Mental health: why we should be working out our brain as well as our body

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Having a varied and balanced workout routine is just as important as having a varied and balanced diet. That means trying to implement a mix of strength, flexibility and cardiovascular activity to benefit your muscles, lungs and heart. But let’s not forget one of the most important organs in the body: the brain.

It’s just as, if not more, important to work on creating a happy and healthy brain. So why do so many of us neglect taking time out of our schedule to work on bettering our mental health

Rachel Bonkink, yoga teacher and author of Flex Your Mind wants to put a stop to that. She believes that the principles of yoga can help us to feel and think better. Since the physical practice of yoga can help you build stability, flexibility and strength in our body, the idea is that applying the same principles, such as non-violence, non-stealing and non-attachment, to our brains can surely improve mental stability, flexibility and strength.


“It can really assist people in just becoming a little bit more aware of how their minds work or how they react to their day to day experiences. Especially now when every single day brings a new challenge or a fear,” Rachel says. “People think if you take time to meditate or become aware of your thoughts everything will be slow and soft. Actually, it can help you become more passionate than ever before.”

When Rachel feels anxious, stressed or down, she follows a four step ‘workout’ to support her mental health. It takes minutes, if not seconds, she says, to give your brain a good stretch and feel a little bit lighter. This is how:


“Pause with the weight of what it is that you’re feeling,” says Rachel. This means learning to recognise that a wave of anxiety, stress or fear has come, and consider why and where it came from.


This is where the breathing comes in. “Just a couple of breaths does it,” she says. In fact, it’s proven that coherent breathe can reduce anxiety.


“Consider if this fear is real or is it false evidence?” Rachel asks. Becoming aware of what is really going on in your brain can help you break down your anxiety, she says.


If there is something you can do to make you feel better, do it. “If not, practice trying to let go,” she says.

As with all workouts, this takes time, and you get better with practice. And by slowly building up your self-discipline to exercise, you’ll achieve your fitness goals and stick with them in the long-term. It’s about daily steps that improve your mental health, she says: “It’s about living your life with more awareness. Why not live your life being more conscious by building the habit of spending five or 10 minutes on yourself?”

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).