Meditating During Fitness Workouts
Bringing together the mind and the body.
Sunsets: An Inspirational Booster
Sometimes you need a jumpstart.
Meditation In Motion: The Portable Meditative Experience
How often do you say "I Don't Have Time To Meditate?
Is This The Moment . . . To Be "In The Moment?"
Why do we have those "Whoops Moments?"
Manage Stress In 8 Breaths
You know the feeling . . . tension, anger, impatience, frustration
Bringing Together The Mind and the Body
You probably think that meditation is one thing, and exercise is another.
Traditionally, meditation requires sitting in a calm and quiet place, eyes closed, as you try to block all thoughts, while exercise, on the other hand, may be performed in any number of situations, from calm to chaotic and where not much attention is given to what’s going on with your thoughts.
But there’s another side of this: It’s been discovered that you can practice both meditation and exercise at the same time, whether it’s during yoga stretching or during the traditional cardio and resistance training in a gym or fitness center.
Yes, you can meditate while you exercise, and there at least 2 immediate benefits:
In the fitness center, whether you are on the machine for 10 minutes or 60 minutes, you can accumulate a cluster of mini-meditation segments while finding that your workout has been completed easier than expected.
In a yoga or stretching session, whether done solo at home or in a class, it’s the same: You’ll be reducing the occasional pain and discomfort, and seeming to complete the session in less time. Just as with the cardio and weight/resistance workouts, you will be accumulating mini-meditation segments
No More “When Will This Be Over?”
Here’s why exercise can make it easier to meditate, and meditation can help you get through the challenges of your workout. Meditation is all about concentration, clearing your mind of all thoughts and entering a mindful state in which you are only aware of your breathing, or reciting a repetitive mantra. This works for some people, but if you’re at all like me, it’s really hard, almost impossible to keep the thoughts from sneaking back in. Chase ‘em away; back they come. This is why my previous blogs advocate being fully aware of your breathing, and if you are walking, also focusing your vision on a distant object.
But here’s the good news: Exercise makes it easier to concentrate. It may be the beta endorphins, the positive-thinking hormone that exercise stimulates, or it may be that the exercise you are performing is rhythmic, repetitive, cyclical . . . making it easier to keep count without thinking too much about the numbers themselves. Whatever the reason, it works.
Meditating During Cardiovascular Workouts
Let’s start with a cardio workout. After you have warmed up for a few minutes on the stairclimber, the elliptical or the treadmill, start to count your steps, but not in any old way; there’s a pattern you are going to follow to make this work effectively. Here’s how I discovered this easy method.
It occurred to me on the Stair Climber. It was tough going and I found myself counting the steps. Not every step, just the left foot. My counting pattern was 1-2-3-4 on every left step, then repeating the 1-2-3 but now ending on 8. Again 1-2-3-4 and then 1-2-3-16, 1-2-3-4, and 1-2-3-24. I kept this going until finishing the count with 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-48. I also concentrated on breathing by consciously exhales on each left step. Upon reaching 48 I took my mind off the counting (because it can become obsessive). But after a short break (a minute or two) repeat another short session of the 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-8 . . . counting and breathing,
Meditating During Weightlifting/Resistance Exercise
Are you into resistance exercises? Whether you use the fitness equipment - the rower, the chest and back exercisers, the leg lifts, or other machines with weights and cables, or if you prefer free weights - the dumbbells, barbells, and kettle weights, again we find there is a rhythmic pattern that readily lends itself to the same counting with each rep and each exhale. Chances are you want to achieve a specific number of “reps” so practice the 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-8 . . . rhythmic pattern until you reach your goal. Repeat this counting and concentration on breathing again when you begin your next set of reps.
Meditating During Yoga or Stretching Exercises
This technique can be practiced when you are in a yoga class or while doing it on your own, at home. Instead of counting steps or strides as in the cardio example, you will be counting breaths - exhales specifically. It’s the same 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-8, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-16 pattern except you will be counting the long exhales. Your yoga instructor, whether live or on video, undoubtedly will encourage you to take long, deep inhales and long, slow exhales, so your counting of exhales, and concentration on both the inhales and exhales should fit right in.
