Exercise and Meditation Both Mean Better Wellness. Here’s How to Combine the Two
The ideas of meditation and working out might seem pretty contradictory. After all, one conjures images of relaxation, quiet and stillness, while the other brings up thoughts of excitement, a good kind of strain, getting a little uncomfortable and maybe even shouting through what’s tough. But according to Alan Green, veteran investigative reporter and author of Animal Underworld: Inside America’s Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species, intertwining meditation and exercise–that is, meditating on foot–is more than possible.
Rhythmic moves work well, but really anything goes
Meditation or mindfulness already is an emphasis on areas like yoga, with awareness of the breath being central. But looking at more vigorous training, Green says meditation during exercise is perhaps easiest to do with running. With this form of exercise, the body falls into a natural rhythm. It’s easy to focus on matching your breath to your foot pace. Other rhythmic exercises, such as cross-country skiing, rowing, using an elliptical or even doing squat jumps fall into a similar vein.
But meditation can meld to just about any move you want to do. For example, if you’re doing a bench press, you could connect to the sensation of the barbell or free weight against your palm, or if you’re biking through the park, you could focus on the birds you hear or how the breeze is hitting your face and cooling you off.
Why it’s so critical to put meditation and workouts together
When you combine meditation and exercise, it’s often easier to stay safe. For example, you might notice that you turn your foot out slightly when you’re running. Such a turn increases strain on the knee and foot, so if you consciously can correct it or address it with therapy, you reduce your risk of issues like plantar fasciitis and shin splints.
There’s also a performance booster effect. Meditating on what’s happening through specific moves can make you realize, for instance, that you safely can push a little harder or make it through a set. It also can help you approach each move with the form you need to really build strength and endurance.
Lastly, meditation also can make your exercise more meaningful for you. Because you are honing in on the moment and embracing all the sensory information that’s coming in, your brain is more likely to build a lasting memory of the session and to stay interested over time. That’s important because the more interested you are in exercise, the more likely you are to come back to it and stick with your program for good results.
3 basic rules for practice
There’s really no right or wrong way to meditate as you exercise, as there are dozens of elements you might pay attention to. The only real rules are these:
- Stay open. It’s fine to analyze on the fly and work toward a fitness goal, but don’t judge your thoughts as good or bad. Just let your ideas and feelings come.
- Set yourself up for clarity. The more distractions there are around you, the harder it will be to focus. Pick clothes that are comfortable for you, for instance, or exercise during a time when you know you won’t have as many interruptions.
- Accept where you are right here, right now. If you’re not ready to heft a 40-pound dumbbell, grab the 35. If your meditation keeps coming back to something you’re dealing with, it’s okay. Don’t let all your aspirations or “shoulds” push you into the danger zone, and don’t try to make it perfect or less messy.
With those three guidelines, you’ll master meditative exercise in no time.