If you have a regular fitness regime, you’ve probably noticed how much more you get out of your workout when you really focus and bring yourself into the moment. Of course, it’s a fact that aerobic exercise is good for your physical health – mind, body and spirit – and leads to emotional vitality by increasing the production of endorphins. Meditation is known to be awesome for our psychological health because it allows us to relax, but is there a benefit to practicing meditation in relation to finding balance with our food and exercise?
For many people, being distracted while exercising has just become the norm. We have so much to get done in our day, that we squeeze our workouts in wherever we can. Often, the focus is bouncing back and forth between the kids, your “to do” list, and home and work responsibilities… all while trying to maintain form and skill in a workout.
If exercise is a regular element of your routine, and you are struggling with how to fit it all in while reaping the full mind-body-spirit benefits… there could be benefits to fully utilizing mindfulness as part of your exercise regimen.
Just What Does Mindfulness In Exercise Look Like?
According to the Mayo Clinic, you can train yourself in mindfulness using everyday tasks like eating a raisin or focusing on a conversation with a friend, but let’s talk about practicing mindfulness to improve your workout. How do we make this happen?
- Be On Time for Yourself. If you are the person that lives in a constant state of over scheduled and running behind, you are shorting yourself of the chance to practice mindfulness. Be sure to arrive a few minutes prior to the start of a workout to create a game plan, plan a running route, or set up the equipment needed.
- Make Your Stretching & Warm-Up a Priority. This is an easy one to skip, and so easy to begin to tell ourselves that it is not all that necessary (especially if being on time is a struggle)! Avoiding stretching can be incredibly damaging to your muscles and ligaments. Take the time to communicate with your body and focus your mind for the workout ahead. It’s natural for the mind to wander during meditation, but with focused practice, becoming fully engaged in mindfulness becomes second nature. Take some deep breaths, internalize, and begin to gently activate your muslces.
- Carve Some Time to Visualize the Movement. I am a huge proponent of visualization. Visualize, visualize, visualize! Whether you are lifting weights, running, Cross-fitting or cycling, you really want to gift yourself with the time to envision your body performing the desired movements with perfect fluidity and form. Think about the muscles that should be activated and the way your body will look as you move. A quick sidenote – as an instructor, I have noticed over the years how much more difficult it is for many people these days to fully straighten out their arms. I feel this has to do with how much time we spend on our technological gadgets. Please take the time to work towards fully straightening your arms and deepening your stretches. Once those muscles begin to shorten, it is incredibly difficult to get that length back.
- Draw Yourself Completely into the Moment. As you move and breathe, focus only on what you are doing and bring yourself directly and fully into the body. This can be difficult in a group setting (as by our very nature, we want to check in with what others are doing and how they are moving) but begin by taking a deep breath, engaging your core abdominal muscles, and flowing into your movement. How does your body feel to you? Are you warmed up and comfortable in your movement? Does your body feel centered and stable? Are you mindful of any injuries or pain, and making the appropriate adjustments?
Why Is Meditation Combined With Strenuous Exercise Successful?
While we all understand that exercise which brings us into a good sweat and meditation are both beneficial to our physical and emotional well-being, we may wonder how the two can work together. There appears to be a significant difference between the two… and the main difference is that aerobic exercise is energizing while meditation is relaxing.
Practicing mindfulness while stretching target muscles and engaging in breathing exercises can provide all athletes with the focused energy needed to make successful gains in athletic performance. It is a primal and universal law that two extreme opposites will find their balance point. It is at this balance point that flow truly begins to happen, so in my humble opinion, it is well worth taking the time to work toward this balance point to find your strongest center.
How Can Meditation Bring One’s Eating into Balance?
Meditation is proving more and more beneficial to helping one balance out their eating habits. This benefit can be seen from emotional eaters to chronic dieters to those with eating disorders. Meditation takes only a few minutes each day and reaps benefits that extend to physiological and psychological health.
Some Thoughts on Emotional Eating and Meditation
Emotional eating occurs when food is consumed in response to (or avoidance of) negative situations. This is where one generally tends toward what they would consider to be ‘comfort food’, and is often characterized by overeating of foods high in fat, sugar, and calories. For most people, negative situations would be characterized as those faced on a daily basis due to stress – from work, finances, relationships, and exhaustion.
Mindfulness meditation has been proven as a successful method of treatment to curb emotional eating. It is a successful treatment for emotional eating since it allows practitioners to really take the time to identify the source of their eating (frustration, sadness, stress, anger). This begins the process of uncovering the work one needs to do in order to detach the emotion from the action.
In research-based studies, participants that used mindfulness meditation as a way to begin to curb their emotional eating began to uncover a healthier relationship with food, increased control of their eating and a greater awareness towards their hunger cues and satiety cues.
How About Dieting and Meditation?
Meditation can help you reduce cravings by bringing awareness to why you are experiencing a craving. For example, in a stressful situation your body’s biological response is (usually) the sensation of hunger. Meditation can help you identify that you are in fact stressed rather than hungry. Meditation naturally helps to dissolve and release stress and anxiety that is stored in your body, and this helps your cravings to subside.
It is also possible to reduce any cravings by being more aware of your food habits. You will begin to have an awareness that giving in to a craving (an unhealthy one, that is!) will not help you reach your overall health goals. This ultimately empowers you with choice, which then gives you the opportunity to substitute for a healthy alternative. With regular meditation, you will surely begin to notice that the frequency of these cravings will begin to reduce.
Please enjoy this meditation from Dean Ornish and Wild Divine, on Observing Your Thoughts.