Mindful exercise is not an oxymoron. In fact, not only is it possible to merge physical activity with mindfulness — but it's also extremely beneficial. The mind-body connection is essential across daily life. Fitness is no exception. People often work out without paying attention to what's actually happening with their bodies. Going through the motions means that while your body is going full speed, your exercise is not truly being experienced. It's important to take stock of what your body is telling you, especially when you're putting it through rigorous activity.
“Mindfulness is a very useful technique that can help reduce stress, cultivate happiness, improve sleep, and develop healthful eating habits. It is a lifestyle, which can be applied to anything you are doing, like washing dishes, driving, exercising, or eating.”
— Atheer Yacoub, EHE Health Mentor
There's no one "right" way to introduce mindfulness into your exercise regimen, but there are some general tips worth remembering:
Be intentional. Before you begin, reflect on what exactly you hope to get out of the workout.
Be present. Eliminate distractions like your phone so you can give the activity your undivided attention.
Stretch. This is good pre-workout advice anyway, but it's also the perfect way to begin to really feel each part of your body before things pick up.
Scan. Just as you may pass attention over each part of your body while meditating, try to be cognizant of how each part responds to your workout.
Breathe. Focus on your breath. Let it anchor your movements. For cardio, stick to steady, rhythmic breathing. For weight training, “exhale on the effort.”
You can be mindful during virtually any specific exercise. Here are some activities more specifically linked to mindfulness:
Meditation: Prior to your aerobic workout, do deep, contemplative meditation for about 3-5 minutes. It helps to engage your mind in the present, which helps you maintain a mindful state throughout.
Yoga: While yoga has many different disciplines, nearly all use some form of movement along with breathing exercises to reduce tension and promote relaxation.
Tai Chi: An ancient form of Chinese health exercise involving a series of choreographed martial arts movements along with a meditative focus. It involves graceful movements which are practiced as a form of self-defense, health, and meditation. However, it is also beneficial to balance, muscle strength, and flexibility.
Chi Running or Chi Walking: When you mix running or walking with the mindful elements of Tai Chi, you get Chi Running or walking. This means altering your physical running/walking form to promote a mid-foot strike which focuses efforts on core-strength rather than leg-strength. Not only can this mindfulness, but it also reduces injuries while promoting a low BMI and healthy heart.