For me movement is a daily practice and it cannot be missed if I want to stay well or move towards wellness. It requires the same kind of discipline as taking daily medication when managing mental illness. Movement is an essential part of my healing and mental health maintenance plan.
Different types of movement and exercise seem to have different effects on the brain and body. For example, cardiovascular exercise like running, biking, swimming, hiking or cross country skiing unravels and calms the mind. I can be deeply concerned about something from work or in my personal life, and this long, rhythmic exercise allows me to calmly work through problems or simply put them aside. Without fail my mind is settled by the end of one of these activities. There is also a benefit that comes from being out in nature breathing fresh air and taking in beautiful views while moving.
Playing ping pong has another effect all together. This game takes an immense amount of focus and I cannot think about any other aspect of life while playing. I practice at least once a week, as the benefits are immense. As I practice each stroke all my mind and body can do is return the ball. Other activities I’ve enjoyed that require a high degree of focus include waterskiing at 32 miles an hour and playing ultimate frisbee. I imagine climbing would have similar merit, as one has to concentrate on each move and upcoming move and can likely think of nothing else.
Freer movement such as dancing in my living room also has great benefit. I connect with my breath and settle into my body. For me dancing is very freeing. My body moves differently than it does playing a sport or doing a cardiovascular exercise. The beat of the music and the energy in my body flow together. I practice dancing with all the blinds drawn so I am not concerned with how a passer by might view what I am doing. Muscles that are tight from cardio unwind and my being feels looser and centred afterwards. This is truly liberating movement.
I practice one or more of these movements every day and I believe my mental health benefits greatly from this discipline. If I ever feel unmotivated or tired I will at least go for a walk. Movement is one of the many medicines essential for my mental health.
Note: After an episode or a period of low exertion I have to build back my stamina. I find it helps to use a fitness app to track my progress. I set small attainable goals that might start with walking 2 km and build to walk/run 3 and then 5km. Eventually I am able to comfortably run 5km. I always celebrate the act of just getting outside and giving a run a go. I try to get out in all weather conditions so that this does not become a limiting factor. If getting out feels like too much, I might also put on a yoga video in the living room or turn on music and allow my body to begin moving. Any amount of movement is better than no movement.