We asked yoga teacher and founder of The Human Method Nahid de Belgeonne how we can better support our bodies and minds through our fitness routines.
Before the UK went into lockdown, a lot of people were running on empty. We were always trying to do as much as possible, whether that was working, socialising or exercising. It’s clear that this wasn’t sustainable.
While many aspects of our lives have slowed down since we were told to stay home, there are some aspects that have only got faster and harder. For example, our relationship with technology has gotten more intense, as we rely on computers and phones to do our jobs, for entertainment and for socialising. And our relationship with fitness has, for many, got more serious as we are flooded with Instagram Lives at every second of the day and the “no excuses” brigade telling us that no gym is not a reason to reduce our exercise routine.
While working on our fitness goals is of course a good thing, trying to make amends for the fact that our lives are probably now more sedentary than before is not. It might feel like daily bodyweight HIIT and working towards improving our 5k run time is less exerting than your pre-lockdown fitness routine which included commuting, weight training and spin classes, but the constant desire to go-go-go is the same.
This attitude is what Nahid de Belgeonne, yoga teacher and founder of the Human Method, calls “beast mode” – and she wants to see the end of it. “There’s this idea that we always have to really push ourselves to do the impossible in order to get good results,” she tells Strong Women. “I suppose it comes from the fact that we want to spend as little time as possible doing things but getting the biggest value out of it. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t work like that.”
In fact, despite what you’ve probably read about the body hacking impact of high intensity workouts and no-rest-days, Nahid says that it’s probably doing more harm than good. “If you’re really exhausted and stressed, going for a gentle run might be nice because being outside is good for our stress levels.
“But if you go out without putting to bed the stress from the day, pushing to do your personal best rather than enjoying the process, then you’ll simply be taking that hard attitude into your exercise and ramping up your cortisol levels.”
When we know how beneficial exercise can be to reduce stress levels, it is counterintuitive, if not downright silly, to be getting the opposite effect out of our workouts. And it’s not just your mental health that suffers, but the entire body. Nahid explains that when exercise is used to increase stress, rather than get rid of it, the cortisol becomes trapped with no outlet: “It just sits in the body and starts to burn through the lining of fascia, and it starts creating dysfunction in the body.”
“We all feel it in our bodies when we push ourselves and we’re not enjoying it, and often that’s when people have injuries – when you’re running and you turn an ankle or knee because you’re just so out of touch with your body.”
How to turn off beast mode
If you think you’re in beast mode, over training and pushing your body to extremes, how do you tune in to what the body actually wants?
Find the cause
“If you have stress of anxiety, deal with that first,” says Nahid. That means that rather than attempting to de-stress through exercise, you need to take the time to consider what the actual root cause of the problem is. “We’re all feeding off of the current global anxiety, but it also means that we are all in a good place to receive things like breathing, restorative yoga and mediation.”
Take some time
Before exercise, tune in to yourself. “I would do something like breath work, or even just lying on the ground to let the muscles release. Give that 10, 15, 20 minutes and it will be really apparent what you need when you come out of it,” says Nahid. “I don’t believe in just rolling floating about doing nothing: I run and I box, and I do kettlebells, but I know when I have to tend to myself.”
Spread it out
Balance out your movement time throughout the day, advises Nahid, rather than going hard for one burst of time. “The body wants to move all of the time throughout the day. If you’re sat down all day and then spending one hour in the gym or working out, you’re not counteracting all of the hours that you spend doing not very much physically,” she explains. “It leads us to being really wired but really tired. The muscles just feel constantly knackered, but they haven’t really been used.”
However, try to do the most intense forms of movement early in the day. “I do all of my cardio in the morning, because by the time you get to the evening you want to be winding down to sleep. You don’t want your body temperature up as that’s not conducive to sleeping.”
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