5 WAYS TO BOOST YOUR BODY AND BRAIN by Sophie Marsh

Science affirms what we intuitively know – that feeling connected is essential for our physical health and mental wellbeing. In this time of lockdowns, social isolation and physical distancing take time to tune in and ask yourself “what do I need?”  Allowing whatever you feel to be moved and expressed is medicine for body mind and spirit.

Go gently on yourself… remember you’re doing the best you can! 

Here are 5 simple science-backed self-care strategies to give your body, brain and mood a boost!

1.  Move your body!   Exercise improves memory, learning and concentration. Moderate intensity movement, sustained over time, promotes the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which causes nerve cells to grow and make new connections. It also helps improve your mood, boost your energy, and reduce stress in your body and mind.

Recent studies say that dance arts like Nia have physical and cognitive benefits that may exceed those of other forms of exercise (We could have told them that!!)

Get started: play a favourite song and take a 5 minute “dance break” 

2. Actively relax! With 95% of all illness caused or worsened by stress, we need to give our mind something to do, that leads to a feeling of deep inner calm. Active relaxation is a choice and a practice that leads to stress relief in a way that lounging in front of the television can never do.

Not so long ago, we sat around the dinner table or village square and chatted… or we played a board game… or listened to stories.  Today we’re bombarded with constant stimuli that the brain has not evolved to handle.  

The brain craves novelty, and nowadays that means consciously engaging in slower, concentrated activities. Make time everyday to turn off your devices and give your whole attention to something that makes you feel centred and uplifted. 

Get started: Play any song and devote 5 minutes to Nia’s mindful practice of RAW listening – Relaxed Body, Alert Mind and Waiting Spirit. I’m loving this song “It’s okay” from Nightbirde on AGT

3. Connect!  Perhaps the most powerful thing you can do to keep your body-brain chemistry happier and healthier is to make time for meaningful connections and relationships. Belonging to a group reduces risk of death from all causes and increases longevity, despite health habits.

This is another benefit of dancing Nia in community. Research shows that moving and grooving in rhythm with others lights up brain pathways that blur the barriers your mind may otherwise erect between yourself and another, and helps you feel a sense of connection and unity. Nia is a great way to make new friends! 

Get started: commit to coming to a weekly Nia class – online or in person

4. See the light!  UVB radiation from the sun is the best source of Vitamin D which allows us to more effectively use calcium, improve our immune system, help prevent cancer, reduce depressive symptoms, and support brain function.

Sunlight stimulates photosensitive cells in the retina of our eyes to play a vital role in our body brain health. These cells directly affect the brain’s hypothalamus region, which responds to stress and controls our daily bodily rhythms such as the night-time secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland and the changes in cortisol (the stress hormone) and body temperature over a 24-hour period. 

Get started:  Create a ritual for yourself to get outside in the sun for at least 10 minutes everyday.  Maybe a mindful walk around the block, or a barefoot boogie on the grass. Physical exercise also boosts Vitamin D (We recommend Vitamin D.ance) 

5. Take in the good! Often when we get busy or feel depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, we can get stuck in a rut of negative thinking, instead of noticing and opening to things that bring us pleasure. In Nia, our lifestyle awareness practice of “Life As Art” helps retrain our focus by reminding us to put our attention on what feels pleasing and inspirational. Using your mind in this way will change your body-brain over time.

Get started:  Notice something around you now that brings an inner smile… maybe a flower, a cloud, an object of beauty, the moon, an animal, a child. Give it your full attention and savour this positive experience by feeling it in your body, making that feeling as intense as possible.  

Stay with it, and as you sink deeper into the sensation, add a visualisation, like perceiving every cell bathed in golden light or imagining a soothing balm circulating inside yourself. Breathe it in and say ‘thank you’ for the aliveness and pleasure you feel.

If you are struggling in any way… please remember our wounds are not meant to be tended alone, but in relationship, in community… As Ram Dass says, “we’re all just walking each other home.”  

 

Sophie is Australia’s only Nia White Belt Trainer in the International Nia Training faculty and the first Aussie Nia Black Belt teacher. She has completed (and repeated) the Nia White, Green, Blue, Brown and Black Belt trainings, Art of Teaching (Level 1), Moving to Heal, 52 Moves, FreeDance and Nia 5 Stages trainings. Sophie is based in Brisbane.

For over 20 years, she has guided and inspired people to reclaim their aliveness, fitness, well-being and sense of Self through Nia’s body-centred movement and education. After living and training in the US, Sophie brought Nia home with her when she returned to Brisbane in 2004. She has been collaboratively building and leading an Australia-wide Nia community ever since.

In her classes, workshops, retreats and trainings, Sophie holds a safe, welcoming and playful space for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with their body’s innate wisdom and joy of movement.  

Sophie also shares adapted Nia sessions, “Joy Therapy” for populations with special needs, including multicultural communities, teens and older populations, mental health groups, cancer survivors, and for women desiring to heal their relationship with their sensuous body. She is a Trauma Informed Practitioner.

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