For all forms of exercise, visualize the numbers as you think them. Picture the 1, the 2, the 3 . . . The combination of thinking about the exhale count and visualizing the numbers is enough to occupy your mind to the exclusion of other thoughts. You will find that unending downward facing dog or treadmill hillclimb or stairclimber or bench presses will go by more easily when you are not thinking about how uncomfortable you are because your focus is elsewhere.
The Hypnotic Pattern
Do you see the pattern? There’s something hypnotic about it. Be sure to concentrate on 2, and only 2 things: The counting of steps or reps on the left foot, and your breathing. Be aware of exhaling when that left foot comes down if you are doing cardio or with each rep during weights, and during yoga simply imagine the count as you exhale. You’ll get the hang of it quickly and find that it’s an easy thing to do,
I recommend a pause for a minute or so then repeat the counting up to 48, or higher if you prefer. I find it’s best not to keep counting indefinitely, but to limit each counting session, pausing for a brief recovery, and then repeating. The result will be a number of mini meditation segments.
Here’s Why It’s Effective
This practice of meditating during your workout is actually more than just getting two things done at once. The exercise and rhythmic breathing enhance the meditative concentration. You know how hard it can be to keep focused during meditation - you try to block or expel outside thoughts and other distractions, but they keep creeping back. But the stress of the exercise and concentration on breathing and counting ensure that nothing else can get into your mind.
The Workout Is Over And You Feel Great
Here’s my prediction: You are going to head to the shower after your workouts feeling better, with optimism and a positive sense of calm and well being. Sure, some days are better or worse than others, the workout tougher, the focus during meditation harder to maintain. But on average, life is going to be better for you as you continue to combine exercise with meditation by following the counting and breathing concentration.
Try it and see! And please let me and our readers know how it’s going and if you discover any exercise plus meditation techniques of your own. Just Leave A Reply, below.
Sometimes You Need A Jumpstart
In the previous Blog “Mediation In Motion” a sunset was cited as an ideal focal point for walking or standing meditation. This is important enough to cover in some more detail.
Imagine it’s been a long day. Or, a tough day. But it’s over and a good time to unwind. But sometimes it’s not easy at the end of a day to clear your thoughts, adjust your breathing, and settle into a few minutes of meditation, Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it will be possible to come down from the energy that kept you going all day. You’re still wound up, tense, unfocused. And, at day’s end, you’re probably tired and not up to do much of anything. It’s natural and happens to all of us. But let’s do something positive, let’s find a way to easily slip into a brief mediative moment.
A Sunset May Be The Answer
When you need a little help settling into mediation or mindfulness, a sunset may be the answer. Especially when the setting sun illuminates the clouds and early evening skies, it can be inspiring. It’s silent yet able to catch and hold your attention; its colors and shapes may pass quickly but stay just long enough to capture your imagination. Whether it’s one of those rare spectacular evenings when the setting sun creates a real “showstopper” or is just a bit of orange color in the western sky, it has the potential to jumpstart a brief mediative experience.
It’s Okay If You Don’t Live Near The Ocean
It’s great if you live near the coast (either east coast or west coast will do quite well) but maybe you’re close to a lake, or river or even a small pond - any body of water that may be conducive to selective light or cloud formation and then coloration at the right time. But I’ve seen inspiring sunsets in cities, in parking lots, in open fields, on streets and from windows. Just be facing west just before the sun sets and you should have a good chance to catch a few minutes of sunset color and calm.
Of course if it’s raining or heavily overcast, your sunset experience will have to be put on hold. But don’t despair! As you face west at dusk, the transition from daylight to darkness can be inspiring too. True, it’s less dramatic and more subtle than the colors and cloud formations of a sunset, but if you breathe deeply as you watch the sky darken and evening arrive, you’ll find the mediative response coming easily.
Here’s The Approach
Now, face the setting sun (or darkening sky if there’s no sunset) and focus on the colors, cloud shapes, even birds flying by, and at the same time, be aware of your deep, Yoga breathing. You are going to apply the same slow, deliberate, deep, thoughtful breathing we’ve discussed earlier (if you haven’t read the first blog, “Reduce Stress In 8 Breaths” take a minute to scroll down to check it out now, or after you’re finished with this blog; it will give you a simple yet effective way to calm down quickly!).
