When I first started to enjoy exercise, not just do it because I knew it was important for my health but actually look forward to working my body to the point of exhaustion, I did it because I loved feeling myself grow in strength, stamina and endurance. I appreciated the aesthetic changes in my physique as well as my enhanced flexibility and agility.
I craved each workout because I could feel the changes in my physical body as I worked to carve and shape a healthier version of myself.
Yet as my life evolved from here, I started to recognize how other aspects of my health are equally as important. I began to practice meditation as a way of not only calming my thoughts so that I could relax but also to enhance the strength, flexibility and endurance of my mind and my mental health.
Meditation has opened up my world in so many ways, or more accurately, it has helped me open up and become more mindful of myself and the world around me. Mindfulness is a key aspect of meditation and one which I am now working to implement into all the other areas of my life.
Exercise being no exception. Which brings me to today’s blog; Why mindfulness should play a key role in your workout.
It may be common sense that you are better off paying attention when you are trying to say, bench press 200 lbs, as opposed to being off with the fairies! Though that could be fun, too! However, there is a difference between paying attention and being mindful.
Mindfulness involves drawing your awareness into the present moment and being aware not only of your surroundings but also of your body, breath and mind as you work to move through different exercises.
It is the witnessing and observation of your internal and external environment happening in the present moment.
This technique will enhance your workout experience in many ways, including increased body awareness and an appreciation for movement, a deeper connection with your breath and the role it plays in exercise, as well as cultivating a healthier and more accepting body image.
Increased Body Awareness
Ever been at the gym, pumping iron, or slogging it on the treadmill and realized that your mind has been miles away?
If I am honest, it has happened to me many times!
The problem is that the more familiar you are with an exercise, the more likely you are to allow your attention to wander off and your form is likely to suffer for it. Having correct form while practicing an exercise not only ensures you gain the most out of each movement, it also helps protect your body from injury.
When mindfulness is incorporated into the practice of exercise, the experience and understanding of your progress can move beyond the atomic motion and be taken all the way down to a cellular level.
You are no longer simply bending your elbow and working against a resistance. Instead, you can feel into the different muscles and tendons that are contracting and relaxing in order to make the movement possible. You create an awareness of the muscle fibres that are being stressed, in order that they can repair themselves to be stronger and more resilient than before.
Incorporating mindfulness into your strength training expands the benefits outside of the physical realm to incorporate numerous psychological benefits as well. Not only does your enhanced awareness of body and breath help protect you from injury, it also enhances your bioenergy, enabling you to experience more fluid movements and foster faster muscle recovery and healing. As Chris Kresser mentions in his podcast, mindfulness is an important element in supporting metabolic reserves and preventing adrenal fatigue.
Through applying mindfulness into your strength training, you are able to really experience your body as a flowing energetic force, instead of just a solid physical object to be manipulated and moved.
This understanding of the energetic body, which is referred to as the ‘pranamaya kosha’ in Ayurvedic terms, helps us to better understand limitations within the body, and ways with which to work to strengthen and overcome them.
Improved Body Image & Self-acceptance
There is nothing wrong with exercising as a means to enhance your body aesthetically. Just as there is nothing wrong with taking pride in the results you achieve through hard work and perseverance.
Yet in this modern day, with mainstream media, magazines, and movies constantly presenting us with ‘images of the ídeal body’, many people can fall into a habitually abusive relationship with their bodies. This abuse takes shape internally with negative thoughts each time we look in the mirror or step onto the scales.
Through cultivating mindfulness in union with enhancing our physical fitness, a healthier perspective is formed. We start to develop more of an appreciation of our own unique body and what we can achieve with it, as well as an increased awareness and understanding of all the phases we move through, both internally and externally.
Tips To Cultivate Mindfulness Into Your Workout
Mindfulness in itself is a technique that involves bringing your focus, attention and awareness into the present moment. In doing this you become aware not only of your body, how you are breathing, moving and feeling but also of your mind and how you are feeling emotionally. By drawing your awareness into the present moment you are able to form a deeper connection with the experience of exercise, with all the benefits it provides.
Here are some tips to help you cultivate more mindfulness into your workout:
- Switch off your phone – Having your phone near you is asking for distraction. Receiving TXTs, calls or notifications from social media sites are only going to pull your attention into the digital world, even if only for a moment of two. Attempting to multi-task (and we have all been there!) will prevent you from being mindful of yourself as you exercise and your workout will suffer because of it.
- Opt for silence – Though listening to music can be motivational and enjoyable when working out, it does tend to distract the mind. Try opting for silence, or listening to music without lyrics so that your mind is not tempted to sing along and trail off in thought.
- Tune into your breath – Your breath works as an anchor for your mind into your physical body. It is a key tool in present moment awareness, because when you think about it. it is always happening right now! Breathing also plays an integral role in exercising and can be used to help tap into energetic reserves so that you can push that little bit further.
- Internal & External Environments – Use this time to really connect with your physical body. Acknowledge how it is feeling today and remember that it is normal to have the occasional ‘off day’. Mindfulness is about observing the internal environment without judgment or criticism. It is not about comparing how you feel today to how you may have felt 5 or 10 years ago, or even how you felt last week. Just tuning into the different sensations you are experiencing in each moment.
Just as you tune into your body, have a sense of what is happening around you. Take note of the other people and how they seem to be feeling. Pay attention to the temperature of the air, the time of day, your surroundings. Use this awareness to help anchor your focus into the present moment.
- Acknowledge Discomfort – A good workout requires pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, which means it is likely you will experience a little discomfort. Being mindful of this sensation for what it is, a necessity in growth and development, will help you lean into the experience instead of retreating from it.
- Don’t Forget To Stretch – Your warm-down is a perfect way to really move your body with intention. Feel the rewarding stretches as they move your muscles and aid in recovery. Give your body the TLC it deserves!