.
Traditionally, Qigong has been thought of as a way to treat illnesses and help recover from various ailments, but in modern times it is more often viewed as a form of holistic exercise with immediate and long-term benefits. It can be hard to get started in qigong, but if you can find a quality teacher in your area, it can be immensely beneficial.
Tai chi is a form of martial arts with an emphasis on slow movement, deep breathing, and physical and mental balance. With a complex philosophy inspired by traditional Taoist and Confucian thought, tai chi has been in existence for nearly half a millennium, and it has developed into at least five distinct schools that are still in practice. In all its forms, tai chi has been proven effective in the treatment and mitigation of conditions such as chronic pain and arthritis, and it is also a valuable stress reducer.
Unlike yoga and qigong, tai chi is more than just a mentally and physically beneficial form of exercise. It is also a legitimate form of martial arts, meaning that people who learn true tai chi learn real self-defense and fighting techniques. In practice, many tai chi programs downplay this element of the exercise, but in most places it is possible to find self-defense classes founded upon tai chi principles.
Given the fact that it is so pleasurable, massage may not seem like a form of exercise. But the fact is that massage gives the muscles a workout, keeps the body’s systems running smoothly, and improves overall health. Plus, massage can be useful for relieving pain and anxiety, reducing stress, and fighting depression, all of which it has in common with traditional exercise.
If you have a partner who shares your interest in holistic health, consider learning how to perform couples’ massage. In addition to the obvious benefits for the recipient, it provides exercise value (in the form of burned calories) for the person performing the massage. Ever wonder why massage therapists are so often thin, slim, and energetic? Giving a massage is hard work.
By Marc Courtiol