Why Osher Gunsberg chants while he's running.

Image: Instagram.

Did you know that you can use your workout time to also exercise your brain? I learned this trick from TV presenter Osher Gunsberg, while listening to his podcast, The Osher Gunsberg Podcast, in which he interviews “success stories” – including our very own publisher, Mia Freedman.

Osher’s trick involves chanting while you exercise, which combines the practice of meditation with physical exertion, with a dash of cognitive behaviour therapy thrown in there, too. It sounds crazy, but like all crazy things – such as cat cafes – it’s awesome, helpful and completely plausible.

On the one-year anniversary of his podcast, Gunsberg discussed his practice of chanting while running or cycling:

The idea is that you chant a present-tense, positive, if-then program into your head.

For example, so, you’re really nervous about a job interview, and you’re worried about getting asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, and in the past you’ve blushed or panicked.

You can say [to yourself], “If I don’t know the answer, I’ll smile and say, ‘I’ll get back to you.'” And you jog, and you repeat it in time with your breaths and your steps. And what happens is you’re kind of digging this neural pathway into your brain. This is what I’ve found anyway, don’t know if it’s true, but it works for me somehow.

And then, in that moment, later on, when you’re in that job interview and someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, you go, ‘You know what? Can I get back to you on that?’

I’ve found I can rewrite my automatic behaviours by doing that. I do it now, when I’m cycling, even though my cadence when I’m cycling is much faster than when I’m jogging. (Post continues after gallery.)

He further described an alternative method for creating his chanting mantra:

The other thing that I do, is that if I’ve got something that’s bothering me, if my brain’s being irrational, trying to process something, telling me the world’s gonna end, I’ll sit down and I’ll write out a rational response to the irrational thought, and I’ll take the rational response out, and I’ll jog with the rational response, just repeating it, like a mantra, and it makes everything feel a lot better. But that’s just what works for me.

Related: MIA: “My green smoothie does not make me better than you”  

While it might sound a little out there to some, Rachel Clements, director of psychological services at Centre for Corporate Health reckons it could be very helpful for those suffering from mental illness, or those wanting to improve their thought patterns.

“A lot of research from neuropsychology shows that most of our thinking is based on habits,” she says.

Osher Gunsberg exercising. (Image via Instagram)

"Over X amount of years of thinking in certain ways, we’ve developed thinking habits, such as worrisome or pessimistic thinking," explains Clements. "We’ve formed neural pathways."

Related: Lena Dunham: ‘Exercise has helped with my anxiety in ways I never dreamed possible.’  

Clements describes a neural pathway as "a little train track in the brain that allows us to think and process information". Impulses get sent from the brain via this "train track", which then cause us to think or behave in a certain way.

Osher Gunsberg takes a selfie during a cycle in LA. He says, "Everything makes sense in my brain when I'm out riding." (Image via Instagram)

"If an event happens to us, such as a job interview, we go straight down the neural pathway that’s been built up over years and years," adds Clements.

Related: Is it better to eat before or after exercise? 

"So, what Osher’s saying, is that he’s trying to create a new neural pathway, and it can be done. We can unlearn unhelpful ways of thinking, and intentionally and effortfully learn something new. It does work."

Osher Gunsberg and friend. (Image via Instagram)

I don’t know about you, but when I exercise, I’m not exactly thinking about flowers and kittens. For some reason, I start thinking about all the things that are stressing me out.

While using the cross-trainer at the gym, I started having completely irrational thoughts about a green smoothie. I wish I could tell you that I was worried about political issues or something similarly cerebral and meaningful, but no, I was in total panic mode about the green smoothie I was planning to make once I got home.

Carla GS exercising. (Image via Instagram user @carla_gs1)

“Do I have orange juice at home?” I wondered, as I had a distinct visual of my husband guzzling the remainder of it that morning, straight from the carton.

“I can’t make a green smoothie without juice, because then it will taste disgusting. I know, I’ll walk to Coles after this and buy some. Wait – I didn’t bring any money!”

Carla GS concocts a green smoothie. (Image via Instagram user, @carla_gs1)

Like I said, I’m definitely not calm or rational when I exercise.

Related: Forget kale – these are the superfood trends coming your way in 2015.  

It was then that I remembered Gunsberg's chanting tip. I started chanting, “I am calm. I am strong. I will be okay", for the remainder of my workout. I felt better, and funnily enough, I was able to concentrate on what my body was doing, rather than the weird thoughts in my head.

Carla GS' running shoes. (Image via Instagram user, @carla_gs1)

I didn’t do the chanting exercise perfectly – I cheated by chanting in my head, and I was also chanting a mantra, rather than an if-then intention. But, as Gunsberg says, it worked for me.

Related: How I tricked myself into becoming a “running person”.  

I would also like to add that I was having this green smoothie-induced anxiety due to a previous bad experience. Last time I jogged (in 2012 – and I wish that was a joke), I got home and dramatically vomited up a green smoothie, and I have been shy of drinking green smoothies ever since.

But this time, it was all fine. I got home, and there was a full carton of orange juice in the fridge. I was going to be okay.

Thanks for the advice, Osher!

If you’re interested to know more about Osher Gunsberg's chanting, he describes the process in even more detail on The Rich Roll Podcast.