Exercising mindfully means that you’re purposefully paying close attention to your body—to the way you move, how and where you place your feet and hands, what you’re experiencing and feeling—to all the subtle nuances and sensations taking place internally and externally.
It’s essentially the opposite of putting on headphones and tuning out on the treadmill or throwing your body through a fast-paced circuit workout. While zoning out may seem desirable (and gets “the job” done), by simply not paying attention, you’re missing out.
We tend to reserve the description “mind-body” for practices such as yoga and tai chi. But the truth is that any physical exercise can be intentionally used to establish a healthier, more balanced mind-body connection leading to greater emotional resilience (i.e., the ability to handle and adapt to a stressful situation that negatively affects your physical health).
You’ll also feel your own strength and power if you check in during workouts. Not only does mindfulness increase the overall satisfaction of exercising, paying attention to what you’re doing and experiencing without judgment also allows for greater appreciation for what your body can do rather than just whether you met your goals.
That said, being present, paying attention to the way you move, and noticing what you are experiencing as you exercise can boost the results of your workout. Remaining focused on what you’re doing serves to improve your form and the quality of your movement, preventing injury and producing more targeted results.
Sold? The following tips will help make any exercise routine more mindful.
Set an intention. To start, set the intention to pay attention to your immediate experience without judgment. Mindfulness isn’t just paying attention—it’s accepting what is in the present moment with an open awareness. So before you start working out, take a vow of kindness and call on it when you slip into “comparing” mode.
Tap into bodily sensations. In other words, feel what’s going on in your body as you move. Notice the way the bottoms of your feet feel in your shoes against the floor, the areas of your body involved in the movement (the contraction of certain muscles), the temperature of the air against your skin, etc.
Slow down. It’s nearly impossible to pay close attention to the way we are moving and what we are feeling going at full speed (especially at first). Slow down and allow your mind to catch up with your body. Notice your tendency to want to go faster and for the mind to check out.
Notice your environment. Rather than getting lost in your thoughts or zoning out to music, intentionally take in your surroundings the next time you go for a walk or jog. Check out what’s around you, notice the squirrels and the trees and whatever else is taking place.
Stay on target. Inevitably, your mind will wander. Remember to be kind, and gently remind yourself again and again to return your focus to what’s happening in the present moment. “I am here. I am doing this.”
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Photo credit: Jacob Lund, Adobe Stock; Alora Griffiths, Unsplash; Biletskiy_Evgeniy, Thinkstock; F8 Studio, Shutterstock