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Forget six-packs and dead lifts – it’s no longer enough to spend hours beasting it in the gym. The latest trend sweeping the London fitness world is brain training aimed at boosting emotional and physical health.
If you’ve ever trained for a marathon, triathlon or another heart rate-raising test of endurance, you’ll know only too well that developing mental strength is a huge part of the challenge. Mental and physical fitness have long been intrinsically linked but, with mindfulness on an upward trajectory worldwide, cognitive health is coming to the fore – and nowhere more so than in London, where boutique classes are replacing iron with crystals.
Nestled in Eccleston Yards, behind the bustle of Victoria station, is Re:Mind, the capital’s first meditation studio. Here, for £22 a class, breathwork masters and reiki healers guide their clients through sessions designed to calm the mind and enhance focus. The jam-packed timetable – and the millennial-pink decor – is on a par with many of London’s top fitness studios.
Over the river in Waterloo, Mindset promotes physical, mental, emotional and social fitness. Book in for Reset, a yoga-meditation hybrid, or Boxset, a boxing-inspired workout designed to maximise fitness and mental agility.
Mood-boosting workouts can also be found in Shoreditch at ChromaYoga, a unique studio that harnesses the power of light, colour and brain-stimulating soundscapes to balance hormones and lull brainwaves into a meditative state.
Elsewhere, Barry’s Bootcamp – the international fitness phenomenon that claims to burn 1,000 calories in a session with its mix of strength and cardio intervals – has partnered with HUMEN, a charity that works to support men’s mental health.
Even high street gyms are getting in on the act. Fitness First has teamed up with athletics organisation RunTogether to launch initiatives such as #RunAndTalk, which aims to improve mental health by pounding the pavements.
When it comes to technology, super-high-end gym Equinox is leading the way at its locations in St James’s and Kensington. Swap a pre-training caffeine hit for a 20-minute session with its Halo Sport headset – AKA neuropriming headphones – that sends performance-enhancing electrical signals directly to the motor cortex. Studies show the technology puts the brain into a state of hyperplasticity, priming it to accept new movement patterns or strengthen existing ones. The result? The ability to go harder and faster, albeit at £130 a pop.
This level of mind control may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but research has shown biohacking brainwaves may well be the key to improved strength, both mental and physical. Regular meditation has been found to reduce stress by increasing alpha activity, while high-intensity exercise can supercharge beta waves, increasing alertness and sharpening cognitive function.
All these new studios, initiatives and technologies are proof that fitness is undergoing a holistic transformation – there’s never been a better time to widen the scope of your exercise.