Back when I was a personal trainer in New York City, I would often run around the reservoir as part of triathlon training. After years of getting injured and managing chronic sore throats I realized I was burning myself out. One day I took my headphones off and for the first time actually paid attention to my body. This was the beginning of my mindful journey though I didn’t know there was a word for this.
In preparation for my upcoming retreat, Mindful Exercise, and the re-launch of my book “Mindful Exercise,” I thought it might be helpful to answer some of the questions I often get asked. I hope this empowers you to take another step along your mindful path!
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 any physical activity or movement.
Can you provide an example of mindful exercise in practice?
As you exercise, 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—a newfound sensitivity to movement that can 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 “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—your routine at the a gym, a walk in your neighborhood, playing golf, gardening, or a yoga class. By the way, yoga is not necessarily 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 on anything, per se. 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, over and over again, without self-judgment.
My exercise routines are so boring. Will that change?
Bringing mindfulness into an exercise routine transforms it from a workout or task to 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 repetitions, 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, what it needs and what you need. 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. With mindfulness, 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 better able to 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; 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 its 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.
Check out these tips to create a mindful exercise routine. For those of you who live in or near Connecticut, I’ll be leading a day retreat at Copper Beech Institute on Saturday, August 13th from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Hope to see you there!