Is Exercise Meditation? How to Make Your Movement Mindful

A woman doing a yoga pose in front of trees

We all know that exercise is key to maintaining our physical health. But did you know that exercise can also serve as a form of meditation?

Meditation can take different forms. Whether it’s practicing yoga or sitting in a room and doing guided meditation or even taking a leisurely stroll outdoors. What these practices all have in common is that they create the conditions to help achieve mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of being in the present moment, without judgment or distraction. 

Many of us are already using exercise as a form of meditation without being consciously aware of it. Running without listening to music or taking a long walk out in nature. When we exercise, we have an easier time focusing on what we’re doing in the current moment. We’re not thinking about work deadlines, what we’re going to make for dinner, or trying to win a race. We’re focusing on our breath and clearing our mind.

But why should we bother making exercise more meditative? Isn’t exercise already beneficial as it is? 

It depends. For example, if you participate in team sports, you may find yourself overly distracted by the other team, or obsessed with the scores and winning the game. In that scenario, exercise may be causing more stress than relieving it. 

But if we approach our exercise like a meditation practice, we may find that it helps us manage our stress and anxiety and increase our focus and concentration. And studies have shown that meditative exercises can create positive changes in our brain, particularly in areas connected to regulating our emotions and learning and memory. 

Meditation, like any other skill, requires practice. And if we want to experience the benefits, it’s important to practice meditation regularly.  Below, we’ve outlined different ways that you can use exercise as a form of meditation. 

Add meditative breathing to your exercise 

One way to incorporate meditation to our workout routines is to add deep breathing exercises. 

When we’re working out, we’re sweating, our adrenaline is pumping, we’re not exactly thinking about proper breathing technique. But it’s important to breathe properly so that we don’t injure ourselves. When we’re exercising, we have a habit of taking shallow breaths from our chest. This form of breathing doesn’t deliver enough oxygen to our brain or muscles, and can make us feel more fatigued.

What you want to do is to take deep breaths from your diaphragm. Not only will this help you maintain your level while you’re working out, but it also helps improve your mindset. Focusing on our breath helps ensure that we’re not focusing on other things. If you find yourself distracted during a workout, like thinking about a bad work day or getting distracted by sirens wailing on the street, shift your attention to your breath.

You can also do breathing exercises before your workout to help clear your mind of any distractions. This can be particularly helpful if you’re competing in a team sport or doing a challenging event like a marathon or 5K. 

Be mindful of your environment

Even when we’re working out, it’s easy to get distracted and be consumed by our inner thoughts. How often have you taken a walk only to get distracted and miss your exit or forget to even look up?

The next time you’re working out, see if you can take a moment to be aware of what’s around you. If you’re taking a walk outside, try to notice the way the breeze feels on your face. Or notice the clear blue sky. Or the leaves rustling in the trees. 

If you’re in a noisy gym, the last thing you probably want to do is be more aware of your environment :). In this case, try focusing on the here and now. The mat that you are stretching on or the studio space that you are taking a class in or even the weight that you are lifting in your hand. 

Becoming more aware of your environment can help you get out of your head and back into the present moment. 

Be mindful of your body

Being more aware of our body can help improve our mental well-being. 

We may not even realize that we’re holding stress and tension in our bodies. Clenched jaws and tight shoulders may be indicating stress and tension. Whereas drowsiness and sluggishness may be our bodies telling us that we’re burned out and we need rest.

So the next time you’re working out, take a moment to do a body scan either before your workout or during it. 

A body scan is an exercise in which you bring your attention to different areas of your body. It helps you become more aware of physical sensations along with detecting any aches or pains. 

You can start at the top of your head and make your way down to your feet. Try to notice any tension that you may be holding in areas, like your jaw or shoulders. Then, try to relax them. 

This is a good exercise to help you manage stress and tension and be more attuned to your body’s physical needs. 

Practice gratitude 

Often, when we’re working out, gratitude might be the last thing on our mind. We’re thinking about the pain or how strenuous the workout is. We just can’t wait for it to be over.

But see if you can find pleasure, even when you’re drenched in sweat. You can take pleasure in your abilities. Or express gratitude in simple things, like being able to walk or be outside. Our abilities may seem so small and trivial, but we often take these gifts for granted.

Expressing gratitude during exercise can be particularly helpful if you’re feeling frustrated trying to learn a new technique or routine or intensifying your level. Pause and remember that you’re fortunate to be working out. Express appreciation in yourself for doing something good for you and your health. 

Slow down 

As the saying goes, life is a marathon, not a sprint. And we should bring this same mindset to our workouts. Allow yourself to slow down and be engaged in this experience. This is a time to release your stress and decompress after a tough week. You’ve earned this time to yourself. Enjoy it.
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