Mind your Body

Theresa Bui | Blogger | SQ Online (2016-17)

Image 1. Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender (Source).

Perhaps you’ve seen real-life Avatars-in-training before. I certainly have. As a child, I remember watching my neighborhood’s elders gather with large bamboo sticks on the main street at 7 a.m. The elders would slowly but decidedly rock back and forth on their heels and sway their arms fluidly in the air. This was the Tai Chi group that my grandma and grandpa actively and excitedly participated in. They truly believed that it helps clear the mind, improves blood circulation, and gives them “life energy.” This is my first experience with mind-body exercise.

We’ve talked about the Om chant, so you have the mind. We’ve talked about exercise and sports, so you have the body. Now, we can explore mind-body exercise. Mind-body exercise connects spiritual consciousness with muscular movements. The different forms of mind-body exercise include Tai Chi, Qigong, Pilates, and yoga. Let’s examine the total extent of mind-body exercise.


Mind-Body Connection

The mind-body connection is simply how the mind can positively or negatively influence the body. High stress can actually make you susceptible to illness. The Whitehall Studies, epidemiological and medical studies of British Civil Servants aged 20 to 64 in the United Kingdom, found that those in low-level jobs are twice as susceptible to metabolic disease in comparison to those in higher-level jobs. The researchers measured heart rates, cortisol levels, and adrenaline levels. The degree of stress and autonomy was found to be an important factor because it affects the autonomic nervous system and neuroendocrine function. Another factor may be that low-level civil servants do not commonly perform moderate to high intensity workouts as opposed to those in the higher levels. To further examine different studies in regard to mind-body connection research, this publication summarizes the growing mind-body connection research. In reflecting, I find that I am more often sick during midterms and finals seasons. As university students, it is apparent that our full-time job comes with high stress. It is important to stay healthy mentally and physically.


Effects of Mind-Body Exercise on Mental Health

There is no doubt that mind-body exercise can have physical benefits; however, I am more interested in its emotional benefits. Meditation and the mind-body connection is still being researched, but it is a growing field. A pilot clinical study researched the effects of a 10-week Tai Chi program on anxiety and sleep quality. The sample consisted of 75 adults, aged 18 to 45 at an undergraduate university, which provided an 80% retention rate with 5% margin of error. The individuals were randomly assigned to three categories: Tai Chi meetings two times a week, Tai Chi with a DVD curriculum, and the control group. “Sleep patterns and anxiety levels were observed at weeks 0, 4, and 10, as well as two months after the end of the program.”

Chart 1. Flow chart of conducted study with different variables. (Source).

The assessment was done using the Spielberger state-trait anxiety inventory (STAI): form Y to examine state anxiety and the Pittsburgh sleep quality index (PSQI) to examine sleep quality. However, due to its nature as a pilot study, the sample size caused the study to be underpowered in the anxiety category with STAI-S (1−β=0.32), but the sleep quality category was sufficient with (1—β=0.76). The researchers hope to expand the trial to 150 participants to get significant statistics in both categories. With reasonable doubt, the pilot study suggested that a 10-week Tai Chi program could be a non-pharmaceutical method to improve anxiety and poor sleep quality.

Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong are trending practices in the United States according to the National Health Statistics Reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although these practices are so popular, the scientific evidence is still being built. Nonetheless, the mind-body connection has been substantially established. So, mind-body exercise is basically killing two birds with one stone! If you find yourself enjoying both exercise and meditation, give mind-body exercise a go. You can find many Tai Chi and Yoga tutorials and music playlists on YouTube.