We have all heard about mindfulness as the new buzz word, but what does it mean and how can it help you in your fitness routine? Our minds are lost in thought about 47% of the time, causing us to not notice many of our tasks in daily life. Mindfulness is the simple act of paying attention to what you are doing while not judging or letting your mind wander off to distant places and thoughts. Mindfulness is simply being in the here and now and observing what you are doing at the present moment.
Mindfulness is certainly having a moment right now and with all the health benefits, it’s no wonder. Mindfulness has been shown to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, help with insomnia and even lessen physical pain. So how can you harness mindfulness for your next workout?
Mindfulness increases focus
By moving through your day mindfully, you have increased focus and concentration. Mindful meditation has shown in studies to improve the attention span of even people new to the practice. (Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism Catherine J. Norris, Daniel Creem, Reuben Hendler, Hedy Kober) Once you make it a habit, your brain becomes automatically aware and continues to act more mindfully. Neuroplasticity is a very new area of study but is fascinating as we learn more about our habits ability to change the brain.
Increases Your Tolerance for Discomfort
People who mindfully meditate have been shown to have a greater tolerance for discomfort. Some studies have even suggested that mindfulness may have analgesic effects on the body. (Zeidan et al., 2010) People who practice mindfulness are more accepting and less nervous of physical pain and therefore have a higher threshold. This is not to say that you have to hurt yourself in your upcoming workouts, but having calm nerves about the possibility of pain makes for a smoother and more dynamic workout experience. It also allows you to go through your workouts with less stress, since stress release is a great reason to workout in the first place.
By using mindful breathing, you can control your movements more efficiently, and power through greater workouts. Abdominal exercises that use breath work are more effective overall. Using the respiratory diaphragm works the inner most muscles of your core and makes your ab work more efficient and effective. Since you harness breath in so many mindful practices, you’ll become an ace at getting the core to work a little harder and more efficiently.
With better breath control comes better fuel for your workouts and for recovery in the form of oxygenated blood to the muscles. As you move through your workout, your enhanced breath control delivers more nutrients to your body. As you recover from your workouts, you will have less overall cortisol in the blood to help your body recover more quickly.
Unlike most things that are good for your health, starting a mindfulness practice is free, easy and fast. Begin small and work your way up as you go. Be patient with yourself as this is likely a totally new mindset. Start your day right by taking several deep breaths from your bed before you look at your phone or move about your day. Feel where your body meets your bed, where your breath enters and exits the nostrils. It doesn’t need to be totally silent and you don’t need to stay completely still. Just stay within the moment and focus only on the breath. As you feel your mind wander off, bring it back to the space where your body meets the bed. Observing the body in space is a great way to reconnect with the quiet mind.
As you go about your day, take a minute every three hours to take three deep breaths. Feel your feet on the floor and your glutes in your chair. You can even set a timer to alert you to get off autopilot and tune into the body. If you start to think of your to-do list, that’s ok and totally normal. There is no wrong way to practice mindfulness, just give it your best try that day.
You can begin to add a minute or two each week and within a month you will feel a marked difference in your waking habit, your eating, your attention and even your workouts. With increased performance in workouts and decreased stress and cortisol levels, maybe you can even start to tell your gym partners about your new mindfulness practice.