If you find it hard to stick to your workout routine, or wish you enjoyed it more, it's likely that your mind is a little... out of shape.
Sounds crazy? In fitness, it's proven that a healthy mind is every bit as important as a healthy body. And if your mind's not in peak condition, your body won't be -- because a workout just can't reach its full potential with un-engaged grey matter.
Just as lifting weights strengthens our muscles, meditation teaches us to become more mindful. It takes just minutes each day to practice, but by doing so, and learning to apply mindfulness to exercise, getting fit becomes easier, more sustainable -- and dare I say it -- quite good fun. Exercising mindfully is even shown to cut levels of body fat, lower weight and reduce blood pressure.
So how can we use mindfulness to get motivated to exercise, and ultimately, become fitter?
Understanding your motivation
What's driving your desire for fitness? Whatever it is, the strength of this motivation will determine your chances of successfully engaging with, and maintaining, your workout routine.
So, even before we put our trainers on, it's important we work out why fitness is important to us. Meditation gives the mind the space and ability to see these reasons clearly and understand ourselves better, to approach exercise in a more grounded, confident and sustainable way. It's a strong start.
Staying on track
It's not easy to keep a fitness plan going through weeks, months and years. When we're busy or it's raining, it's easy to think, "I'll do it tomorrow." But will we?
Learning to be mindful lets us recognize these negative thoughts as just that -- thoughts. So rather than give in to them, we can acknowledge them -- move on -- and head out for that run. And even if it's raining, we'll probably enjoy it.
Focusing on the moment
Instead of planning tomorrow's meeting or running through arrangements for the weekend, try to take a step back from busy mental chatter. Meditation teaches our minds how to be clear and free from distraction, creating the space essential for productive exercise.
Mindful exercise allows us to focus on the moment, so we can produce more confident, natural exercises -- making each rep, and every mile, as effective as possible.
And finally, as we walk, swim or run, remembering the five components of mindful exercise will always give us the maximum benefit from all that effort:
Before starting, be aware of your motivation, breathing, the timing and form required, and your commitment to begin. Practice, and this takes just seconds, but the impact on your workout is significant.
Always breathe! Muscles need oxygen to move. Deprive them, and you'll feel tired, tense and nauseous. So breathe steadily -- in for the less strenuous part, out for the most effort -- and enjoy a high-performance, energizing workout.
Every exercise has its own inherent tempo. Use it, and instead of stiff, tense movements, the exercise will develop a natural, flowing, easy style that's more enjoyable and sustainable.
Focus on posture and alignment. Think about every single muscle movement, rather than racing to the end of the workout. This way, each part of the muscle is working and the exercise will be more effective.
During recovery periods, stay alert and focus on how you're feeling -- physically and mentally. Is your breath telling you to work harder or ease off? Are your shoulders hunched and limiting oxygen intake?
Listen to your body. Being aware of its wellbeing throughout both exercise and rest periods is essential to staying healthy, well-rested and injury free.
Mindfulness + workout = results
By teaching us how to be aware and focus on the moment -- and on the exercise we're doing, mindfulness makes every workout really count. It also makes exercising safer and more fun, so we're more likely to keep doing it!
Of course, like any new skill, learning to be mindful takes practice. But allow yourself the time. The results will really surprise you.