Walk into any gym and you see a host of folks wearing earbuds and getting sweaty, each person approaching exercise as a time to struggle through and/or to zone out.
Adding a practice of mindfulness to your workouts not only takes the dread out of exercise, but increases your connection to your body and the wisdom it has to offer.
Like many who run, I look forward to a nice jog on a sunny afternoon because it is often the one time I get to switch off my brain and just move. I grab my phone, turn on my tunes, and head for the trail. I pace my steps to the beat of the music and let my mind wander aimlessly for the next half hour or more.
There are days, when this state of mindlessness is just what I need. But that mindlessness also means a disconnection from the motion and movement of my body, her sensations and queues, and quite honestly, the hazards exercise can present.
What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is the practice of being aware in the moment, letting the past and future fall away from our thoughts.” ~ Sandra Pawula
Many of us know that mindfulness is an incredible tool for living with more ease and managing stress. The benefits of mindfulness abound, including:
- Regulation of emotion
- Increase in emotional flexibility
- Protection against emotionally stressful effects of conflict
- Increased immune functioning
- Increased attention and sensory processing
- Promotes empathy and compassion
We often associate mindfulness with meditation, picturing ourselves sitting calmly and quietly, focusing on our breath. But mindfulness is a practice that can encompass your entire day, from your morning routine to washing the dinner dishes.
The Benefits of Adding Mindfulness to Your Next Workout
Why would you want to refrain from zoning out during your next workout? There are countless benefits for staying in the moment when exercising.
Reduced risk of injury
This is a big one. Had I been practicing mindfulness three years ago, I would not have sprained my ankle on that stray walnut during an early morning run.
Being mindful will increase your awareness of your surroundings, helping you avoid stray walnuts, cars, or the big dude that likes to swing the dumbbells around.
The practice of mindfulness will also increase your kinesthetic awareness, your ability to coordinate motion and your awareness of where your body is in relation to time and space. This awareness allows you to gauge proper form and technique, giving you a better sense of where you might be compensating or imbalanced in your movement patterns.
Lastly, mindfulness can reduce your risk of injury by allowing you to feel the sensations of pain and discomfort and properly assess their meaning. Zoning out can easily lead to an inability to distinguish between discomfort and ongoing or increasing pain that may result in injury.
Increased effectiveness and efficiency of your workout
You may have noticed that a lot of time is wasted in the gym. Let’s consider a typical weight –lifting session. Let’s say you just finished five repetitions of squats and are waiting for your next set.
What you may typically notice in the gym is folks getting on their phone, chatting with a workout buddy, or taking a look at the latest sports story on ESPN.
And before you know it, five or ten minutes have passed. Trust me, unless you are working on your maximum weight load (and then you shouldn’t be lifting five reps), you don’t need five minutes of rest between sets.
Being mindful, aware of the messages your body is sending, you’ll know exactly when you are ready to lift those weights again. And you’ll be out of the gym much sooner.
Practicing mindfulness during exercise also increases breathing efficiency, which has a tremendous positive impact on your cardiovascular endurance. In addition, improving your kinesthetic awareness aids in activating and engaging the proper muscles for each exercise, increasing the effectiveness of each movement.
More enjoyment while exercising
One of the benefits of mindfulness is the release of judgment and the ability to become an impartial observer of the events around us. It is a calm experience of being present, regardless of the pleasantness of a situation.
Imagine what exercise would be like if you released judgment. If you no longer worried about what you looked like while you were running, what people might think about your huffing and puffing on the stationary bike, or if you can’t quite hold the plank for as long as you think you should.
Being mindful turns those workouts into something far more powerful than a set of exercises. It creates, honors, and fosters a deep connection with your body. You begin to see each workout session as a gift to your health rather than another tedious thing you “should” be doing.
During your Next Workout Try These 4 Practices
Set an intention
Before you begin your workout, know why you are doing it. Is it to lose some weight, work off some stress, train for a 5k?
Don’t judge the intention, just be aware of your why throughout the workout.
Yes, some workouts are all about speed. This suggestion isn’t about going slow, but about taking the time needed to notice sensations, signals, and emotions. Slow down enough that you can listen to your body, notice your surroundings, and be aware in the moment.
Focus on your breathe
Breathing is an essential focus of all forms of exercise. When I work out, I tend to hold my breath, especially when the movements start to get hard.
Guess what… that just makes those movements even more difficult.
Timing your breath with certain segments of the breath will increase the efficieny of the movement. For instance, holding your breath as you go down in a squat and exhale on the way up will help you lift heavier weight.
Or exhaling as your foot strikes the ground will help alleviate side-stitches during runs.
So breathe with intention.
Be aware of your body
How does your body feel during each movement? When your foot strikes the ground, what does your foot feel like? Does it strike to the back of your foot or the front? Does your ankle roll a bit? Does it feel light or does it slam into the group.
When you squat, is the movement coming from your quads or are your glutes helping out? Are you pushing the ground away with all four corner of your feet or just the balls of your toes.
When does your body start to fatigue? Is there one body part that wears out quicker than others?
Listening to these sensations will not only help you improve your form, but will show you the weaknesses you need to work on for better overall fitness.
Implementing these 4 techniques during your workout will help reduce your risk of injury, improve your workout efficiency, and increase the enjoyment of exercise. Let the practice of being aware of the moment, rather than worrying about the past and future, create a deeper connection with your body.
Use the practice of mindfulness to turn any exercise program into a gift to your health and happiness.
Have you incorporated the practice of mindfulness into your exercise program? How has it impacted how you perceive your workouts?
Jacki Hayes is a personal trainer and women’s well-being coach. She writes about honoring your body, transforming your mindset, and nourishing your soul at JackiHayes.com.
Thanks for reading and sharing! All my love, Sandra