>> Caution: Be careful not to stare directly at the sun until it is dim enough to look at without discomfort. The daylight sun is too intensely bright to look at directly, but by dusk, just before it sets, it’s generally safe. Of course the sunset continues after the sun falls below the horizon, and that’s when some of the best colors may be seen.
Give your full attention to the sunset, let yourself think about what you are seeing, be aware of sounds around you but don’t let them distract you from the sunset and of being aware of your breathing.
Start Planning On Meeting The Sunset
Let the sunset become a part of your daily routine. Look forward to it and use it as your daily source of bringing the active day to a close and winding down. As the seasons change and the days get longer towards summer or shorter towards winter, adjust your own timing. During the darker days of winter, when the sun sets very early (in the northern U.S. it may be fully dark by 5:00 PM), your active day may not yet be over. But that’s okay, you can still take a short break just before dark and relax, even if there’s still more to do.
Let’s Not Forget Sunrises!
This blog has been about using the beneficial effects of the setting sun at day’s end, but morning sunrises can be equally inspiring. Looking east as the day begins and the sun starts its slow rise skyward can be a moment to mediate on the hopes and dreams and possibilities of the coming day.
Early morning sunrise meditation can also help you shake off the confusion of the night’s dreams. I recommend using this time to stretch; if you know a few good Yoga stretches or “Asanas,” put them to work for you. The stretches will enhance the relaxation reflexes and help instill a good sense of calm. Remember to breathe deeply and deliberately.
Have you found a place of natural inspiration that you would like to share with us? Use the Contact form below. Your experiences and recommendations will add to the value of our blog to all our readers.
How Often Do You Say “I Don’t Have Time To Meditate?”
We’ve read the articles, we’ve watched the videos. We know that the daily practice of mediation has psychological benefits, and probably some physical benefits, since its calming response reduces stress and may also lower blood pressure. But who has the time and patience to sit still for 20 minutes? And for that matter, it’s not easy keeping yourself focused for more than a minute or two. And then there are those who fall asleep - nice to get some rest, but napping is not meditating!
When you imagine someone meditating what do you see? Typically it’s a person in the classical “Lotus” position: sitting with legs crossed, hands open, eyes closed. We’ve all seen photos like that and chances are you’ve done your meditation in the same manner. That’s certainly okay for situations when you aren’t going anywhere and can find a quiet peaceful private place, and you have the time and patience and the ability to maintain concentration and stay focused, with all thoughts put aside; being aware of only your breathing and the mantra you’ve learned to hum.
Another Way: The Portable Meditative Experience
So a lack time and patience may be inhibiting our efforts to meditate daily. But there are other ways to experience the benefits of few minutes of meditation without having to stop, sit and close your eyes. You can actually meditate while walking. Really. And with eyes wide open so there’s no risk.
You can also meditate while you are standing, even on the checkout line at the market or while waiting your turn at the bank. After all, most of us often find ourselves waiting for someone or something.
Before we get into the technique, let’s pause for a moment and consider why frequent if brief meditating is beneficial. In the previous blogs we discussed Mindfulness and why being “in the moment” with deep, conscious breathing helps us be in touch with ourselves and lowers stress. Meditation offers these same benefits as well as helping ideas and insights to emerge from our sub-conscience.
Meditating while walking (or standing or waiting) can give you a “portable meditative experience.” And not just once a day. You can practice walking or standing meditations as often as you want and whenever you need to “lower the level” and get back in touch with yourself.
Here’s How: 3 Simple Steps To Portable Meditation
Here’s what’s happening: if your mind is committed to focusing on your breathing and the distant object, you can’t think about anything else. You are in a meditative state. You’ve stopped worrying; you’ve stopped planning. You are no longer thinking about the conversation you had earlier today or what you will be doing this afternoon. Annoyances disappear.
Just be sure that you are doing both: Being aware of the distant object you’re focusing on, and being aware of each inhale and exhale.
Meditate But Be Careful!
If you are meditating while walking make sure you let your field of vision include anything that might cause you to trip or stumble, without losing sight of the distant tree or object you’ve been focusing on. This may take some practice.
