Bring Mindfulness into Movement for a Double Dose of Well-Being
When it comes to quick hits for feeling great, exercise is often the unsung hero. Regular exercise improves our mood, controls weight, improves sleep, increases energy, and reduces the risk of disease and health conditions.
Research has shown that mindfulness meditation reduces stress. So as an exercise physiologist and mindfulness teacher I decided to combine the two for even greater impact. Here are some questions I often get asked.
What is mindful exercise?
Mindful exercise is about paying attention, in the present moment, to the experience of exercise with kindness and patience. You can think about exercise as physical activity or just plain movement.
Can you provide an example of mindful exercise in practice?
Try taking off the headphones and turning off the TV. See if you can simply notice the sensations of breathing and moving. You might notice your heart rate getting faster, the body warming up, or perspiration. You may also be aware of the muscles working, pain, fatigue, or exhilaration.
How will it change how I exercise now?
You’ll likely notice things about your body you never noticed before and reduce your chance of injury. As you tune into your body you’ll be able to take better care of yourself in general. Mindful exercise is not the “vanilla” so to speak. It’s a way of moving that will help you create a sense of balance.
Are some exercises more conducive to mindfulness than others?
You can bring mindfulness into any physical activity or sport. Whether you go to a gym, walk in your neighborhood, golf, garden, or take a yoga class. By the way, not all yoga is mindful. It’s not “what” you’re doing, it’s “how” you’re doing it.
What do I focus on when exercising mindfully?
You don’t need to focus per se on anything. It’s more of a gentle awareness of whatever is happening in your body without criticism. You’ll likely notice thoughts and feelings, too. When your mind wanders off, just notice whatever thought has drawn your attention away. And bring your attention back to the breath and movement. If an emotion bubbles up, you can acknowledge whatever is true for you. Mindful exercise involves managing distraction and being aware of whatever is happening within you, again, without self-judgment.
My exercise routines are so boring. Will that change?
Bringing mindfulness into an exercise routine can transform it into a practice of self-discovery, and for some even a spiritual practice. You’ll learn how to access your inner stillness and connect with the wisdom of your body. As you tune into what your body needs you’ll likely be more creative with your exercise routines. You may even be more open to trying different types of physical activity.
Will mindfulness change my exercise results?
If you’re doing any type of strength training routine, exercising mindfully will make your workouts more effective. Moving slowly and purposefully will help you get stronger, faster. Your workouts will be shorter because you’ll be doing less reps, and doing them more slowly. You’ll notice the difference between muscle pain and joint pain. You’ll learn to stretch but not overstretch, keeping your body safe.
What other changes might I notice?
Overall you’ll be more tuned in to your own body and you’ll get to know yourself better. Your body will always tell you if something is a good idea or a bad one. If your body likes your choice, it will respond with relief. If it doesn’t, the body will get tense. You’ll be better able to manage the stressful thoughts that drain your energy level and keep you up at night. You’ll also be able to be more in touch with your feelings and regulate strong emotions so you can respond rather than react in stressful situations.
How will mindful exercise benefit my life?
Practicing patience and kindness with your body will spill over into other areas of your life. You’ll likely be more patient and kind with other people at home and work. The body’s capabilities change from day to day and mindfulness will enable you to be in a place of gratitude for whatever the body can do that day. You’ll learn to feel more grateful for the magnificence of your body regardless of size, age, or health status. As you focus on what’s right about your body you’ll be more able to focus on what’s right about your life.
I invite you to check out my first book, Mindful Exercise: A Bridge Between Yoga and Exercise.