Photo courtesy of Huckberry
If you’re reading this, you probably already practice some kind of personal fitness routine. You may go to the gym six days a week like our CEO & Founder Daniel Shapiro, or you may slip in the occasional workout on the weekend when your schedule allows. We know what fitness is because we can recognize it, and chances are that we’re already familiar with several types of workouts and exercises designed to train every muscle and movement we can imagine. But when it comes to training our minds, what exactly does that look like?
When we think of mindfulness it’s easy to imagine a few cliché scenarios: lots of heavy breathing, new wave music in the background - you get the idea. But in reality, mindfulness has been introduced in schools, offices and dugouts to bring purposeful consciousness to all areas of life, including - you guessed it - physical training.
So how can you apply mindfulness as an athlete or someone with physical training goals? We’ve broken down the basic fundamentals of mindfulness to demonstrate how simple and effective it can be.
At its heart, mindfulness is about open attention to the present.
Practicing mindfulness means practicing observing your thoughts from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. It’s an active state of being - being mindful means living in the moment - a perfect place to be to Start Before You’re Ready ®.
You might not think that you need to.
But mindfulness can bring added benefits for your health, performance and well-being. Here’s just a few examples of what you can expect to experience:
Connect better. Bringing your focus to the present will strengthen your relationships with friends and family - especially if you’ve ever found yourself staring off into space while in conversation with them. Mindfulness helps you give them your full attention.
Lower stress. We know that excess stress can cause many illnesses and make other illnesses worse. Mindfulness decreases stress and anxiety that detract from good physical health. Ever had trouble falling asleep? Mindfulness will help with that too.
Perform stronger. Mindfulness and meditation alleviate performance-related anxiety by helping you stay calm, focused and confident. And with the extra benefits to your physical health, you’ll see your training improve too.
The good news is that mindfulness is easy to start. These three practices will help get you going:
1. Mindful Breathing
It’s true. Focusing on your breath is a big part of mindfulness. When you’re just getting started, it’s important to ease into it. Aim for just ten minutes of breathing and meditation your first time around.
Go to a space that’s private and relatively quiet. Find a sitting or lying down position that’s comfortable - no lotus or crossed legs necessary, just whatever feels natural. Close your eyes and try to relax. Your mind will immediately start to wander, probably asking yourself why you’re sitting on the floor with your eyes closed, but that’s OK. Give yourself a second.
Focus on the inhales and exhales, and try to let one complete breath last for six full seconds. Then slowly extend each breath from there. Breathe in from your nose, and out with your mouth.
Then comes the tricky part - letting go of your thoughts. This does not mean ‘emptying your mind’ as some might describe, but instead abandoning control over what pops into your head. Think of your mind as a tall mountain and your thoughts as the clouds that pass by it. Let the thoughts flow in and out of your mind, but don’t try to control them either way.
After practicing this for a while, you can also try visualization techniques. If there’s a goal you’re after at work or in your training, visualize yourself succeeding in that goal while breathing.
2. Mindful Immersion
Mindful immersion is a way of honing the focus practiced with mindful breathing and bringing it into your daily routine.
For example: if you are lifting weights, pay attention to every detail of the activity. Focus on each repetition, on each dumbbell and bar cycle. Rather than laboring through or focusing on the end of your workout, create an entirely new experience by noticing every aspect of your routine. Fully immerse yourself in the process and take the activity beyond a routine by aligning yourself with it physically and mentally.
After some time, you’ll find that this type of internal focus will boost your overall confidence and performance. You’ll be able to filter out the negative thoughts that often keep us from reaching for larger and better goals. Pitching a new idea at work? No problem. Want to try running that extra mile around the track? Let’s go.
3. Mindful Appreciation
Mindfulness can put a helpful distance between ourselves and our reactions. Paying attention to our breath helps us focus on our actions, which helps us live more consciously on a day-to-day basis. Mindful appreciation is an observational technique to put that focus into use in our regular lives.
Try noticing five small details or items in one day that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Observe them without judgement while taking a moment to appreciate what might have otherwise seemed insignificant.
This focus and appreciation will feed into your positive internal rehearsal, giving you an emotional and mental boost for the day.
Whether you want to reduce stress, reach new goals in your performance training or just live more consciously, mindfulness can be a great tool to help get you there. Like most new endeavors, it takes effort and consistency, but the benefits are great and can directly improve your physical and emotional well-being.
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