Let’s face it, workouts are tough. We love the feeling afterwards, but struggle during the actual process. Our brain seems to always be looking for the finish line and therefore we become acutely aware of the strain being put on our bodies.
That feeling has caused me to have a love/hate relationship with exercise for many years. I dreaded having to workout and the mental and physical strain that came along with it, but I loved being healthy and the “high” I would get when it was over with. That was until my friend Anna taught me to change the way I thought about exercise. She helped me incorporate meditation in my workout.
I know, it sounds strange, but it has helped me to be conscious of my body while I’m exercising and truly enjoy my workout. Meditation can be applied to most workouts, but I’m only going to highlight the workouts that I have applied it to.
RunningGrowing up I was a pretty active kid. I participated in just about every sport, and naturally running was something that I did a lot of. I always viewed it as a type of punishment, for instance if the team performed poorly in a game we would be punished by having to run ladders. This framed my view of running as something that wasn’t supposed to be enjoyable. The notion of “runner’s high” was something that largely eluded me, but by changing the way I thought about running I was able to enjoy it.
To incorporate meditation into your running you need the brain to be present in the moment. This means being aware of what the body is feeling, but not needing to immediately address whatever pain it may be feeling and continuing on your run.
Secondly running incorporates rhythmic breathing patterns, be aware of this and try to breathe deep from the abdominal. Lastly, vary the locations of your run. This helps create the sense of a new and exciting experience.
Swimming, with the possible exception of yoga, could be the exercise that is most conducive to a meditative state. Everything from the color blue promoting a sense of calm and depth, to the way the ebb and flow of an ocean tide simulates deep, relaxed breathing. Water has always helped humans achieve a meditative state and it turns out that our favorite water based exercise does too.
If you think about it, swimming mimics many of qualities of basic meditation. Rhythmic and deep breathing helps put the mind at ease and enables it to be aware of the bodies muscle motions. Immersion in water helps the body naturally relax and the strokes used during swimming allow the skeletal muscles to loosen up, which allows the brain to be aware and present to the exercise at hand.
You may saying, yeah that sounds good, but the water makes me cold and therefore unable to relax. For those more cold blooded individuals, picking the right wetsuit will keep your body temperature up.
Clearly the most obvious choice for this list. Many of us think of yoga as a stretching class that is mainly practiced by women, but this misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga does involve a lot of stretching, but it’s also an incredibly good exercise. Like the other exercises, yoga, especially when done in a class, promotes a sense of awareness of the body and what it is feeling while your muscles work to hold your body in position.
Simultaneously the deep and rhythmic breathing involved allows your mind to focus on maintaining your pose and receive the full benefit of the workout. If you really want to take your meditation to the next level you can do your yoga in the pool. The buoyancy of the water makes it more comfortable and has less impact on your body.
Working out is never going to be completely painless. There is always going to be challenges involved with exercising, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a painful experience. I’ve certainly changed the way I look at working out. Being present and aware of your body while focusing on your breathing and taking a positive approach into your workout can help you achieve a meditative state while working out!