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Ditch the Distractions. Move Mindfully.

I remember a time, before I really fell in love with exercise, when I felt I needed to distract myself from the intensity of my workout. While on the treadmill I needed to watch television. When running outdoors I needed music. I remember trying to read a magazine (this was back when people actually read magazines instead of looking at their smart phones) while on an elliptical, and it was ridiculously hard to do! But I couldn’t wrap my head around being alone with my workout. Sound familiar? Most people I know feel they need a distraction while exercising. But I say ditch the distractions, at least from time to time, and dive head first into mindful exercise. Your body will benefit, but so will your mood. The great meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience.” So if that’s true, I say we can mindfully execute just about anything! Mindful eating, mindful parenting, mindful living have all been hashtag worthy topics of discussion, but when I bring up mindful exercise, people often assume I’m just talking about yoga. ANY exercise can be done mindfully as long as you are paying attention to the “unfolding of experience.” From running and walking, to strength training and dance, mindful movement helps you exercise more effectively while at the same time relieving mental/emotional stress and anxiety. Why yes! We can mindfully execute a burpee if we place our total awareness on the task at hand. We can ask ourselves: Where am I feeling this in my body? What is the rhythm of my breath? Where do I place my hands? My feet? This fine art of noticing translates to mindfulness.  Why practice mindful exercise? First, your body will work harder. When we tune in to our bodies as we move, we are better able to work to our full potential. For instance, when we are watching a television show while running on a treadmill, we are most likely moving at a moderate, steady pace. We can actually up our work capacity by concentrating on speed, playing with intervals, and practicing deep breathing. Overall we can get better results by focusing on the workout instead of staring at a screen. Second, you will be working safer. When mindfully moving through exercises such as weight lifting, yoga, or calisthenics, alignment is important in preventing injury. Distractions can lead to misalignment, and misalignment can lead to injuries (most commonly in the knees, lower back, and shoulders). The small details matter. We wouldn’t drive a car while watching TV because one swerve in the wrong direction could be a big problem. Focusing on form, taking your time to move with intention, and breathing through the exercises can protect our bodies from harm. Lastly, you are creating a moving meditation for mental well-being. When we practice mindful movement we are allowing our minds to take a break from all the chatter, planning, and stimulation that cloud our vision for most of the day. We are constantly bombarded with emails, phone calls, meetings, kids, flashing screens, and social media, so exercise could be a chance to give your mind a welcomed break. These breaks, even short ones, create a sense on calm within. Last year a study conducted at Penn State showed that students who practiced mindfulness while being active every day for two weeks reported a drastic decrease in stress levels, compared to students who were active but not practicing mindfulness. To find calm we don’t have to change our physical activities, we just have to shift our focus into the the here and now. 

By practicing mindful movement regularly, we can get more from our workouts. This may be a good shift for those who don’t enjoy exercise. The daily routine takes on new meaning and depth. It becomes a sacred and healing experience instead of just a means to an end. Be present. Dive in, and witness the unfolding of your workout...and the overall betterment of you!

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