Turning exercise into a mindful practice

If you’re a regular exerciser – why do you exercise? Is it to feel physically healthier? Or perhaps to get a little headspace? For me, it’s a combination of the two.

Of course feeling physically strong and healthy is at the back of my mind, but exercise makes me feel so much better mentally. It’s a break from staring at a screen for one, and it’s a chance for my mind to be quiet for a change.

Mindfulness is something I’ve been dabbling in for a couple of years in an attempt to quiet my mind. I’ve used headspace before and now use insight timer to meditate most days. I find it helpful, especially when I’m feeling stressed or anxious. It just offers some room to be quiet and tame the constant stream of thoughts running through my head.

Recently though, I’ve been keen to bring mindfulness into other areas of my life – including exercise.

Yoga for example is a great example of a physical practice that encourages mindfulness. Thinking about your breath and your body helps to ground you in the present moment.

But, if you’re not into yoga, there are still plenty of ways you can turn exercise into a mindful practice. First, let’s look at which exercises lend themselves well to this.

Running

Now, personally, running is probably my least favourite thing to do… like, ever, but I know for many it acts as a form of meditation. The rhythm you fall into, the control you have over your pace, breathing correctly, it all makes for a perfect opportunity to be mindful.

Make it mindful: Try running without music or podcasts. Focus on the sounds around you when you run. Notice what you can see. Focus on your breath and the way your limbs are moving to glide you over the pavement.

mindful-exercise

Lifting weights

I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that by thinking about the muscles you use during exercise, it actually improves your performance. This could be wrong, but regardless – mindfulness works a treat here.

Make it mindful: Think about your muscles and what they’re doing as you lift the weights. Feel the motion and keep breathing. Don’t look at anyone else, stay focused on yourself.

Swimming

Is there anything more freeing than jumping in open water and going for a swim? Even in a pool, there’s something so therapeutic about being in the water.

Make it mindful: Focus on the feeling of your body moving through the water, focus on the way the water feels, how you breathe, what you can smell. When thoughts drift in, acknowledge them, observe them and let them go.

mindful-exercise-4

Walking

Probably the easiest and most accessible exercise there is, and a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness.

Make it mindful: Keep your senses in mind as you walk. What can you smell, see, hear, feel? How does the air taste? Focus on your feet and the way they keep going, one foot in front of the other.

At the gym

This is where I go to sweat and with so many things ready and raring to distract you (other people, TV screens, really crap music blaring from the speakers) it can be tough to be mindful here.

Make it mindful: Play your own music – try something without lyrics. Avoid looking at other people and focus on what your body is doing. Come to your breath and bodily sensations – even if those sensations are intense. Stay with them and keep breathing.

Do you find mindfulness helpful? What other exercises do you think could be turned into a mindfulness practice?

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