Mindful fitness is the practice of bringing your attention inward during physical exercise. So many of us mindlessly work out just to get in the reps or the time in the gym. We all have fitness goals, and most of us just try to meet them as quickly as possible without thinking and appreciating the process. The goal of mindful fitness is to enjoy your workouts and cultivate a deeper connection between the mind and body while you’re being active.
Here are 5 helpful tips to get started in mindful fitness:
1. Do a body-scan every morning
An important aspect of mindful fitness is to really listen to what type of exercise or movement your body is craving that day. Often times burn-out or boredom occur because we think we need to do the same type of rigorous exercise 5-days a week in order to see results. However if you take a minute (literally, one minute) each morning to notice how your body is feeling and base your workouts on your body-scan, you can prevent injury and burn out. Check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling physically and mentally. Notice if you’re feeling sore in a particular spot, or if you have pent-up energy that needs to be expelled. What is the first type of movement that comes to mind that you feel your mind and body would benefit from? You might find that your body is telling you it needs some TLC — light stretching or yoga poses instead of the usual high-intensity class you go to. Take the time to take an inventory of how your body is feeling, and respond accordingly.
How often are you in the middle of a workout and all you can think about is what you’re going to cook for dinner or that big work presentation you have to give tomorrow? It’s become a bad habit for people to work out mindlessly or be distracted while doing it. When your mind is elsewhere during a workout, you aren’t putting all your energy and effort into the movement, and thus not being as efficient or getting as good of a workout in as you possibly could. Also if your mind is focusing on all the stressors in your life, you are not able to receive the stress reducing benefit of clearing your mind during a workout. Many people like to run long distances because they are able to get into a flow where they can forget about their hassles for a while. By bringing the attention inward, you are better able to reach this flow state.
To help focus all your attention and energy on your workout, try doing simple breathing practices beforehand. Try closing your eyes and counting your breath (you can always do this in a bathroom stall if you feel weird doing it in public at your gym…I don’t blame you). Make an intention for yourself and the workout you’re about to complete. An example of an intention could be a bigger goal such as losing weight or training for the next big race, or it could be that you simply want to do something for yourself after a long day at the office. Try to keep that intention and attention inward throughout the entire workout.
Next time you’re doing crunches I want you to try something. For the first round, try to do as many crunches as you can in 30 seconds. The only thing that matters is your speed and the number of reps you get in. For the next round, do only 20 crunches. Except this time, really focus HARD on your abdominal muscles. Fold each muscle into each other slowly…as slowly as you possibly can. Concentrate on your stomach muscles pulling you up.
Which set was harder? My bet’s on the second one. It’s not about the quantity of reps you get in; it’s about the quality of each one. Being mindful of the muscles you’re working out while you’re working them can help to slow you down and get the most out of your workout.
For this one I’d like you to try something a little different. While still meditating on the muscle you’re working, consider the function of that particular muscle and try to connect it with emotional goals you have. Take the basic bicep curl, for example. The purpose of your bicep is to bring objects closer to your body. So while doing your bicep curls, think about not only how your muscles are working, but also some things in your everyday life that you’d like to bring closer to you. Is there a person in your life you wish you were closer to? Perhaps you’d like to bring healthier eating habits to your household. When we relate our movements to emotions we are cultivating a stronger mind-body connection and could bridge the gap between thinking something and actually doing it!
5. Be gentle with yourself
The most important part of mindful fitness is to recognize what your limitations are and being accepting and appreciative of your body no matter what. There will be days when your body won’t do a specific yoga pose or finish a running route that you easily accomplished just days before. Just as you can be in a bad, sad, or good mood, your body can change drastically from day to day, hour to hour. Be gentle with yourself. Being mindful of how your body is feeling from day to day could prevent you from pushing it to the brink of injury – physical or emotional.
Mindful fitness can help prevent injury, grow a deeper connection between mind and body, and ultimately spread mindfulness into other aspects of your life. These are just a few simple techniques you can start practicing today. Pick one to start with this week and see the difference it makes. Don’t forget to come back and try the others as you master each step.