Think you don’t have time to meditate? Think again! If you make time to workout you have time to meditate or as some call it-practice mindfulness. What is this mindfulness buzzword we keep hearing everywhere? Well it’s not a thing but rather something we do. Mindfulness is being in the present moment. To take this concept a step further and into your next sweat session this process of mindfulness is connecting the mind and body by bringing awareness to your breath, your muscles and their contraction, your alignment and posture and the movement and actions your body is performing. Here are some helpful mind body connection techniques you can start using in your next workout.
1-Body Scan: the goal of doing a body scan either before a specific exercise or before a workout is to bring awareness back to the body itself. In my experience working as a personal trainer I have witnessed many people both in and out of fitness centers engaging in physical activity on what I call “auto-pilot”. This mode can be described as simply going through the motions, taking orders from the instructor without thinking and just letting the mind completely disconnect from the body and escaping the process completely. When on auto-pilot mode it’s very difficult to receive the full benefit of your exercise efforts, so it’s worthwhile to bring yourself back into the movement and be mindful with your exercise choices. The Body Scan technique will ensure you avoid this pitfall. This quick and easy technique can be performed anytime anywhere without having to stop what you are doing. Simply start thinking about your body from your head to your toes using visualization and noticing your body in the space it’s in. Starting at the crown of your head, simply noticing each vertebra in your neck, the muscles in your face, working down your body, bringing awareness to your shoulders, your upper back, your arms and the length of your spine, etc. gradually making your way down to your toes. This process can take 10 seconds or up to a few minutes and can do a terrific job of taking you from that “workout zombie” to the mindful exerciser you aspire to be by connecting the mind back to the body.
2-Scale of Intensity: This scale is a tool I give and teach to all of my clients on their first personal training session to empower them to be able to learn how to tune into the effort level of their body. I remind them that their intensity during their workouts has a direct impact on their overall results therefore the benefit of learning this scale translates heavily to their goals.
The scale is from 1 to 10, the 1 represents the intensity effort level of watching tv on the couch and the 10 represents sprinting across the finish line of a marathon. The way to effectively use this scale to practice mindfulness is to do regular check-ins with yourself during your physical activity and ask, “What number on that scale matches my intensity and effort level right now?” I often ask clients during their session, “What’s your number?” They respond with a number and we use that information to guide the rest of the session. These check-ins provide an opportunity to reflect and discover what intensity level you are working at then decide if you need to kick it up a notch or slow the process down. The scale of intensity is a useful tool to stay in tune with your physical effort by using your mind to connect to your body’s signals, I highly recommend putting it into practice to ensure you are putting forth the right amount of effort for optimal results.
3-Running: Mindful Running, ever hear of that? Me either until recently and I discovered have been engaging in it for a while now. Mindful running is the act of running while being aware and present in your body and mind, for example; noticing your foot strike, hearing your breath patterns, feeling your heart rate, or sensing the air on your skin. This year I have made the transition to running mindfully. I have unplugged from my music which previously served as my distraction and now run to listen and reflect inward. I have always been able to use running as a way to clear my mind, reduce stress and anxiety and develop creative ideas but since making this switch I have noticed I am calmer while running, have better control over my stride length and am appreciating my surroundings like never before. My body signals have also been heightened to a level where I can better respond to them which long term will prevent injuries.
This type of mindfulness can be applied to any cardiovascular activity such as cycling, rowing, walking, skipping, cardio machines, etc. Next time you are running, walking, or using your favorite cardio machine take just 5 minutes to tune into your body from head to toe, notice your breathing, feel the weight in your feet, become aware of your heart rate, feel the warmth rise over your body and simply enjoy being able to move your body in the way that you are.
4-Strength Training: “Connect the mind to the muscle”. Clients often hear me say this. This concept is simply putting focus on the target muscles you are working. My best example of putting this into action is demonstrating to clients how to squat with intention. I teach them to pause before putting your body in motion, contract your abdominals, pull the shoulders down and back, chest forward, transfer the body weight properly in the feet, visualize the exercise then stabilize and begin to lower into the squat with purpose, at the bottom of the squat I encourage them to squeeze their glutes and quads then return to the top for maximum effect. Simply bending at the hip joint and knee joint to lower the body down and up is not mindful movement. Using your brain to help your muscles contract at the right time in the right places while maintaining proper form and technique is being mindful during strength training.
Adding mindfulness to your strength training will have long term benefits towards your strength gains and overall body awareness.
5-Group Fitness: Pilates, Yoga, Boot Camp, Zumba, or the group fitness class of your choice just remember it’s your class for you to accomplish your goals so it’s more than acceptable to slow down and not always adhere to the pull of matching the instructors pace. Take the time to focus on quality movements, form, and technique. Direct energy into your muscles that you are working and connect your breath to the movements. Do regular check-ins during class and give yourself gentle reminders to bring your focus back to your breath, goals, posture and remember that quality always trumps quantity.
The connection of the mind and body can be a strong force once you are empowered to join the two. My wish for you for your next workout is simply to start with noticing your breath and build on that foundation. That will be the beginning of your mindfulness path, you’ll be amazed where your mind and body connection will take you next.
Learn more about setting the stage for your workout with Doris’s Breath Connection exercise: visit optimyz.ca/breathconnection
This article was originally published in Optimyz magazine in the October/November 2017 issue sold at Indigo/Chapters and Shoppers Drug Mart stores across Canada. Look for my next article out in March in the April/May issue of Optimyz!
For more great health and fitness information please visit Optimyz magazine online at optimyz.ca