Guest post by Jessica Thiefels
Mindfulness just might be the key to greater mental health, reducing anxiety, improving cognition, and boosting self-esteem, sense of calm and overall confidence, as several recent studies have found, including those by Massachusetts General Hospital and the American Psychological Association.
Mindfulness doesn’t just happen on a yoga mat or during meditation. There are many benefits to practicing it in many areas of your life, especially your fitness routine. Using mindfulness during workouts allows you to avoid injury, stay in tune with your body and get more from each movement.
Take a look at our tips for bringing mindfulness into your workouts for a calmer, more confident you.
Setting an intention before your workout is a great way to stay mindful and motivated. Knowing why you’re exercising, whether it be to lose weight, become stronger, or even just to listen to that cool new playlist, will keep you motivated when you’re ready to give up.
This mindfulness practice is especially important when you’re completing a harder workout, like a long marathon training run or heavy lifting session. When you pushing your boundaries further than you ever have before, it’s easy to give in to the quitting temptation.
“When the going gets tough during your workout, you can remind yourself of your original intention. But it’s important to use that intention as a gentle reminder rather than as a stick to beat yourself up with. The key word here is gentle,” advises Jennifer Wang, CEO of The Tasteful Pantry.
Feel Your Body
Take time to feel what your body is telling you during a workout. “It might sound obvious, but many people approach exercise at full force and don’t slow down long enough to truly feel what’s going on in their bodies,” says Adam Brady, yoga teacher and martial artist.
To tune into your body using mindfulness, Brady recommends taking a moment before you begin your workout to assess your body, asking yourself a series of questions, such as:
- How does my body feel?
- Do I have any pain or discomfort?
- Am I low on energy?
“Only after you’ve taken an inventory of how you feel and firmly established awareness in your body should you proceed with your workout or warm-up,” says Brady. This way, if you’re feeling pain or discomfort, you can make the best choice for your body, which may mean not exercising as vigorously as you’d like to.
Take a Meditation Break
If you regularly enjoy HIIT workouts, you know they deliver maximum results with a relatively minimal time commitment (just 25 to 35 minutes). Don’t let the short time scale fool you, though. These are some of the toughest workouts you’ll find anywhere, and as such, trainers have started bringing meditation into the routine.
Holly Rilinger, Nike master trainer and DailyBurn.com contributor, has started incorporating meditation into her fitness classes. The classes have two meditation periods, one at the beginning of the class, and one at the end. “The first meditation is very much about leaving our day at the door. There will be chaos in our minds, and thoughts will pull us in all kinds of directions,” says Rilinger.
She continues, “The last meditation is blissful. The workout is over. Endorphins are pumping through your body and it’s easier to sit in the moment and breathe it in. I call this bottling up, so we can take this feeling with us into our day and use it when we need it.”
If your favorite classes don’t start and end with meditation, try it yourself. Take 2 to 3 minutes before you start, as Brady suggests, and do the same at the end. If you go to the gym, you can even do this in your car.
Focus On Your Breath
Breathing is one of the most important parts of your workout. From yoga to running and weight training, focusing on your breath is a good way to maintain mindfulness during your workout, increasing your mind-body connection and awareness, while making strenuous exercise easier, safer and more effective.
In both running and weight training, breathing in and out at the right times can make all the difference: “It’s thought that exhaling during every step may increase the risk of injury because when we exhale our diaphragm relaxes and thus our core becomes less stable which places an increased stress on one leg and foot,” explains Breathing While Running: A Step-by-Step Guide.
The guide continues, “Controlling your breathing, but also synching your breathing to your movement may prove to be beneficial, improve the feeling of your training session and help to maintain a suitable pace, as well as posture.”
The same goes for weight training, where the focus should be on breathing in during the easy part of the exercise and out during the hard part. As you breathe in, you set up for the movement, drop your shoulders, tuck your pelvis, and straighten your back as necessary, and then breathe through the movement from eccentric to concentric.
Find Mindfulness in Movement
Exercise is a great way to bring mindfulness into your life, especially during workouts. Set an intention before every workout, get your breathing in order, and take time to really listen to what your body is telling you. This focus on mindfulness will help you get more out of every workout and feel more confident and calm at the same time.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than ten years and is currently a full-time content consultant, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and mental health advocate. She’s also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Honest Body Fitness, an online health magazine for women. She’s written for Shape, Reader’s Digest, AARP, Snap Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and more. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.