Important: Only practice walking meditation when you are not crossing a street or approaching traffic. It’s also much more effective if you are not being exposed to loud, distracting noises or conversations, so try for being alone if possible, and in quiet places.
Give walking and standing mediation a try - it may take a few efforts before it becomes natural. Use the Contact form to let me and our readers know how it’s working for you. Any suggested alternative approaches to mediation will be most welcome.
► Why Do We Have “Whoops Moments?
► Okay, What Is Mindfulness?
Being, or living in the moment, is often referred to by its other name, Mindfulness. Either way, it means consciousness of the present, an awareness of yourself and all that is affecting you at this very moment - not a moment ago, and not the next upcoming moment. And by definition, it also means having no thoughts that are not immediate; no thinking of what you should have done, no thinking about what you are going to do. It’s all about now.
Achieving effective and continuing Mindfulness is not easy. You know that. We tend to live overactive lives, doing as much as we can in a day, doing multiple things at once (you know, multitasking - more about that in a moment). So our thoughts are working overtime, intruding on each other and making our minds a jumble. No wonder we can’t focus.
The biggest upside to to living in the moment is the surprisingly good level of enjoyment you will experience doing everything while being aware, conscious of what you are doing. You are probably aware of the benefits of Meditation - a higher state of self-awareness, a state of calm, an elimination of the mental static that prevents us from experiencing life to the fullest - Mindfulness can have this same positive effect. In fact, as we'll cover in the next blog, Mindfulness and Meditation are closely related - they complement each other in bringing greater calm, inner peace and reduction of tension and stress.
► The Multi-Tasking Myth
Before we get to how to achieve Mindfulness and getting in touch with the Moment, let’s get to the bottom line on multi-tasking. It’s not an effective way to get things done, and it’s a guarantee that being mindful, living in the moment, will not be possible. Practice multi-tasking and you can look forward to a continuing stream of Whoops Moments. And that’s not all. Multi-task and you will not reduce stress in your life; the more you multi-task, the greater the tension. There has be be a better way and you will discover it when you are living in the moment, as often as you can.
One more reason to get multi-tasking out of your routines: It doesn’t work. Functional MRI tests, brain scans and other psychological measures show that we cannot think about two things at once. When we try to do two or more things at the same time, our minds jump back-and-forth so that we are not giving full attention to any of the things we’re juggling. It turns out that it’s much more efficient to work on, and think about one job at a time. When we do that, we are creating an environment do it mindfully, giving the subject our full, undivided concentration.
► How To Achieve Mindfulness (You Can Start Now!)
I could give this section the sub-headline ”Bring Thinking Under Your Control” because that is the path to being or living in the moment and gaining appreciation and enjoyment of life. Here’s a simple approach you can begin practicing immediately. But be aware that we will be changing habits, and that never happens in an instant, so be patient and try to “get back to Mindfulness” whenever you can, whenever you realize you are thinking about things that were or things that will be. You need to be thinking only about now.
As with most mind-control and meditative techniques, it starts with breathing. Whether you are sitting or standing quietly, or are walking, or are working, become aware of your breath going in, and your breath going out. Inhale more deeply than normal, and exhales slowly and fully. Don’t hold your breath, but as you inhale, be aware that you are inhaling; same goes for when you exhale. It’s not necessary to count your breaths, but some find it helps their concentration. Once the deeper, aware breathing is underway, become conscious of sounds that you hearing; birds chirping, traffic sounds, a fan turning, voices. Be cognizant of the wind blowing, the creaking of a chair, your own feelings and sensations.
If . . . if you can be aware of your breathing while you are also conscious of sounds, you will be effectively blocking other thoughts. You are successfully living in the moment. You are achieving a state of clarity and relaxation.
I recommend starting to practice Mindfulness, starting now. It will be hard at first to “maintain the moment” for more than a few seconds before thoughts intrude. Don’t become frustrated but return to the focus. In time, it will become easier to achieve and hold Mindfulness.
In the next blog we’ll go deeper into living in the moment and see how Mindfulness and Meditation merge, giving you greater concentration, focus and relaxation.
