Mindful Fitness: A Guide to Incorporating Mindfulness Into Your Daily Workout Routine
These days, our minds are constantly running in the background. Where did I put my keys? Am I going to be late on that project? We’re juggling so many thoughts and distractions that it’s safe to say that our brains get the best workout of any part in our body.
But all that static starts to take a toll: stress and anxiety can hasten the onset of aging-related memory issues, and in the short-term, contribute to unhealthy behaviors like overeating and disrupted sleep.
We’re pretty tense as a nation, on the whole. And for many of us, exercise is our go-to stress management strategy. Many of us use our fitness routine as their chief stress reduction technique. And it’s no wonder; multiple studies report that physical activity relieves anxiety and lowers stress levels in the body.
Mindfulness practice offers many of the same benefits. Mindful meditation has been shown to be an effective technique to manage anxiety and depression, because it teaches participants to recognize harmful recurring thoughts, and acknowledge destructive patterns. Knowing that both mindful meditation and exercise help soothe stress and anxiety, is it possible to harness both methods at once? The answer is a resounding “yes!” Here’s how to do it.
Allow Yourself to “Just Be”
In the fitness world, there’s a lot of emphasis on results—and subsequently, a great deal of our fitness routines become simply a means to an end, rather than focusing on the process. This can lead you to try to control every aspect of your workout, which just isn’t possible. Instead of mentally tallying the things you need to improve, concentrate on listening and accepting your environment and the state of your body… as it is.
If you feel stiffness, allow it to be there. Listen to the sounds going on around you: the sound of your external environment, the cars, the birds, or the thrum of the treadmill and those inside your body, your breath and your heart beating. Don’t try to change them; simply accept these things as they are.
Feel Your Intentions as an Accomplished Fact:
A lot issues arise when we’re always reaching to our next goal. For one thing, this can occasionally cause runners to push past their limits and injure themselves. In their eagerness to achieve, they stop listening to their body. For this reason, it is helpful to spend time before any activity setting an intention for that day’s session. Perhaps your intention is to work toward your goals some days, but on other days, it may be as simple as getting out when you feel tired or working off some stress. Setting this intention before you journey out—and feeling it as an already-accomplished fact (I am strong, or I am able to run a marathon, etc.) will help you gently return your focus to the present moment.
Listen to Your Body:
The mind-body connection doesn’t stop once your workout begins, of course. It’s important to continue listening to your body—even when you’re feeling the burn. Close attention will help you distinguish between discomfort and pain. Listening without judgment is a way to reinforce positive thoughts. And, allowing yourself to sit with your body’s discomfort reminds you that all things are temporary, even this. This can help you find renewed strength to push past mental and physical barriers, all while avoiding injuries.
Pay Attention to Your Breath:
There’s a reason so many meditation techniques revolve around the breath: measured breathing stills and focuses your mind, calming and soothing anxiety. Depending on the type of exercises you regularly engage in, you may even begin to coordinate your breathing to your movements. For instance, if you are a runner, you may find yourself inhaling and taking three steps, and then exhaling in three steps. This regularity has a deep meditative effect. For more high-energy exercises, breathing can help you refocus when an exercise becomes challenging. For instance, if you are beginning to meet your edge in a round of high-intensity interval training, you may find a few deep breaths can give you the concentration you need to make it over that hump.
Work to Achieve Balance:
One reason breathing is such an instrumental tool for meditation is that it has a natural balance. Inhaling fills the body with breath from outside, exhaling releases that energy back into the world. In this way, two things that seem to be polar opposites exist in harmony. Many psychologists and fitness experts puzzle over mindfulness exercises: how can a participant be both goal-oriented and accepting of present conditions at the same time? In order to truly harness the positive benefits of mindfulness, and achieve balance, your conditioning must embody both sides of the equation. That means accepting where you are right now, while reminding yourself that there is a larger goal at play.
To begin, let yourself feel both modes. How does it feel when you think about achieving your goals, looking toward the future you hope to see one day? And, how does it feel when you do the opposite, letting go of ambition and accepting yourself completely as you are now? Only when you spend time examining both of these contrasting ideas at once can you truly master a mindful workout—and the many benefits in stress reduction and improved fitness that come along with it.