Contrary to what lots of people think about meditating, you don't have to be sitting still with your eyes closed to slip into a meditative state. Many forms of movement can be meditative, and that can include your daily dose of exercise. Meditating while you work out can not just help you check off two self-care boxes at once, but also improve the way you work out.
"Working out is a great time to train in mindfulness," says William Fowler, head of content programming at meditation app Headspace, which just launched Move Mode, a feature to help users integrate mindfulness into their workouts. "Because the body is in motion," Fowler says, "the object of focus becomes the movements of the body, rather than the behavior of the mind itself." If you've ever found yourself making a grocery list while meditating, then judging yourself for thinking about Trader Joe's, it's really helpful to have something else to focus on, like getting your back straight in downward dog.
"When we close our eyes and literally shut out the world, the residual stimuli can be chaotic, loud and overwhelming," says master yoga instructor Ross Rayburn. Rayburn is on the team of designers for The Power of Sleep, a new meditation program on the Peloton app. Taking the time to soothe the mind's chaos while you're doing another nice thing for your body can make your workout that much more effective.
You don't need me to tell you that meditating is pretty good for you on its own. It's shown to boost your mood and increase your energy levels. Meditation also heightens your ability to focus, and all of these benefits can combine to make your workout much more effective.
"Being fully present during your workout allows you to focus specifically on proper form, reducing risk of injury," Fowler tells Bustle. By calling full attention to your workout instead of the stress of everyday life, you're giving yourself more of a chance to engage with your body's movement and boost your mood while giving your brain a well-deserved break.
So how do you integrate your meditative practice with your exercise routine? "You can turn just about any activity into a meditation," Rayburn tells Bustle. By drawing your focus to your breath and bodily sensations during your workout, you can increase your ability to remain fully present. My personal training clients (and myself!) often find that centering yourself by taking a few deep, meditative breaths before lifting heavy sets, or before setting off for a long run, can help block out distractions and bring focus to just you and what you're trying to accomplish. If you don't typically enjoy working out, that's OK too. Meditation's ability to boost your mood and mental toughness can help bring more joy to your movements.
Right before and even during your workout, you can use other meditation techniques like visualization to focus on bodily sensations. How will the barbell feel in my fingers? What will my feet feel like hitting the pavement up that last hill toward the end of my run? What will the weights clanking all around the gym sound like? What will the air smell like as I'm finally reaching my finish line?
Imagining all of that isn't quite the "clear your mind of all thoughts and emotions" type of meditating, but it is a powerful type of mindfulness that can get you in the zone. A 2012 study published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal found that visualization can improve exercise by helping you get through the tough spots of your workout.
Remember that there's no one way to integrate meditation and exercise. If you're comfortable with meditation but not working out, you might start out by engaging in guided meditations before a workout to get yourself in the right frame of mind to try something new. If you're more accustomed to physical exercise but not meditating, visualization can make your workout more mindful.
However you integrate meditation and physical exercise, do what works best for your own body and mind. "Think about a time that you got really lost in a physical activity," Fowler says. "Isn’t that a great break from the day-to-day worries of the thinking mind?" So many people work out or meditate to seek that sense of calm — combining both exercise and mindfulness is a great way to practice both forms of self-soothing at once.
Richter, J. (2012) Maximizing strength training performance using mental imagery. Strength and Conditioning Journal, https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2012/10000/Maximizing_Strength_Training_Performance_Using.10.aspx.
Ross Rayburn, master yoga instructor
William Fowler, head of content programming at Headspace