How good are you at multi-tasking? Have you figured out what you are having for supper tonight? How about that meeting you have tomorrow – are you ready for it? All this and you have just completed 3 sets of a TRX chest press exercise in your group fitness class. Do you remember what you just did? How is your body feeling right now?
We all fall victim to the continuous flow of thoughts while performing other tasks. I mean why not? Why not get some thinking done while exercising, riding your bike to work, or even walking down the hallway of the office? My answer is because there are too many psychological and physiological benefits to health to ignore not being mindful.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is not a new concept and I’m sure most of you have heard the term tossed around lately. You are probably thinking “oh it’s that fluffy stuff yogi’s do”, but mindful movement can benefit all individuals all the time. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on being in the moment and fully taking in the surrounding environment and how your body feels at that moment.
Mindful Movement Everyday
Our sedentary lifestyles have really thrown our physiology and mental well-being for a loop. If you work a desk job you may be sitting for over 8 hours a day at work alone. This doesn’t include driving time to and from work and T.V. time with the kids. Mindfulness is an excellent strategy for breaking up the day, resetting your mental well-being, and gathering energy for the next task. When our brains get overloaded with the details of work and our personal lives we stop retaining information. Adding little mindfulness practices to your daily routine can help open up the brain’s storage vault. Try this – every 20 minutes stand up, take 10 normal breathes through your nose, focus on how the air feels going in and out of your nose, look around your office and take in all the details, and think about what you smell and how your body feels while standing. I love doing this while walking down the hallways at work. Getting caught up in your head disconnects us from others. Mindful moving at work can really enhance relationships with colleagues and even open new doors for you.
Incorporating mindfulness into your exercise routine has many benefits. Similarly to being mindful in your everyday movement routines, being mindful while exercising helps to track your position in space. It allows your body’s natural movement receptors to communicate more effectively with your brain. The result being a workout that is safer and has improved movement mechanics.
It seems counterintuitive to want to pay attention to a workout that can seem like it will never end, which is exactly why mindfulness helps. Focusing on how powerful, strong, and fluid your body moves enhances workout satisfaction. The beauty and wonder of the human body and how it works will override the negative thoughts associated with working out.
Breathing is essential for getting oxygen to our muscles for movement. By being mindful while being active you naturally force yourself to focus on breathing. In the end you will have a more consistent supply of oxygen for your body tissues and will avoid holding your breathe.
Negative Thoughts and Mindfulness
Another central aspect of mindfulness is not judging the thoughts that do enter your mind. Often we focus on negative thoughts, creating a vicious cycle of concurrent negative thoughts and emotions. When being in the present moment and not judging thoughts you can let go of damaging emotions and feelings. The guilt we feel when we don’t exercise or eat something we are not supposed to would be an example of such a feeling. When negative feelings seem to really be taking hold of you, go back to the breathing routine I shared earlier in the article.
Leading Lifestyle Change
The ultimate upside to being mindful is how much easier it can be to adopt positive lifestyle changes and ignore the negative ones. For example, you have added exercising regularly to your lifestyle but still find yourself indulging in all the tasty treats brought into the office every day. You know the routine – “Don’t take the cupcake. You’ve been doing so well exercising. Oh, but that means you can have a cupcake. No, your trainer said stick to your meal plan”. Then you grab the cupcake and consume it faster than you can blink. Now go through this scenario again but the second you see the cupcake focus on your breath, notice the outfits your colleagues are wearing, and feel your postural muscles holding you strongly up. Pretty soon you won’t even notice the cupcake. Mindfulness will help your mind to not fall into the common ambivalent bad habit battle.
By being mindful during your everyday activities and during exercise you have the opportunity to transform your health and well-being. In addition, mindfulness is a common strategy used for coping with stress and anxiety. Try taking a real break from the busy work day and pressures of life by being mindful.
Tips on staying mindful
- Focus on your breathing and how it feels on your top lip or in your nose
- Pay attention to how your body is feeling while moving (the feeling of the ground under your feet, your muscles moving, your chest rising, etc.)
- Notice your surroundings (how do the trees look, what do you smell, other people around you, etc.)
- Don’t judge thoughts – let them go and focus on breathing
Try it. You will be pleasantly surprise how mindfulness can enhance your workout, reduce stress, and make your daily routines more enjoyable.
Kate Andrews, M.Sc.
Instructor, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology