How to improve your mental and physical health in eight weeks: expert-led free course from Asics works on your fitness, breathwork and mindfulness

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sophrology, walking or running, mental well-being, Covid-19 pandemic, two sessions, aerobic, natural mindfulness guide, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, here

Are you looking to boost your physical and mental health as the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic draws to a close? Movement for Mind, an eight-week audio course from Japanese sportswear giant Asics, aims to improve well-being through a combination of physical exercise and mindfulness techniques.

The course was developed with input from seven wellness experts with diverse backgrounds in disciplines ranging from breathwork and sophrology (a stress-relieving meditation method) to music psychology.

Designed to be completed outdoors, Movement for Mind has a different expert lead two 30-minute coaching sessions each week. Participants are guided through mindfulness-related exercises, combined with either walking or running.

The programme progresses sequentially to help develop skills such as focus, awareness and control, and evolves to explore methods to strengthen connections with the natural world and live in the moment.

Gary Raucher, executive vice-president of category at Asics, described the programme as an extension of the company’s founding purpose.

“Asics is an acronym for the Latin Anima sana in corpore sano, which means ‘a sound mind and a sound body’,” he explains. “For more than 70 years we’ve been trying to uplift people’s spirit and well-being through movement and sport.”

Establishing the programme’s scientific efficacy was key to its development. Movement for Mind was subjected to a large-scale randomised study, conducted by independent mental health researcher Dr Brendon Stubbs.

A total of 189 volunteers in the Netherlands and the UK were randomly divided into a participating group and a control group, and their mental well-being was measured periodically throughout the programme.

The results were striking: on the Warwick-Edinburgh scale – where a difference of one point is clinically meaningful – participants saw a three-point improvement in their mental well-being. Control group subjects who did not take part in the programme saw their anxiety levels rise over that time frame, while participants’ levels remained steady.

sophrology, walking or running, mental well-being, Covid-19 pandemic, two sessions, aerobic, natural mindfulness guide, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, here

Gary Raucher is the executive vice-president of category at Asics.

Seventy-one per cent of people who took part in the programme said they felt happier upon completing it. Results showed links between taking part in the programme and improved performance at work, and a greater ability to cope with the pandemic.

“When I analysed the data and saw the results, I just thought ‘wow’,” says Stubbs. “It’s so fascinating to see the change and improved well-being, I was absolutely, genuinely thrilled.”

The programme was conceived in 2019 as a response to high, widespread levels of stress and anxiety – issues that Raucher believes have only been intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic. And although it was developed as a tool for companies to share with employees, it can be accessed by anyone, for free, through all of the major streaming platforms.

Each week is different, with two 30-minute sessions per week, done outside, with no special equipment required.

“We’ve made this to be incredibly accessible to all people, regardless of their fitness level,” says Raucher. “We really want to have a meaningful impact in society, and that is the driver behind trying to make this accessible to as many people as possible.”

With its focus on using movement as a tool to boost mental well-being, Movement for Mind is not a conventional fitness programme.

Gray Caws, running coach and the founder of Hampshire, UK-based Adventures in Movement & Breath, leads the week two sessions and says relaxed nasal breathing can be a crucial means to reaping the benefits of exercise at any level.

sophrology, walking or running, mental well-being, Covid-19 pandemic, two sessions, aerobic, natural mindfulness guide, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, here

Dr Brendon Stubbs is an independent mental health researcher.

“When we’re walking we quite often think ‘I need to be out of breath to do my cardio, I need to get my heart rate up’, but actually it’s the other way around,” explains Caws.

“The majority of exercise you’re doing – whether it be running, walking or gym training, any form of exercise – the majority of your training should be aerobic, meaning with oxygen. And one of the easiest ways to monitor yourself running just with oxygen is that you don’t get out of breath.”

The advantages are numerous. “You can change your mind’s response with how you’re breathing,” he says.

Other experts come from fields rarely associated with physical fitness. In week four of the programme, for example, Dominique Antiglio steps in to introduce participants to sophrology, a stress-relieving meditation method.

“Movement in sophrology is really about bringing awareness to parts of the body that maybe we wouldn’t be able to connect with when we’re still,” explains Antiglio, founder of the London clinic BeSophro.

“The movements of sophrology are not meant to make you fitter, they are really there to help you connect to an awareness of your body. Sophrology is not really about getting fit, it’s about getting aware.”

sophrology, walking or running, mental well-being, Covid-19 pandemic, two sessions, aerobic, natural mindfulness guide, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, here

Gray Caws is a running coach and the founder of Hampshire, UK-based Adventures in Movement & Breath.

Antiglio believes this holistic approach is a valuable one: “The fact that people are going outside, the fact that they’re connecting on many levels with nature and with themselves in that context, I think it can only be a recipe for feeling better.”

Other experts in the programme include triathlete Roos Tji, a mindful movement expert based in the Netherlands; UK-based author, natural mindfulness guide and guide trainer Ian Banyard; UK-based psychologist Dr Claire Renfrew, specialising in music psychology; Danny Penman, meditation teacher and co-author of Mindfulness – Finding Peace in a Frantic World; and Asics FrontRunner team’s global team captain David Lenneman, based in Sweden.

The blend of the different experts’ coexisting methods is what lies at the heart of the programme. Stubbs says: “It’s not just an exercise programme, it’s not just a mindfulness programme, it’s not just a breathwork programme – it’s a combination of all of these.”

He concludes: “My hope very much is that people will start to use combinations of these individual techniques, because whether we want to improve our physical health or how we feel, there are numerous techniques we can use. It’s more than likely that combining two or more of these techniques is going to help us feel better.”

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