Thumping gym music, blasting earbuds and above-the-treadmill TVs all serve the same purpose -- to take your mind off your body as you slog through another bout of exercise. While distraction might be the norm, another option is to heighten the focus on your body and engage yourself fully in the moment at hand via mindfulness meditation. Placing your mind in the moment – far away from day-to-day drama – reduces stress and helps you get the most out of your workout.
Tone down your environment. Mute your music, turn off the TV and silence your cell phone. This helps hone your focus, especially if you're new to meditation.
Mentally scan your body before exercise. Locate any tense areas, and release that tension. Envision your muscles relaxing, and they'll follow suit. Use this time to starting flushing out jumbled thoughts and get into a regular deep-breathing pattern.
Breathe deeply. Take in full, deep breaths and feel your lungs expand. Exhale slowly on the effort of your exercise. Maintain a consistent breathing pace. Think of your breath as your anchor, providing you with a constant and reliable rhythm, and exercise as usual.
Focus your attention entirely on your body. If you're walking for exercise, feel what is happening in your shins and knees. If you're lifting weights, mind your bar control and posture. For yoga or tai chi, feel each muscle as it enters and holds a new pose. You need not analyze your body – simply breathe and be fully aware of your body's movements.
Allow outside thoughts to enter your mind, but let them pass through your brain without focusing on them. Don't judge or analyze your thoughts – imagine them as clouds passing through the sky and place your awareness back on the moment, which is, in this case, your exercise and your body.
- Mind-body exercises such as yoga and tai chi specifically encourage mindfulness meditation, but you can use it during any type of exercise.
- Stick with your meditation. If you find yourself easily distracted at first, don't worry – it's tough to focus in a world of constant distractions, but you'll get better at meditating each time. As you practice meditation, your brain actually gets better at meditating – a 2011 study from the Massachusetts General Hospital found that those who regularly performed mindfulness meditation experienced positive changes in memory, self-awareness and empathy over just eight weeks.
- Remember, mindfulness meditation is not means to zone out – keep your head in the moment to avoid exercise injuries.
- MayoClinic.com: Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress
- Psychology Today: The Courage to Be Present
- Science Daily: Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in Eight Weeks
- Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging: Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Matter Density
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