Mindfulness Practice while Exercising

If you’ve done any reading into mindfulness or if you have participated in our Mind & Body Virtual Challenge you would be aware of the benefits of incorporating regular mindfulness practice into your everyday life. In case you haven’t read into mindfulness practice at all, research suggests that some of the benefits of regular practice include:

  • Increases your resilience & ability to cope with stressors.

  • Improves the functioning of your immune system.

  • Decreases inflammation at the cellular level.

  • Decreases depression and anxiety.

  • Increases your ability to pay attention.

  • Improves your memory.

If you are anything like the Runnovation team though, you have a busy lifestyle and trying to incorporate fitness, healthy eating and other forms of self-care into your routine with work and family commitments can be overwhelming. One thing I have started doing while I am exercising outdoors (mostly running or walking, but this is an activity adaptable to any form of exercise) is practicing mindfulness exercises so I can kill two birds with one stone. It also has the side effect of me coming back from a run feeling incredibly relaxed and calm.

How do I do it?

There are countless ways of practicing mindfulness exercises. My mindfulness practice usually focuses on the senses individually and on my breath. I cycle through and focus on different parts depending on which one is speaking to me more that day and how long my session is for.

Step 1 – The Visual Part:

  • Plan your exercise outdoors, preferably somewhere with some natural scenery like a park, a trail or alongside a body of water.

  • Look around and take your environment in piece by piece. Alternatively you might choose to take in a particular number of things before you move through and cycle to the next part of the exercise.

  • Once you pick a particular object or environment try to take in as much as detail as you can about that object. For example, if you see a bird, try to focus on the colours of the feathers, the shape of the bird’s body and the pattern made by the bird’s feathers.

  • When you find your object try to avoid thinking too much about it – for example, if I see a bird and it’s one of my objects I might start wondering about what type of bird it is or whether it’s in a nearby flock. If this happens that is completely fine, just let the thought pass by and then move your attention back to the visual parts of the bird you were focusing on.

  • The key to success I have found in the early days of training my mind (this is essentially mind training and so it might be difficult to start with and easier over time) is to think about looking at these things as if a baby/small child would if they were seeing them for the first time.

Step 2 – The Listening Part:

This is my favourite part, mainly because I normally run around a park with quite a few birds and I find the birdsong very soothing.

  • Now, you’re going to take what you did with the visual part and you are going to repeat the steps, but instead of visual cues, you are going to focus on auditory ones.

  • Listen to the sounds of your environment. You can modify this even if you listen to music when you work out (instead of picking environmental sounds you can instead focus on the separate parts of the music – for instance for rock music, first focus on the vocals, then the drum line, then the bass line, then the lead guitar).

  • Cycle through a few different sounds. If you find one sound particularly pleasant then you can move back to that one or spend longer on it – after all, this is your mindfulness practice.

  • Pay attention to the qualities of the sound including its volume, pitch, direction etc.

  • Again, if you feel your mind drifting off into thoughts about the sounds then just gently bring yourself back to the sound you were focusing on.

Step 3 – The Touch Part:

By now you probably don’t need me to revisit all of the steps but this can be a tricky one to think about. I will give you some examples of what I focus on when I do this part:

  • The feeling of my feet striking the ground.

  • The feeling of rain on my skin.

  • The feeling of the sun on my skin.

  • The wind/breeze.

  • The temperature outside.

Step 4 – The Breathing Part:

This step is generally reserved for my cooldown but you can do it during your session if you like – there are no hard and fast rules.

  • Breathe in and out slowly and deeply. Your aim is for one breath cycle to take 5-6 seconds and for you to be breathing from your diaphragm rather than your chest. If you aren’t sure what I mean by that, it means that you take a big, deep breath and generally you won’t be aware of too much upward movement in your shoulders and you will feel your stomach move outwards as you breathe in.

  • When you do your slow, deep breathing try and do so by inhaling through your nose and out through your mouth, however if this is uncomfortable you can do so any way you feel the most comfortable.

  • Let whatever thought you have in your mind float away and just focus on your breath. Again, if you find that at any point in the breathing part you find your mind wandering just gently bring it back to your breath.

  • If you are quite a visual person you can pair this exercise with a visualisation – such as breathing in clean, fresh air and breathing out negativity or pain (physical or emotional), or breathing in one colour and breathing out another.

Are there any times you don’t recommend practicing mindfulness during exercise?

There are very few but here are the obvious two that I can think of:

  • You’re obviously going to have to pick your sessions to do this in. Mindfulness practice is not going to be suited to a speed session but would be well suited to recovery/tempo type sessions when you are not putting in close to your maximum effort.

  • Also, the session that I’ve given you an example of is best practiced for outdoor exercise sessions (although the human zoo in a gym might make for quite an interesting mindfulness session) – I have significant difficulty practicing mindfulness during exercise when I am doing exercise indoors but that is not to say that it cannot be done.

Do you engage in regular mindfulness practice when you exercise? Feel free to comment your mindfulness exercise regime below.

Take care Runnovators - Nic :)

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