Combining Mindfulness with Exercise: What You Need to Know 

The secret practice to help you reach your fitness goals.

By: Emily Freeman

In a world where “busy” is romanticized, having a million tabs open in your brain is nothing out of the ordinary – even when you’re exercising. How often do you work out while also listening to music, thinking about your to-do lists, and browsing social media? You may even have yourself convinced that you’re a powerful multi-tasker, or that you need a distraction to get through your workout. However, I bet you didn’t know prioritizing mindful workouts can actually help speed up your results. Mindfulness with exercise may just be the much-needed upgrade for “busy is better.” 

Sounds great in theory, but many people don’t quite understand what mindfulness even is. If you’re one of the majority, here’s a little rundown. Mindfulness is the state of being conscious or aware of something. In other words, you’re being fully present in the moment on what you’re doing. So what does it mean to combine mindfulness with exercise, and how does a less strenuous workout create better results? Let me break it down. 

What Is A Mindful Based Workout?

Mindful workouts aren’t just an excuse for lower intensity workouts. Yes, mindful movements may require you to slow down, but not for lack of effort! In fact, this holistic approach to exercise may utilize even more effort by exercising both the mental and physical body. Slowing down and becoming intentional with your workouts allows you to gain better body awareness and really hone in on the signals your body sends you – this can increase your mind-muscle connection and even build strength without getting injured.

Like any form of exercise, it’s important to find the type of mindful workouts that fit into your goals, lifestyle, and preferences. These are some of our favorites to start with:

Low-Intensity Interval Training 

If you’ve heard of HIIT or High-Intensity Interval Training, then you can probably deduct what Low-Intensity Interval Training, or LIIT, is. Much like its high-impact counterpart, Low-Intensity Interval Training workouts build off the principle of intervals or going all out for a short burst of time, followed by a short rest and recovery period. However, LIIT workouts are usually composed of more low-impact exercises to give you more opportunities to become present and connect your mind with your body. 

Body Scanning 

You may not think of body scanning as a workout, but it is one of the secrets to optimizing your other sweat sessions. Body scanning is a form of meditation that helps bring awareness to each part of your body. It’s your opportunity to see where you may be holding additional tension that could disrupt your workouts and recovery. The goal is to bring enough awareness during your body scans so that you can activate the correct muscles during your workouts, increasing the effectiveness of your workouts and decreasing the chance of injury. 

Dynamic Stretching

Much like your middle school P.E. warm-ups (but with less distraction), dynamic stretching includes light exercises that take your body through its full range of movement. It’s a great way to warm up and fit in some mindful exercise. The key is to get curious about how your body moves in space, what your limitations are, and where imbalances may be. For example, if you’re doing leg swings, you may notice your left hamstring is tighter than your right. This is your opportunity to breathe into the exercise, bring awareness to the tightness, and focus on relaxing. 

Recovery Classes

Whether it’s a gentle yoga class or guided meditation, recovery classes can help you progress in your mindful workouts. As you’re learning how to be present and aware of your body, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable at first. If your mind wanders, that’s ok! Having an instructor can help guide your mind back to the present moment and give you techniques to become more centered in your mindfulness workouts. And know, these feelings could show up even after years of practicing mindfulness with exercise. The beauty is understanding there’s no perfect way to approach this mind-body exercise. So, get comfortable with being uncomfortable!

Benefits of Mindfulness During Exercise

Becoming present and focused on your workouts may not sound as fun as blasting your favorite playlist. Rest assured, we’re not telling you to stop doing this (in fact, bumping your playlist comes with some added benefits too). 

However, including a few mindful workouts in your weekly routine can help you start seeing some major benefits!

Mental Health Benefits

Becoming more present in your body can help you create more feelings of peace and gratitude in your day-to-day life. It’s easy to get caught up in the business of our schedules and the excitement of achieving. However, when we bring ourselves back to the present moment and give thanks for what we already have (and what’s coming), it helps us cultivate greater peace of mind. And greater peace of mind creates a better chance of prioritizing your health and fitting in your workouts. 

Increased Commitment 

Mindfulness with workouts helps you become more reliable. By bringing awareness to your body, you’ll also start to cultivate better self-awareness. When you start to understand what throws you off your fitness goals, you can more easily navigate those moments and stay on track. 

Better Physical Health 

High-intensity workouts are effective, but getting injured because you aren’t aware of your form will only put you behind in your fitness goals. Mindful fitness helps you become more aware of your form in specific exercises to avoid getting hurt.

Plus, becoming more present helps reduce stress (something we could all benefit from!), and the benefits speak for themself. Lower stress levels are correlated with lower blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat, and increase immunity, strength, and cardiovascular health. 

Better Exercise Satisfaction

Have you ever eaten a piece of delicious chocolate cake while you were chatting at a party, only to realize you barely tasted it? This is because you weren’t being mindful of eating it (a sin, if you ask us chocolate lovers!). The same rings true for your workouts. When you aren’t present, you don’t savor the satisfaction of feeling your muscles ignite, sweat dripping down your back, or catching your breath after a hard circuit. The takeaway? Acknowledge all your hard work!

Tips on Practicing Mindful Fitness

If this is your first time practicing mindful exercise, it may feel uncomfortable at first (like any new skill!). But with the right tools, you can overcome the challenges of building mindfulness exercise practices and start benefiting from them quicker.  

Set a Goal for Each Workout

Setting a goal helps you become more intentional in your workout. What exactly do you want to feel after your mindfulness exercise? More at peace? Present? Relaxed? Focused? 

Setting an intention is like a GPS for your mind — it helps you remember what you want to experience when you start to feel distracted. 

Know The Reason You Are Working Out 

Much like setting a goal, it’s important to always remember your “why.” This is the big picture equivalent to an intention. Where do you hope to be in 6 weeks, 6 months, or 6 years? Maybe you want to be able to keep up with your kids, run a marathon, or just feel less stressed. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something meaningful enough to you to get you exercising on a regular basis. 

Ride the Wave Of All Emotions

As you begin to create space for your mind to become present, you may experience some uncomfortable emotions like boredom, physical discomfort, restlessness, or maybe even grief or anger over something you haven’t processed yet. The important thing to do in these emotions is to accept them. Resisting them will only perpetuate the discomfort. Lean into it and let the energy pass through you by fully feeling whatever it is that comes up. 

Listen to Your Body 

Some days you’ll feel ready to hit the ground running and others you may need to give your body some additional TLC to feel ready for a workout. As you become more mindful, you’ll be able to tell the difference between physical and mental needs. You may not feel like working out that day in your mind, but realize your body is restless and needs movement. Listen to it. 

Keep Reminding Yourself to Breathe 

No matter what may come up for you, the most important part of creating more mindfulness is to focus on your breath. This will help you come back to the present moment. Start to become more aware of the quality of your breath — is it deep or short, fast or slow? Find the pace and depth that helps you connect to your body and bring stillness to your workout. 

Ensure You Finish Strong

Regardless of what happens during your mindfulness workout, it’s important to bring it to completion. This will help set the stage for your day and even your next workout. When things go array during your mindful exercise, bring yourself back to your goals, “why”, and breathe at the very end. Thank your body for allowing you to move and thank yourself for taking the time to work out. 

Getting Started With Mindfulness Exercise

Mindful exercise doesn’t have to be practiced alone. In fact, it can be an effective tool for priming your body and mind for your next butt-kicking workout. One of our favorite ways to incorporate mindful fitness is to begin our workouts with meditation. This will help you bring awareness to your thoughts, posture, tension, intention, and breath before you sweat. And that combination, my fitness friend, is one that will make your workouts much more satisfying and effective! 

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