- Health Solutions
- Diet & Nutrition
- Skin Care
- Healthy Living
You are hereHome › Revitalize Your Exercise Routine with Mindfulness
Revitalize Your Exercise Routine with Mindfulness
Revitalize Your Exercise Routine with Mindfulness
On the face of it, the meditative aspect of mindfulness—sitting on a cushion with eyes closed while struggling to quiet the mind—seems to have little in common with the huffing and puffing of a vigorous workout. But experts say mindfulness and exercise tend to draw out the best qualities in each other: Their special alchemy transforms the dullness of routine into the freshness of the new.
As esoteric as it sounds, mindfulness is simply a moment-to-moment awareness of the present experience with one important caveat: no judgment allowed. This focused attention carries with it a host of positive consequences for exercise. The benefits, says Brian Shiers, personal training director at Toluca Lake Tennis Club in Los Angeles and founder of www.meditationontherun.com, include “360 degrees of influence on muscle tension, reduced chances of injury, increased ability to manage pain and improvement of people’s response to stress and anxiety.”
While tai chi, Pilates and yoga are modalities based on mindfulness, any exercise can incorporate this technique, says Shiers, who holds a certificate in mindfulness facilitation from the University of California, Los Angeles’ Mindful Awareness Research Center.
To make a workout mindful, Shiers suggests you:
- Set an intention to practice mindfulness during the exercise session.
- Choose your whole body or a section of your body to be the anchor for awareness. For example, this could include breathing or could be the abdominal muscles, the hands, the feet, or the upper or lower back.
- Use your anchor to create a sensitive field of awareness in which body sensations, emotions, and thoughts are observed with curiosity, kindness, and non-judgment.
Incorporating mindfulness through exercise puts us in touch with our most immediate sense—our visceral awareness of our body, such as pain, temperature, thirst, and even sensual touch, also known as interoception. It’s not about austerity, however.
“You don't have to abandon music while working out, nor do you have to practice mindfulness every time you break a sweat,” Shiers says. And while being outside in nature can be more conducive to opening our senses, mindfulness can occur in any environment. “Consider mindful movement part of your tool kit and practice it until it feels natural, then use it as often as you see fit.”
Ultimately, when you marry mindfulness to movement, big changes are afoot. Be prepared to:
Embody your life. When we are mindful, we have the chance to fully inhabit our bodies, not go on autopilot and tune our bodies out. Repetitive exercise can often be an opportunity to tune out rather than tune in, and brood on whatever ails us. Mindfulness can decrease these ruminative thoughts, which in turn reduces stress, suggests a study published in 2007 in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Combining mindfulness with exercise gives movement an unavoidable immediacy and enhances our capacity to pay attention. The emotions that arise as we move—fear, elation, boredom—can be welcomed rather than ignored. With practice, meditation experts believe that cultivating a curiosity about how our inner life is in motion as well brings an added layer of richness to any form of exercise.
Make it new. “Mindfulness keeps exercise fresh,” Shiers says. Indirectly, this freshness translates into injury prevention. “For chronic exercisers in particular, their adaptive habits, such as the way their bodies compensate to avoid pain, tends to get noticed and addressed more quickly,” he says. A study published in the 2010 issue of Consciousness and Cognition also showed that mindfulness training reduces fatigue and improves visuo-spatial processing and executive functioning.
Overcome resistance. Mindfulness can get at the root of the self-defeating attitudes that prevent a person from adhering to an exercise routine. Shiers points out that the technique’s emphasis on gentleness helps people not only uncover what’s in their way, but also use those insights to move toward self-care. Are you afraid of getting out of breath? Or how you look in exercise clothes? By listening to your body, you can understand how your thinking can become your biggest limitation. When awareness gets grounded in the physiological, the mind can take a break from its constant agenda of thinking, planning and worrying.
Try it: The most direct way to begin is with a quiet breath awareness practice, and then apply that awareness of the body to exercise and movement, says Shiers. He recommends starting any exercise routine with the following technique:
Begin by sitting down, closing your eyes and letting your mind settle. Focus your awareness on your breathing, either in your stomach, chest or nostrils. View any thoughts that arise with curiosity and nonjudgment, and let them come and go. Mentally label your experience, such as feeling, smelling or thinking as you sit for a few minutes. Don’t try and stop your thoughts, but simply keep returning to the present moment by paying attention to your breath. Now, you are ready to exercise.
Elizabeth is an award-winning journalist who has written about everything from agave syrup to placebos to zero waste. She writes for the magazines Natural Health, Backpacker and FitPregnancy, among others, as well as a handful of websites, including Gaiam and Natural Medicine Journal. She also has coauthored a 52-card oracle deck with guidebook called The Mother’s Wisdom Deck (Sterling Publishers).
February 23rd, 2012