Get more from your exercise routine with the power of thought.
Mindfulness can benefit us both mentally and emotionally – and by mastering what’s known as ‘mindful exercise’, the practice can enhance our physical health too. ‘By bringing mindfulness into all of your workouts, you are bringing greater awareness and focus to the present moment,’ explains health and mindfulness instructor Louise Murray. ‘By doing so, you aren’t thinking about the past or the future, so it shifts you from feeling busy, distracted, worried or stressed, into a calmer, stronger and clearer headspace.’ And it’s in this enlightened headspace that we can get the maximum benefits from an activity, whether that’s running, riding a bike or taking a HIIT class. Mindful exercise can also reduce the risk of an injury. It’s no surprise then that Olympic athletes blend techniques such as breathing work and performance visualisation into their training plans – mental strength, self-awareness and physical effort is a proven formula for success. Curious? Here’s how to get in the zone.
MEDITATION IN MOTION
So, how exactly do you exercise mindfully? ‘You can use many tools to root yourself in the present, such as bringing
awareness to your breath and focusing on your senses – what you can feel, see and hear,’ says Louise.
SET A CLEAR INTENTION
A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology revealed that if you have a crystal clear intention before you exercise, it can bring you closer to your goals. ‘Write down what you want to achieve,’ says trainer Rhian Cowburn.
‘I plan my sessions on a mirror with pens. It focuses me and I celebrate ticking it off.’ Visualisation can be a powerful
technique. Imagine reaching the finish point of a 5k race – you can draw on that image during a dip in confidence.
REMEMBER TO BREATHE
‘Breathing consciously is its own meditation and, although it is the essence of yoga, it can be applied to all exercise,’ says yoga instructor Hannah Barrett. ‘It helps you to connect with the subtle energy within your body and mind, and grounds you in the present, helping you to focus.’ If you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling at any point during a workout, bring your attention to your breath, by taking consistent, measured inhales and exhales.
DIAL DOWN ON THE INTENSITY
Exercise doesn’t have to be punishment! ‘There are huge physical and psychological benefits to elevating the heart
rate even slightly, and it’s better to do something you love, that’s kinder to your body, if it means that you’ll keep it up,’ says Rhian. ‘Some people just don’t enjoy an intense pace and burn out.’
And take your time while you’re at it. ‘Don’t immediately enter a stretch to the deepest level. Go in at around 40–50%, then slowly, using breath, inch into it,’ says Hannah. Too much, too soon risks injury and not getting the most out the of
Are you someone who texts on the treadmill? For better results, put your phone (far) away and stay focused on the task at hand. ‘Being in the present moment will make all the difference to your progress and allows your mind to get that much-
needed time away from technology,’ says Rhian. ‘Exercise can be a time to focus completely on you, a short time to ignore the demands made on you by other people.’ Full focus will also help you maintain good form, posture and alignment so that you perform the exercise correctly and safely.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Start paying attention to your body’s signals and try to decipher their true meaning, such as the difference between
pain or fatigue. ‘It’s okay to push through fatigue to finish a run or a set, but never exercise in pain,’ says Rhian. ‘Unless
you’re a pro athlete running the race of your career, there is zero benefit in pushing through pain. All you’ll do is set yourself back.’
HOW TO DO IT:
✣ Scan your body from head to toe, noticing any niggles or areas of tension. Are they new? Do they need your attention?
‘Chances are, you’ll feel awake and alive after exercise, and being mindful of this can really help to reinforce its benefits and keep you motivated to do it again,’ says Louise. If you often finish a workout and rush straight back into the day, use
these tips to bring mindfulness into your cool-down.
✣ Steadily slow down your pace until you come to a standstill.
✣ Notice the way your body feels – recognise which muscles feel worked, notice how your heart rate flows and how your breathing becomes steady.
✣ Name what you feel and sense, without judgement.
✣ Mindfully acknowledge and congratulate yourself for taking time to nourish your body and mind.
✣ Enjoy the sense of satisfaction for a job well done.
This is as important as exercising, says Hannah. ‘Including breathing and meditation into your workouts can be extremely beneficial, but so is taking time to rest and restore.’ This allows our body and mind to heal, and we get stronger, fitter and happier as a result.
The ‘Mind-Muscle’ Connection
Using our ‘internal focus’ means shifting our mental attention on to the particular muscle we’re working during a move. One study published by the University of Michigan found this increases muscle activity, and even makes the muscle grow faster!