Learn how mindful movement, the act of practicing mindfulness while working out, can help you find joy in exercise and moving your body.
My husband is the most zen person I know. He never stresses about the future unless there is something he actually should be looking ahead to and stressing about. Even then, it’s not really stress. More like intense contemplation. And he doesn’t even have to do meditation or yoga or read self help books to live so in the present moment. It’s just how he is.
I know, what a jerk.
A few months ago, a woman ran past us while we were out walking the dogs. As she approached, Scott shushed me. We walked in silence as she ran past. Of course, this had me wondering if I had married a serial killer, because unlike him, I often do stress about improbable future events like my husband offing me in my sleep. I was about to reach for my pepper spray (kidding!) until he explained to me that the sound of feet hitting the pavement was one of his favorite noises. He told me how when he goes running, sometimes he’ll turn off the music just to listen to himself. So zen.
His comment really stuck with me. I always think of yoga for building mindfulness and that ever elusive mind-body connection. But some people just aren’t in to yoga. Also, as much as I love it, I’ve been doing a lot less of it lately with Pure Barre and training for a half marathon in March. It made me think how distracted I had been on my runs. While temptation bundling and listening to podcasts while running had gotten me out the door, into the habit and had shown me that yes, I can run more than a mile without dying, I realized I could be getting more out of it.
Science shows the benefits of incorporating mindfulness into your workout routine. So many people think about weight loss as a motivator while exercising, visualizing those skinny jeans as they pound away on the elliptical. But this isn’t as motivating as you might think, and in fact, using weight loss as a motivator often backfires and actually can lead to weight gain. What studies do show is the most effective motivator is learning to enjoy exercise, or movement, for how it makes you feel. This is where mindfulness comes in.
Exercise often comes with negative sensations, so fully immersing yourself in it may seem counterintuitive. But mindfulness helps you accept those negative sensations and view them as less threatening. Let’s use myself as an example. I hate to plank. In Pure Barre, we have to do it for 90 seconds. Oy vey. On days I’m feeling particularly distracted and not focusing on being mindful, those 90 seconds seem more like 90 minutes. I curse myself and drop out before we’re halfway through. However, when I’m focused on mindfulness and actively paying attention to the sensation of planking, as uncomfortable as it is, I can hold it for the full 90 seconds. While I still don’t enjoy it per say, I leave those 90 seconds feeling really proud of myself and confident in my strength. I makes me want to show up again and prove to myself what else I can accomplish. I notice the same thing when I’m running. When I’m starting to feel like I’m hitting a wall, like I can’t go on any further, I tune into that feeling, and somehow it fades away.
Looking to incorporate more mindfulness into your exercise routine? Here’s some tips on how to do it:
ANCHOR WITH YOUR BREATH // To prevent injury, it’s important to stretch before exercise. Use that time to do some deep breathing and prepare yourself mentally for your workout. Take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel your breath as you move and make sure you’re not holding it. Sometimes when my workout is getting particularly difficult, I notice I’m not breathing very deeply. After a few deep breaths, I get a burst of energy.
FEEL YOUR BODY // As you’re moving, tune in to all the physical sensations in your body, both positive and unpleasant. Check in with your posture periodically. Notice your feet striking the floor, aching thighs, lungs stretching to fill up with air, trembling calf muscles, the stretch as your muscles release tension. Soak it all up, don’t try to forcibly make it go away. Obviously, you want to be aware of your own limits and potential for injury, but outside of that, resist the temptation to suppress or ignore.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SURROUNDINGS // Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, notice your environment. Of course, this is easier when your outdoors – you’ve got the sky, other runners, buildings, trees, parks, etc. But even indoors you can pay attention to the room, temperature, lighting, yourself in the mirror, the collective rhythm of everyone in class (try not to focus on one person in class, it’s creepy for them and you’ll likely end up comparing yourself). When I run, I call this running meditation playing a ‘human video camera’. I love to go through our historic neighborhood and imagine I’m filming everything I see, picking up on all the different details. Your surroundings don’t have to be all visual. Notice the sounds, smells and temperature too.
NOTICE HOW YOU FEEL AFTERWARDS // Perhaps most importantly, notice how you feel after your workout. Probably pretty great, right? Maybe you feel sore and tired, but you also feel confident, strong, accomplished, and clear headed. Tapping into how exercise makes you feel, not what it theoretically should make you look like, is by FAR the most powerful motivator to get you to strap on your running shoes (or your sticky socks or your stretchy pants or your speedo…). In one of our intuitive eating mastermind sessions, my friend (and future Joyful Eating Program co-creator!) Anne told me how she has her clients write a letter to themselves after exercising describing how they feel and pulling it out when they’re in need of a boost. I love that idea and just started incorporating it into my practice!
The big picture is that mindfulness helps you turn exercise in to ‘you time’ versus a chore. I presume you’d much rather spend an hour at the spa getting a massage than washing the dishes, right? So wouldn’t rather take some time to release tension in your body and clear your head than spend 30 minutes burning calories on the treadmill?
This Sunday when I was going for my long run while immersed in a podcast (this one in case you were wondering), I fell. Like, hard. On my face too. At the furthest point out, I had to run all the way back home with blood dripping down my hands and knees. In my fall, I managed to break my ear buds, which sounds sad but I think that’s what saved my face. Without anything to listen to, I was in effect, forced to practice mindfulness. I thought about Scott’s comment and tuned into the sound of my feet hitting the pavement. Despite looking like a scene from a horror movie, I had more pep to my step, and although my hands and knees were burning and sore, the rest of my body felt, well, good.
The next day when I went for my short run, I left the iphone at home. While I still will listen to something on most of my runs, it was a nice reminder to turn it off on occasion and let the sound of my own feet be my music.
Now tell me, what do you love about how moving your body makes you feel?