It’s no secret that exercise is good for us. Exercising for a minimum of 30-minutes three times a week has many health benefits including, but not limited to: better-quality sleep, increased efficiency of the heart, decrease in stress and tension, and better immune system functioning. We have these health benefits of fitness engrained into our culture, however, it seems that for a lot of people working out and maintaining their fitness has become a stress-inducing necessity rather than a stress-reducing one.
People often view fitness as a means to an end. In other words, there is a goal that we create, we go through painful and physically exhausting workout regiments to fulfill these goals, and once we’ve accomplished them we are so burnt out that we stop exercising altogether. It’s yo-yo exercising! And just how yo-yo dieting isn’t healthy or productive, neither is yo-yo exercising! We must change our mindset around fitness so that it is more sustainable and fun. That is where mindful fitness comes into play.
Nuts and Bolts of Mindful Fitness
Mindfulness can and should be practiced in every and all aspects of life, including while you’re working out! We are all guilty at times of going through the motions of a workout, either because we’re tired and feel like we just need to get in the gym to see results, or because we don’t enjoy the form of movement or exercise we’re doing. Mindful fitness is the practice of focusing your attention inward during exercise so you are better able to understand your body’s needs and desires.
When we are able to concentrate on how our bodies are feeling during exercise, we are more in tune with our level of effort and exertion – should we dial it back or should we push harder?
If we push harder, will we injure ourselves? It’s all about listening to our bodies in an active and present way. Also, by practicing mindful fitness, we can explore various types of movements to ultimately find those we most enjoy. Exercising should be FUN, and when we find the type of movements we like, such as dancing, yoga, or tennis, we are more apt to actually find the time to do them!
A Mindful Shift in Activity
Growing up as a high-level ice hockey player, I was used to pushing my body to the brink of exhaustion on a near-nightly basis. Like many college athletes, when I stopped playing, I was at a loss of what to do. I’d never had to think about what I wanted to do for exercise because hockey was always there. It took me a while to realize that I didn’t have to kill myself at the gym in order to maintain my health. When I did realize it, I started exploring other ways of being active. I now know that I love hiking, yoga, and pilates. I look forward to these activities and have made them a regular part of my lifestyle. They make me feel good without creating stress for me, which is why I’ve been able to stick with them.
A Need to Move
As human beings, we intuitively crave movement after a long day or even a week of sitting at a desk or in meetings. Through mindful fitness, we are able to understand and satisfy these cravings without thinking of exercise as a necessary or painful chore – we transform it into a nourishing activity instead. By paying attention to the needs of our bodies, we will inevitably begin to move more, and in ways that we find enjoyable and impactful. Also, we will begin to notice when our bodies are craving a more rigorous exercise (like a HIIT workout) or when we need more of a calming, stretching exercise (like yoga). By connecting the mind and body around exercise, we are better able to understand our bodies’ needs and appreciate how truly remarkable we are.
How to practice mindful fitness today
You can start practicing mindful fitness RIGHT NOW by noticing how your body is feeling. Are there any parts of your body that are sore or tight? Have you been fidgeting in your chair all day because you just want to get up and move? Take a minute to do a full-body and mind scan to see how you are feeling physically and mentally. What is the first type of movement that comes to mind that you feel your mind and body would benefit from right now? Recognizing what type of exercise you’re craving is the first step. The second step is to now actually do it! And remember to always notice and bring your attention back to your body throughout the entire exercise. Goodbye yo-yo exercise and hello enjoyable fitness!