I am pretty sure that every person has heard the rumor that exercise is good for us. So is that being mindful? OK, what about those that actually lace up their sneaks, throw on their iPod, and hit the gym? Are they being mindful? No. Not really. They are being cognizant, meaning that they can conceptualize the benefits of exercise and try to incorporate them into their lives. However, when I speak of mindfulness, I speak of something deeper. A practice of mindfulness is being completely in the moment while you are doing it. It is not always easy or possible. It is not always pleasant or relaxing. But that is mindfulness. (Remember the scene in the book/movie Eat, Pray, Love where she gets eaten alive by mosquitoes… that was mindfulness too). So why do we do it? Because we are constantly checked out of our lives. We miss a lot. We miss the good, the bad, and the opportunities for depth. Depth in our relationships, in our workouts, and in our fullest potential.
So let’s apply mindfulness to a workout: Common forms of mindful fitness include yoga and pilates. What makes them mindful? First, they encourage you to actually pay attention to your thoughts and your emotions, notice them, and gently let them go. Our thoughts can be like nagging children: if we don’t notice them then they get more irritating, pulling on our shirt. However, if you acknowledge them, they often can go about their business. Second, it encourages complete integration of your body and breath, creating a flow. Once we have practiced letting our thoughts go (not holding onto them, not perpetuating them, and not pushing them away), we can be more attentive in the moment. How often during your workout do you complain, tell yourself that you can’t do it, or are so zoned out that you are not sure what you just did? When you are attentive to the task at hand then you can give it your all. And you can trust when your body and mind truly say, “not today.” We all have off days. Third, the instruction (if done well) can bring awareness to the benefits of each pose, giving you greater understanding to what you are doing and why.
There are millions of people out there that are not achieving their fitness goals, purely due to mindless workouts. We hate it so much that we need to distract ourselves so fully. We throw on our headphones, watch TV or read books just to become as mindless as possible. We never check in with how we feel, to see if we can go a little further or if we are needing to pull back. If we do have to pull back, then we criticize ourself which leads to lowered motivation. Mindlessness can lead to injury because we are out of tune with our body. We aren’t paying attention to discomfort and what kind of discomfort it is (good or bad). We listen to our head tell us that we’re bored or that we don’t want to keep going. And, of course, this is not just our habit and consequence in our workouts.
This isn’t to say that crossing off mental checklists or listening to your favorite music during your workout isn’t OK. It can help us get through tough workouts. It can also be very rewarding to have that time to do just that. For those that sincerely dislike exercise, it can help you to do it at all(which is better than not). However, practicing mindfulness in our workout is being connected with your body, thoughts, and emotions that are with each breath and each move. Mindful workouts are not just for pilates, yoga, and outdoor runners. Any workout can be mindful by practicing awareness, in the moment, without judgement.
Your challenge: Ditch the headphones during the next workout, cheerlead yourself, and stay connected to each move in the moment. When your thoughts stray, bring them right back to you.