Do you feel as if every time you embark on a workout mission you wind up injured? Have you been trying to lose weight but no matter how much you exercise, you feel like you’re spinning your wheels? Perhaps it’s time to place some mindfulness into practice. A couple of minor adjustments and you could be on your way to meeting goals in a more productive and enjoyable way…
Meeting of the Mindful
Mindfulness has become a buzzword in our American culture as of late. The truth, however, is that being aware and focusing on the present is actually an ancient practice. Much of what comprises a worthy meditation practice is what’s involved in a mindful approach—to anything.
Author Jon Kabat Zinn in his book Mindfulness for Beginners, describes the state of being mindful as, “Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
A mindful technique is one that focuses on your feelings, sensations, and thoughts without you judging them. It’s about being conscious of sensations and all the stimuli around you. Being mindful means removing yourself from auto pilot and engaging in moment-to-moment awareness.
Exercise Minus the Pain
“No pain, no gain” is an outdated expression, not to mention unsafe. Yes, it’s good to push yourself now and then—by increments. It’s foolish to overwork your muscles or attempt a new workout without stretching, preparation, or having built up stamina and strength.
Yes, soreness may happen; but pain can be a sign of injury. Exercising with mindfulness can help prevent hurting your body. Injuries keep you from exercising regularly and can also cause long-term damage to muscles, bones, and joints.
Here are some mindful practice tips for a workout:
- focus on your breathing
- be aware of your heart rate
- take deliberate physical actions, paying attention at all times
- keep your mind from wandering
- integrate your mind into what you are doing with your body
Perks of the Practice
When you start taking notice of how you are moving your body, lifting the weight, or throwing the ball, you are less apt to hurt yourself. You will feel the heaviness or the awkwardness. Don’t just go through the motions. Be the motions.
Have you ever taken an aerobic-type class and felt like a robot? Or does the teacher seem like a robot, playing the same music (not feeling it), and doing the same moves every time? It’s not fun. And, it’s not productive.
When you are present and move your body with deliberate motions, you can build strength, improve balance, and get quicker results from your efforts. In addition, you’ll find that you will have more fun. A workout can actually be enjoyable and feel rewarding.
Mental Methods for Exercise
Everyone’s mind wanders. But when it comes to exercise, especially if you have a goal in mind, it’s important to maintain focus. Mindful exercise coaches suggest redirecting your thoughts to the actual exercise task. Within time, you will build a habit of attending to your actions.
Elinor Fish is a former editor of Trail Runner Magazine. She now conducts mindful running retreats, helping women learn how to avoid injury and regain their love of running and exercise. Fish describes mindful running like: “Synching movement with breath, focusing your mind on a single point like the trail ahead… These are just some of the ways running creates the coherence in the body that supports present-moment awareness and flow,”
Getting it Done
If you want to exercise to be safe and second nature—and you want to lose weight—you must make a plan on what you want to accomplish each session. Whether you are running, lifting, swimming, biking, etc. decide in advance a reasonable amount of time and/or distance you’ll be participating.
If, for example, you chose a high-intensity compilation of movements for 20 minutes, stick to it. Don’t let your mind wander. Don’t answer calls, check texts, or stop to jot down something you just thought of to make for dinner. Act with intention and awareness, and try not to veer from that path.
Be prepared before you start. Have on the correct shoes, get your water, and have your timer nearby. Create the proper lighting and make sure you have air. Forget about everything else for these few minutes.
You owe it to yourself to keep your body safe and healthy. Aside from losing weight, improving balance, and gaining strength, mindful exercise can also help you reduce stress. That, in and of itself, is a gift to your mental and physical health.
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Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Mindfulness for Beginners. 2012.