The Meditative Effects of Exercise
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is not a new concept. In Eastern cultures, this is embedded deep within, and can be defined as ‘the art of practising becoming mindful’. It’s a time to reflect, focus the mind and help you become more present and connected with the world around you.
The essence of meditation is to help create an environment in your mind that allows you to live in the present, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying towards the future. Contrary to Western ideals it is not the process of ‘getting rid’ of your thoughts, it is accepting the thoughts and creating some distance between them, so you don’t associate and engage with them so intensely.
Practising mindfulness through meditation largely orientates around your breathing. Your breath is seen as an anchor to come back to and help you be more present; it’s one of the only things you can be sure to carry with you wherever you go. A couple of quick ways you can use your breathing to be more mindful in everyday life are:
- Next time you’re in a queue or traffic, count your in & out breaths to 10 then repeat instead of becoming impatient waiting;
- When you’re walking, focus on the speed of your breath and the movement of your body.
There are endless ways you can bring mindfulness into your daily life. We’re going to highlight how you can use it during exercise.
Benefits of Mindfulness & Meditation
There are many positive effects to bringing a few drops of mindfulness into your day, and some of the big hitters centre around depression and anxiety. With the exponential growth of these extremely difficult mental wellness issues, the rise of mindfulness in our modern, always connected lives has exploded.
A significant reason for this is because mindfulness helps bring you into the present moment. If depression can be loosely described as dwelling on the past and anxiety as worrying about the future (though they are much deeper than this), then being more present can help to dull the intensity of these strong, overwhelming emotions. It’s no quick fix, but it can be a literal lifesaver for many that struggle with these tremendously challenging feelings.
How It Relates to Exercise
Exercise is a proven natural anti-depressant; the release of post-workout endorphins acts as a natural high that can become addictive and help combat some of the effects of depression. To help turbocharge your workouts, mindfulness can help you be more present while you exercise, bringing focus to your training and as a result, more productive and rewarding workouts.
Because exercise elevates your heart rate, the result is an increase in your breathing as it transports oxygen around the body quickly. This makes exercise a prime time to use your breathing to be more mindful while you train. The rhythmic pattern will help prevent your thoughts drifting while you’re on the exercise bike or treadmill or to crank a couple more reps out if you’re lifting weights.
How to Exercise Mindfully
The best way to help you exercise mindfully is to throw a couple of examples on the page to give you an idea of how it works. Check these out:
Running on a treadmill
Start with a steady walk, focusing on each footstep and how your foot contacts with the treadmill. Be aware of how deep or shallow your breaths are. Slowly increase to a jogging pace but keep notice of how the impact your foot makes increases when you stride. Keep paying attention to the changes in your breathing and then increase to a sprint when you are ready.
Notice the increase in stride, body movement and foot impact and be aware of how fast your breathing is. Decrease the speed to a walk and repeat the process.
Performing a chest press on a weight bench
Lay on the bench and notice the feel of your back on the bench and feet on the floor. Focus on your chest being pushed out and shoulders drawn back. Inhale and lower the weight to a count of three seconds. Push the weight up to a count of one second and exhale at the top. Keep repeating focusing on inhaling coming down and exhaling coming up.
These examples demonstrate how the breath is fundamental to getting the most out of your workouts. Simply being aware of how you’re breathing can be enough to boost the effectiveness of your training and help you be more present throughout.
Also, be aware of the physical contact, feelings and sounds around you in the moment to help support the breath and keep you in a present state.
Try giving these mindful techniques a whirl when you’re next exercising, and you’ll hopefully see how your thoughts don’t drift as much. And if they do, don’t be hard on yourself. When you realise you’ve drifted, give yourself a mental pat on the back for noticing and bring your awareness back to the breathing. We hope you also see how much more effort and reward you get out of your session for being in the moment, connected with the world around you physically and mentally.
Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. Exercise.co.uk assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.
If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.