I am a Psychotherapist and a Personal Trainer, an unusual combination, but one which enables me to work with body and mind to help people recover from trauma, anxiety and depression, all of which are physical as much as psychological experiences.
Any exercise will help you feel better in yourself, especially if you’re outdoors and in a group.
There is something powerful, magical even, in running around a beautiful open space, in a supportive group of people, which is why I also teach outdoor sessions for Wanstead Flats Fitness on Sunday mornings – WFF is a friendly cooperative and is accessible for any age and level of fitness.
There are many ways exercise can boost mental wellbeing including:
Exercise as anti-depressant:
Most forms of movement, especially aerobic/cardio exercise like running, walking or cycling, raise levels of serotonin and endorphins in the bloodstream, both of which raise our mood, making us feel happier and more positive. They are also painkillers and can relieve chronic pain, itself often the result of repressed emotion and memory being stored in the body.
Exercise & Anxiety:
Anxiety can start in the brain with a worrying thought, releasing stress hormones into the body, causing tension and pain: low-intensity cardio exercise creates the “hypo-frontality” effect, which dissolves the usually strict boundary between the rational, thinking, logical, left brain and the more creative and emotional right brain. This enables other thoughts and perspectives from the right brain to get into conscious thought, changing your view of an issue and relieving worries. Add in more complex movement patterns (boxing, dancing, Yoga, Pilates) and the Cerebellum area of the brain gets involved: the Cerebellum is responsible for co-ordinating movement and the flow of information round the brain, which again allows new, calmer thoughts and ideas to emerge and relieve anxious states of mind.
Exercise as therapy:
Sometimes, difficult, traumatic memories and experiences can be stored physically, in the body, as tension, stiffness or pain, rather than in the mind as visual images. This is partly because mind and body are one entity, not separate, but also because trauma is a physical experience: if you find yourself in a threatening or dangerous situation and your Fight or Flight Mechanism (FFM) is triggered, that is an instruction from brain to body to literally fight the danger or run away from it: stress hormones are released to make heart and lungs work faster, pumping oxygen to contracting muscles. Later, when reminded of the original incident, the brain can think it’s happening again as the area where an unprocessed traumatic memory is held (the Amygdala), does not have a sense of time or place. Stress hormones are released and the process begins again, so it can feel as if the trauma is happening again. The Body remembers.
Yoga and Pilates are based on breathing, slow movements and stretching and can calm body and mind by engaging the Parasympathetic Nervous System (responsible for slowing everything down): diaphragmatic breathing slows the heart down and relaxes muscles, sending calming signals up into the brain, convincing it the body is safe. More energetic forms such as boxing or sprinting can release tension held in the body when the FFM was triggered but you were unable to fight or run (through being trapped in an abusive relationship for instance), helping resolve trauma. Weight lifting and core stability fitness can help you feel stronger emotionally as well as physically. Mindful Running and Dance Movement Therapy also deserve a mention!
Sometimes talking isn’t enough – you really need to move as well.
I offer the clients I work with PT sessions alongside their therapy sessions, involving body-weight resistance, sprinting, core work and Boxercise. In the therapy room I use EMDR and psychodynamic psychotherapy to work on and resolve the underlying causes of disturbance. I also offer a programme of core stability exercise and therapy for pain relief from chronic lower back pain from my practice in Bow and Holborn.
If this sounds like it might be helpful please get in touch.
For group exercise:
121 Therapy & PT: