I remember my first experiences of yoga, it was pretty horrific. My mind which runs at pace of a speeding train in general, actually speeded up.
Thoughts racing through my head. Wasn’t this supposed to relax me? Was I doing it wrong? Further anxiety as my pulse started racing. The more I tried to control the thoughts, the more they would speed up
The same thing would happen with meditation. I would look around the room in envy at the relaxed bodies. Some people even falling asleep. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I relax?
At this point in my life my anxiety levels has reached critical point. I was barely sleeping. My body was tired and heavy yet my mind would continually race. In a desperate bid to try and heal myself and understand what was going on in my head I started studying neuroscience. I learned I was living in constant survival mode. Locked in my sympathetic nervous system, brain on high alert ready to send the body into fight or flight
I was already a boxer and I knew what boxing did for my body. It was through my own self healing that I discovered if I combined this with what I’d learned about brain science I could also use it to heal my over active mind
For those of us who are too high, too wired and find it impossible to relax, boxing can actually be used as a form of meditation to become more present and calm the mind
Stuck in survival
When we are stuck in survival mode the brain is on high alert. The Amgydula, the brains built in alarm system is triggered. This changes the hedonic tone and you may feel uneasy or anxious. The sympathetic nervous system is triggered and the body prepares for fight of flight. This is where we feel the physical symptoms often associated with anxiety occur. You may experience a racing pulse, shortness of breath and feel an increased alertness
In more primal times, the danger would pass as would the need for fight or flight reaction. The body and mind would return to normal
Today most of our stresses are mental or emotional. We are bombarded with continual thoughts of not being good enough, not having enough time, financial
pressures etc. Brain and body react in exactly the same way as we are in real physical danger. The struggle and threat are ongoing therefore we can remain locked in survival mode
Boxing is a great way to shift the brainset out of survival mode. I believe it is particularly effective for those stuck in a pattern of stress, who find it hard to slow down through more traditional means
Movement forces a different part of the brain into action. Boxing involves complex movement patterns, activating and co-ordinating muscles. This means the blood supply is directed to a different part of the brain bringing down the feeling of high alert
Boxing is an amazing way to bring the brain back to the present. Putting together complex combinations means you cannot possibly be anywhere other than the here and now. Counting sequences, slipping and rolling shots, gives the brain a job to do. You can’t possibly be worryingly about what might happen sometime in the future – otherwise you will miss the sequence and end up getting smacked in the face with the pads.
Done properly boxing will regulate your breathing. When we are feeling stressed we tend to shallow breath from our chest. This sends a signal to our brain that there is a threat and the brain will continue to fire up the sympathetic nervous system. Most forms of martial art teach you to breathe diaphragmatically, exhaling with the punch to contract the abs.
Boxing training is generally with a partner or trainer therefore involves human connection. The mammalian part of the brain is always seeking connection. Positive social connections are associated with safety. Training in a group where you feel safe with people who are supportive and encouraging, is a great way to tell the brain it is safe. This will then encourage the brain to switch off its danger signs.
Following these strategies and understanding how each one helps move the brain out of survival mode has really helped me and many of my clients take baby steps towards a more calm and relaxed state of mind
These days as I no longer live in survival mode, relaxing comes a lot easier to me. I’m pleased to say I’ve just completed a weeks retreat with daily yoga sessions
Like everything in life I’ve learned that balancing my energy and slowing down is a skill that takes time and practice.