After years of training clients, we observed with dismay that some of them, even though they exercised and ate properly, were losing muscle instead of fat. We experimented with different approaches to exercising and dieting, but nothing solved the problem. How to reverse this mysterious dynamic occurred to us while we were preparing for the World Weightlifting Championship in 1996.
Because serious weightlifting training causes many fine tears in the muscles, as well as depleting the nervous and hormonal systems, we always followed a training session by sitting in a hot tub to repair those muscles and restore those systems. Nevertheless, although we relaxed our bodies in this way, we were still stressed mentally as we thought about the upcoming competition, and that stress prevented us from recovering fully.
Searching for ways to relax our minds, we found that meditation relaxed us the most. At the same time, over a period of weeks, as we studied our daily journals, where we recorded our own measurements, we noticed that we were losing fat while gaining muscle mass. Since the only change in our routines was the addition of meditation, we concluded that meditation must have something to do with the loss of fat.
In analyzing this phenomenon, we thought it might be related to the parasympathetic nervous system. The body has two nervous systems: the sympathetic, which controls action, and the parasympathetic, which controls recovery from action. The first system uses adenosine triphosphate (ATP) as energy, which helps one to lift; the second system uses fat as energy, which helps one to recover. Therefore, the more relaxed we are after we exercise, the more fat we burn.
Athletes use ATP during explosive movements because it is the fastest energy fuel provided by the body. When ATP is depleted, the body burns sugar for energy, then muscle, and finally fat.
Thus, the body burns fat when it is either exhausted or relaxed. We didn't want to exhaust our clients, but to relax them. In the context of exercise, there are many ways to relax, such as getting a massage or spending time in a sauna, hot tub, or steam room. But these relax the body without necessarily relaxing the mind. To relax both the body and the mind, without the help of other people or complicated equipment, one need only practice daily meditation. We have found, after much experimentation, that this works best combined with aroma therapy and meditative music. For these, a bottle of essential oil and an iPod® or CD player are all one needs. In The Happy Body program, we use lavender oil and Jules Massenet's "Thai Meditation" (specifically, the version performed by the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra) to relax our clients after they have completed their exercise routines (Figure 5.1). When they have used aroma therapy and music for several weeks, our clients not only lose fat and gain muscle, but they also become calmer, more rational, and more pleasant.
Thus, in any exercise program, mental relaxation is just as important as the physical activity. Furthermore, relaxation is just as important outside the context of exercise. We have found, for example, that whenever our clients are nervous or tense, they only have to play the Massenet piece and, like a mantra, it immediately relaxes them.