One of the great reasons for practicing yoga is its ability to bring you into the moment with mindfulness. Therefore, it's not surprising that exercise and overall fitness programs are starting to bring mindfulness into mainstream regimens such as running, swimming, biking or, for that matter, weight lifting. First, what is mindfulness as it relates to fitness? Mindfulness is a mental state you achieve by keeping your awareness in the present moment.
Being mindful and in the moment allows you to tune into your feelings and body sensations without all the clutter of distracting thoughts of the past or the future. A study done by two Harvard psychologists in 2010 using an iPhone app found we spend 46.9 percent of our waking hours thinking about things other than what we are doing in the moment.
There is an old Zen saying "You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour."
Needless to say we should all be practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes a day and adding mindfulness to fitness opens up a lot of possibilities. When you apply mindful exercise, you create a balance between your body and your mind. Most exercise regimens are inherently designed to stress the body for growth and endurance. When you apply mindfulness practices to your workout, you link your mind to your body, cultivating an awareness that can reduce stress and add resilience to your workout.
Being in the moment can be a very effective tool with specific exercises to control concentration and technique. How many times have you gone to do a workout while distracted and had a poor or unfulfilling training session? Olympic coaches have known for many years a clear mind is the key to winning. You often hear Olympic athletes reference their given sport as 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.
It is also interesting to note that many people head for a run or the gym to clear their head and forget the troubles or issues of the moment or day. Most people who do this do not realize they are already practicing mindful-based fitness. The level of attention some place into a run or workout is in itself the definition of mindfulness. Those who master this get the added benefit of endorphins at the end of the workout and they feel refreshed and clear headed.
The key to mindful fitness and exercise is allowing yourself to listen to your body. This aspect will increase your physical capacity to reach farther without pushing yourself beyond what you think you can or want to do. Mindfulness is a very effective way of removing those obstacles and making any fitness regimen easy, relaxing, even fun. Mindful practice can be an amazing shift in how you approach your fitness and escape from nagging daily pressures to be in the present moment. When you apply this level of attention in a workout, it becomes extremely calming, helps your body relax and your performance excels.
Here are a few ways to make this work for you:
1. First try this: Practice to get tuned in to your body while being in the moment. Sit or lie down, close your eyes, quietly make yourself very comfortable. Now starting at your feet, focus how they feel, if you notice pain or discomfort stay focused on those sensations. Being relaxed and aware of your body in the moment will start a process of homeostasis where your body can engage in self-repair. Once you're in this state, slowly allow your awareness to move up from your feet to your legs then drift further up your body, paying attention to any sensations in each area as you move up. Breathe fully while you do this and start out for 5 minutes then do it for 10 or 20 minutes as you get better holding your focus in the moment.
2. Walking mindfulness or walking meditation is another great practice that will easily get you into mindful fitness with movement. The first thing you will want to do is stand, feeling the connection of your body to the ground. As your awareness becomes fixed to the ground and the moment, also notice your breathing. Only focus on the sensations of touching the ground and breathing. Start walking and only pay attention to your feet touching the ground and your breath. Then as you move, shift the focus to the air, sun and breeze on your skin and general surroundings. If thoughts come into your mind, bring your focus back to your breathing. Once you get a cadence with you walking and being in the moment, you will find it to be very relaxing and you may even be surprised at how far you walked without even noticing the distance.
3. Once you have mastered the first two practices, you are now ready to try to apply mindfulness to all your fitness regimens. As you become more skilled at staying focused in the moment, you can move to more advanced practices working with your emotions, specific body sensations and even controlling body movements such as heart rate and muscle contractions. The best way to start with these mindfulness practices is observing your breath. Only focus on your breathing to get yourself in a state of complete focus in the moment. Allow yourself now to feel all your current emotions and body sensations with detail. Keep your mind quiet and connect to these feelings, both physical and emotional. Now if you're weight lifting, swimming or even biking, take notice how your body is moving and does it feel right, is it natural? Let your body tell your brain what it wants by allowing the physical sensations to move or shift to it's natural state or condition. You will be amazed at how well your brain and body will sync up and become more at ease working together.
All three of these practices take some time to master and even if you do not workout, you can apply mindfulness to your everyday routine. This is one of the simplest wellness regimens you can do for yourself to calm the world around you and improve all aspects of your life. From a fitness and improved performance point, you will be amazed at how mindful fitness can take you to the next level if you allow yourself the opportunity to quiet your mind and listen to your body.
A recognized health and wellness presenter, fitness trainer and now primal health coach in the Inland Northwest. Now in his eighth year of bringing health and wellness through his writing, teaching and coaching, Judd delivers his well-rounded message of mindfulness, nutrition and fitness to readers and clients alike.