Integrating Mind-Body with Traditional Exercise

Many a mind-body purist may pooh-pooh the idea that you can experience true mindful benefits by overlapping some meditation or mind-body movements with your traditional exercise. But that is one way to begin to dabble at mind-body movement, so you can start to feel your energy flow or find the contemplative moments in a familiar practice.

Everybody has to discover for themselves what combination of exercise and workouts is right for them. Try these ideas on how to combine mind-body with traditional exercise, if that sounds like your idea of a great workout.

You may find success, as others have:

  • Doing easy runs or walks while focusing on your muscles and your breathing

  • Riding a stationary bike while meditating on the repetitive motion of your feet

  • Ending (or starting — or both) a traditional routine with some mind-body movements, meditation, or centering

You may want to dabble in all three of those examples to see which — if any of them — work for you.

Add mindful centering

Who hasn’t heard about zoning out on a run and not even remembering those last few miles? Have you been there?

Studies show that physical mind-body benefits come when your workout intensity is not too vigorous, but rather a low to moderate intensity. So, no, that relaxed feeling you get after puffing and groaning vigorously on a fast hike up a steep hill is probably only from endorphins and other neuro-active substances and not from any particularly mindful component.

Neuroactive substances, or neurotransmitters, the naturally occurring chemicals in the brain (a couple of well-known ones are adrenaline and endorphins) are responsible for altering brain function, perception, and behavior by transmitting messages between brain cells.

But if you keep your intensity lower, you may be able to incorporate a contemplative element with your traditional workout and finish feeling your calm and peaceful center.

Try this combination: Do your regular workout, be it a run, walk, hike, walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike, or whatever. Keep your effort level below 6 on that scale of 0 to 10, meaning that you are exercising only moderately. Rather than tuning out or distracting yourself with reading or the TV, tune into your body.

Think about keeping your breathing regular and deep, and concentrate on how your muscles are working. Just like with meditating, staying focused may be difficult at first. But experiment with doing this combination for even 5 minutes, then try 10, or even 20. See if trying this helps you to experience any additional feelings of calm, centering, focus, or relaxation.

Integrate meditation

You can compare this combination to meditation or Qigong walking in some ways, but you can also do it with aerobics, riding a stationary bike, or even jogging.

For example: Do your regular workout. Again, keep your effort level below 6 or at a light to moderate level. Try to meditate while you move, by tuning into each step (or pedal, or push, or whatever) and letting the energy flow through the limbs of your body.

Try to empty your mind, and consciously let your breaths move fully. If a stray thought wanders through, acknowledge it and let it pass. Try this combination for only a short period of time at first because it takes some practice.

Make sure this combination is safe for the type of workout you plan. For example, try it indoors on stationary equipment, or in a safe place to walk or run without rough terrain.

Incorporate mindful starts and finishes

This idea is a more traditional way of being . . . well, less than traditional. You find more and more people, including fitness instructors, simply starting a session by doing some simple Tai Chi Chuan, Qigong, or Yoga movements that center you and bring you to the present place.

Adding mind-body methods to your traditional workout lets you look forward to your familiar aerobics segment and also allows you to dabble in something new without feeling as if you have to give up a routine you love.

Try this combination: Start your regular routine, from a run out the back door to a step-aerobics class, by first taking 5 to 10 minutes to do some Yoga, Qigong walking, or even just repeating a couple of Tai Chi forms on each side. Use your breathing techniques while you go through these movements.

Then go ahead and do your regular workout thing. When you finish, take another 5 minutes to do the same mind-body method that you started with, or maybe even try a deep relaxation in the yogic Corpse pose or a semi-inversion with your legs up on a wall.

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