Stay in the moment,
► You Know The Feeling
Tension, anger, impatience, frustration. The build-up of stress. How many times a day is your temper challenged by someone you work with, or who you live with? What about that driver that just pulled in front of you, cutting it close and without signaling? Worse, you can see that other driver was speaking on their mobile phone. Your pulse rate goes up, and chances are you will react immediately, firing back a harsh response to that co-worker, or family member, or blasting your car horn at that irritating driver. These reactions often lead to even more stressful interactions.
And then there's time stress, a category of tension all its own. You're late for a meeting or an appointment. Traffic isn't moving, people are in your way, "why didn't I leave earlier?" you ask yourself as your heart pounds away.
► Results In 30 Seconds Or Less
There is an easy way to manage these situations, diffusing the stress and avoiding a reactive, or over-reactive response. It only takes about 30 seconds, and it works every time. The secret is a combination of deep breathing and repeating a few simple expressions that seem to calm the subconscious.
At the end of this blog I’ll explain why they work so effectively.
For the breathing, we’re going to borrow a fundamental yoga technique. No need to stretch or bend; just take a few yoga breaths, which are slow, and deep. Here’s how:
Inhale a bit deeper than normal, not too much but enough that you are aware of your lungs fully filling. Don’t hold your breath, but let it out slowly, and more fully than usual. Again, just enough that you are aware of the exhale extending a bit.
While you’re inhaling and exhaling, your core is going to be activated. The core is your center, generally involving your abs, or abdominal muscles and your diaphragm, which controls your breathing. When you are inhaling, your core should be moving forward, outward. On each exhale, pull the core back in, forcing it gently but firmly towards your spine.
Repeat the deep breathing and be aware of the number of breaths until you’ve reached 8. You may continue with a few more, but I find that 8 is usually enough to bring things under control.
Try inhaling and exhaling through your nose, but if it's easier you may breathe through your mouth, but either way (or in combination), be slow, deliberate and thoughtful of what you're doing.
► Now, Here’s The Other Part Of The Process
On each inhale, silently think these simple, 2-word expressions, which will be relayed to your subconscious. I’ve suggested an order here, but feel free to mix the expressions around:
Inhale 1: “Inner peace”
Inhale 2: “Inner calm”
Inhale 3: “Spiritual peace”
Inhale 4: “Spiritual calm”
Inhale 5: “Zen peace”
Inhale 6: “Zen calm”
Inhale 7: “Inner zen”
Inhale 8: “Spiritual zen”
You may be wondering, okay, those thoughts are for the inhale, but what should I be thinking about on the exhale? Nothing other than being aware that you are exhaling fully as you pull in your core.
That’s all there is to it.
► Why This Technique Is So Effective:
Now, I said I’d explain why this simple process is so effective in calming the waters. When you are concentrating on taking deep breaths, and counting them, and thinking the 2 word expressions, there is no room left for other thoughts. Your full concentration is taken up and the earlier frustrating, maddening, perhaps infuriating thoughts and impressions are pushed to the side, and are no longer center-stage in your mind.
The more you practice this technique, the more effective it becomes. In the beginning, the things that got you mad may try to intrude, but by gently re-focusing on the deep breathing and the expressions, you will re-center and resume the calming effect.
You may try deeper breathing, if you want, or you may substitute any short expressions of your own to be thinking. Just be sure these are words that connote peace, calm, serenity, tranquility. If you are a religious or spiritual person, you may choose calming words that are consistent with your beliefs.
Lastly, this technique can provide relaxation and restore your balance when other situations arrive - disappointment, anxiety, uncertainty, fear, nervousness before speaking in public or taking an interview, anything that worries you. It’s been working for me and for many others, and I am confident it will work for you.
If you’d like to share your thoughts, feel free to use the Contact form or comment directly in the blog.
By the way, while your concentrating on breathing and thinking a few calming words, you are practicing "living in the moment."That's an important way to better enjoy and experience life, which we'll cover in the next zen self care inspiration blog.
" The sprit of zen embraces inner selfcare as well as physical selfcare. These zen inspirations are to help you bring yourself together and achieve inner calm, spiritual peace.