We all know that exercise done 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week makes a huge difference in your emotional and physical health. And the same goes for mindfulness practice. So how do we find time to do both? While exercising mindfully is not a complete substitute for formal sitting practice it does augment formal practice and improve your capacity to be mindful throughout your day.
How to Practice Mindful Exercise
Working out is a golden opportunity to practice mindfulness of the body. Being mindful of the body is the foundational practice taught by all mindfulness programs, so exercise is the perfect opportunity to practice.
When you begin your exercise program we ask that you bring your full attention to every moment of your physical experience. So set aside the distractions like music or screen activities if you are in a gym. Instead take the opportunity to observe the physical sensations of the body before, during and after your workout.
Begin your exercise with 8-10 full breaths, experience the physical sensation of breathing and you can even invite the body to let go of tension as you exhale, feeling the body soften and relax.
Next as you begin exercising notice your very first intention to move as you begin. Bring you full attention to simply watching the body as it moves from a perspective that is non-judgmental and accepting of whatever arises related to thoughts, emotions or physical sensations.
Just as in formal mindfulness sitting practice when the mind wanders from our object of attention and in this case body sensations, we simply notice the distraction, relate to the distraction with acceptance, non-judgment and kindness and gently return our attention back to the sensations in the body that is most prominent in each moment i.e., breathing, tightening and relaxing of muscles, physical contact of exercise with hands, feet, buttock etc., noticing sweating, hot parts of the body, cool parts of body, noticing air or water on the skin, etc. Also notice when you move toward your edge of physical capability and become aware of when to slow down and when to speed up, maintaining a proper balance.
At the end of your workout do a two-minute mindfulness practice by noticing your thoughts, emotions and body sensations, and spend a minute noticing the physical sensation of the breath in the chest and expand your sense of breathing as though the whole body is breathing, feeling oxygen flowing to every cell.
So, I encourage you to experiment with mindful exercise and notice the impact it has on both your mind and body.