Health

Mind-body workouts: we try out the best

The hot new fitness trend? Firing up your mind as well as your muffin top. Five Health & Beauty guinea pigs get their heads straight, while trying everything from air guitar to mindful running
Photography: Stocksy

For a total stress release (and air guitar!)

Sarah O’Neill, content sub-editor

Sarah O'Neill

I tried… RockFit UK (rockfit.org.uk; from £10 per month),

which offers online recorded and live ‘badass’ dance workouts, with a rock and metal music soundtrack.

I need it because…

My exercise regime over the past restrictive year has involved lots of walking. I want some mood-lifting satisfaction from more heart rate-raising movement.

What’s the lowdown?

With three levels of RockFit membership – Rookie Rocker, Mid-Level Metaller and Ultimate Rockstar – I signed up to the latter, which gave me access to all ‘back catalogue’ sessions, upcoming live ones and two bonus ‘Xtreme’ classes per month. Each 50-minute workout compromises two parts –to encourage a break in the middle – with cool-down instructions to follow at the end. You can even check out the playlist under each workout video (I’m a disco fan normally, but rousing, old-school anthems by groups such as Queen and Bon Jovi really worked for me). Founder Hannah Hawkey and her co-instructors took me through low- and high-impact choreographed exercises, where pogo jumping, air guitar-strumming and freestyle moves made me feel I was FROW at my own personal gig.

Admittedly, my lack of co-ordination didn’t bode well at first, and had this been a ‘real-life’ class, I’d definitely have felt self-conscious. But in the privacy of my own living room, I loved indulging in some wild abandon. I’d have appreciated some more vocal direction, but repeating classes helped. And – bonus – extra support and suggestions are channelled through RockFit’s popular online community on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Mind-soothing points

After a couple of classes, I felt motivated, de-stressed and naturally tired – hurrah! And I slept better than I had done in ages. My inner rock chick was unleashed, and the mental health positives were very welcome.

 

For that ‘dancing-all night’ euphoria

Geraldine Lynch, creative director

I tried… The Class (theclass.com; 14-day free trial).

Championed by the likes of Naomi Watts and Christy Turlington, it’s a US phenomenon that’s as much about taking the mind to a stress-free zone as targeted muscle work/aerobic exercise.

I need it because…

Lockdown number three made me crave movement that would energise me and shake away the residue of a full-on, home-working day.

What’s the lowdown?

The Class has been grown in part from yoga, so breath is key to the practice, and it’s good to know your downward dog and child’s pose. But the moves are simple – the general idea being that you do one move per tune, meaning you don’t have to think about it, thus enabling you to reach an ‘inner zone’. It can be hardcore: jumping jacks, burpees and donkey kicks all feature – but there are different levels. The teacher said that the movement gave us a ‘brief moment of cessation from thought’ and ‘in that space we find joy’, before bellowing ‘let’s eat this brother up!’ We did – and it felt good.

Recovery moments are a joy, thrashing out to the music in your own, unique style. As well as the physical instruction, there’s a narration of positive mantras, expressed in deeply relaxing tones, encouraging us to leave the ravages of the day behind. The playlists are phenomenal, too, including a collaboration with Alicia Keys. (I’ve ordered some new laptop speakers so I can get the sound even louder!) Think back to those halcyon festival days or that 3am club vibe, when you were effortlessly pulsating towards dawn with boundless energy and euphoria (a distant memory for me!).

Mind-soothing points?

My body is toning up but, more importantly, I’ve felt transported into something fun and escapist that captured some youthful glee – and eased the day’s tension.

For a thought-provoking outdoor run

Stefanie Miocic, integrated designer

I tried… the ‘Mindful Meters’ guide

– an hour-long, guided ‘mindful’ run on the free Nike Run Club app (a series of audio, meditative runs in partnership with Headspace). The aim? To train your mind, just like your body.

I need it because…

I’m all about an excuse to not exercise. But as so many people I know rave about that runner’s ‘endorphin high’,
I decided I wanted in on the action. And this sounded like a good way to ease into running.

