How to Practice Mindfulness While You Exercise
You can practice mindfulness and do physical exercise at the same time. In fact, Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the key founders of mindfulness in the West, trained the USA Mens Olympic Rowing Team in 1984. A couple of the men won gold – not bad for a bunch of meditators!
Regular exercise is beneficial for both body and mind, as confirmed by thousands of research studies. If you already exercise on a regular basis, you know the advantages. If not, and your doctor is happy with you exercising, you can begin by simply walking. Walking is an aerobic exercise and a great way to practice mindfulness.
Then you can build up to whatever type of more strenuous exercise you fancy. Approach each new exercise with a mindful attitude – be curious of what will happen, stay with uncomfortable sensations for a while, explore the edge between comfort and discomfort and look around you.
To start you off, here are a few typical physical exercises, and ideas about how to suffuse them with mindfulness:
Leave the portable music player and headphones at home. Try running outside rather than at the gym – your senses have more to connect with outside. Begin by taking ten mindful breaths as you walk along. Become aware of your body as a whole. Build up from normal walking to walking fast to running.
Notice how quickly your breathing rate changes, and focus on your breathing whenever your mind wanders away from the present moment. Feel your heart beating and the rhythm of your feet bouncing on the ground. Notice if you’re tensing up any parts of your body unnecessarily. Enjoy the wind against your face and the warmth of your body.
Observe what sort of thoughts pop up when you’re running, without being judgmental of them. If running begins to be painful, explore whether you need to keep going or slow down. If you’re a regular runner, you may want to stay on the edge a little bit longer; if you’re new to it, slow down and build up more gradually.
At the end of your run, notice how you feel. Try doing a mini meditation and notice its effect. Keep observing the effects of your run over the next few hours.
Begin with some mindful breathing as you approach the pool. Notice the effect of the water on your body as you enter. What sort of thoughts arise? As you begin to swim, feel the contact between your arms and legs and the water. What does the water feel like? Be grateful that you can swim and have access to the water.
Allow yourself to get into the rhythm of swimming. Become aware of your heartbeat, breath rate and the muscles in your body. When you’ve finished, observe how your body and mind feel.
Begin with some mindful breathing as you sit on your bike. Feel the weight of your body, the contact between your hands and the handlebars, and your foot on the pedal. As you begin cycling, listen to the sound of the wind. Notice how your leg muscles work together rapidly as you move.
Switch between focusing on a specific part of your body like the hands or face, to a wide and spacious awareness of your body as a whole. Let go of wherever you’re headed and come back to the here and now. As you get off your bike, perceive the sensations in your body. Scan through your body and detect how you feel after that exercise.