What’s the lowdown?

My run was accompanied by commentary from Olympic track and field sprinter English Gardner, Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe and global Nike coach Chris Bennett. At first, I got carried away and was out of breath a mere minute into the run! I did find it challenging to slow down, get my breathing right and find a pace that worked. But the guiding commentary, although not specifically focused on mindfulness, was soothing, informative and helped me be in control of my body and mind. Something that really resonated was when Gardner said: ‘Be kind to, and patient with, yourself to get the most out of your run, which will lead to better results’. A good mantra for anything you try to achieve in life.

Mind-soothing points:

As a non-runner, I found it very challenging – 60 minutes is a long time! But I did learn to listen to my body, and combined running and walking so as not to overwork myself.

 

For stretching out tightness and stress

Andrea Walker, art editor

I tried…a 50-minute, live stretching class via Good Stretch (goodstretch.uk; seven-day free trial).

Creators Aida and Ana say stretching should be done regularly, not just before or after exercise, because of the physical and mental benefits it offers. Plus, if you persist, you might be able to do the splits!

I need it because…

I’m a fitness obsessive failing on the stretching front. In a restriction-free world, I’m a five-day-a-week gym goer (I’m also a trained PT/black-belt kickboxing instructor) and a runner. I’m addicted to high-energy exercise, but for the sake of my body – and my mind (a stressful whirl) – I need something to slow me down and make me calmer.

What’s the lowdown?

Throughout the class, the instructor was clear about which stretches we were doing and the parts of the body/muscles we were loosening. Midway through, I thought: ‘This is really relaxing!’ I’d been worried there’d be pressure to get myself into silly yoga positions or complicated, repetitive ‘flows’. Instead, the moves were all practical and straightforward (think hamstring and hip flexor stretches), so I could just concentrate on letting stress and tension ebb away with every slow, steady stretch. The session helped me realise I don’t always need to push myself to my limits, chasing a high-impact-induced endorphin rush. This gentle class worked a treat at soothing my 100mph mind while it was loosening up my stiff, tight muscles.

Mind-soothing points?

It was quite mindful, as it was hard to focus on anything else but stretching correctly. And I felt so much lighter afterwards – my stress eased off, alongside my tight muscles. And that blissful, relaxed feeling lasted for the rest of the day – even when I did the weekly grocery shop immediately post-session!

 

For calming and centering

Abbie-Joelle Skliarsky, writer

I tried…a free, one-hour YouTube yoga class, Yoga for Uncertainty,

by uber-yogi Adriene Mishler of ‘Yoga with Adriene’ fame (9.58 million subscribers)!

I need it because…

I only exercise if it’s fast – think quick runs to grime music or cycling back from the supermarket uphill like a mutant ninja turtle. But, apparently, this class can help balance emotional and mental health. And, after a tumultuous year, I need a mental vacation.

What’s the lowdown?

The first 10-minute breathing exercise aims to make you centred and calm. During the initial few minutes my mind kept wandering (sample thought: ‘Where’s my peeler, so I can make butternut squash curry for dinner?’) Once I stopped resisting and allowed myself to just listen to Adriene’s soothing voice, my racing brain slowed.

When it came to the actual yoga positions, I was nervous about some of the balancing ones. But Adriene breaks it down, step by step. And, strangely, I enjoyed hearing my spine, hips and neck clicking throughout as they got some blessed release – proof that WFB (working from bed) has hindered my already appalling posture. Post-class, I felt strong and accomplished, and for once I could focus on the task at hand instead of grappling with racing thoughts. Later in bed, there was no overthinking silly things until the wee hours.

Mind-soothing points

It was challenging physically (my muscles shook a lot during the class) and soothing mentally, so it felt like a 360-degree approach. Surprisingly, it had the intimacy of a one-to-one class – impressive for a YouTube freebie. I felt so much more at ease afterwards. Namaste!

Your mind-body buddies