Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Stop Dreading Workouts: Use Mindfulness for More Enjoyment, Effectiveness, and Safety

Mindful Exercise (Woman Jogging)

I’m delighted to share a guest post today from Jacki Hayes.

Walk into any gym and you see a host of folks wearing earbuds and getting sweaty, each person approaching exercise as a time to struggle through and/or to zone out.

Adding a practice of mindfulness to your workouts not only takes the dread out of exercise, but increases your connection to your body and the wisdom it has to offer.

Like many who run, I look forward to a nice jog on a sunny afternoon because it is often the one time I get to switch off my brain and just move. I grab my phone, turn on my tunes, and head for the trail. I pace my steps to the beat of the music and let my mind wander aimlessly for the next half hour or more.

There are days, when this state of mindlessness is just what I need. But that mindlessness also means a disconnection from the motion and movement of my body, her sensations and queues, and quite honestly, the hazards exercise can present.

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is the practice of being aware in the moment, letting the past and future fall away from our thoughts.” ~ Sandra Pawula

Many of us know that mindfulness is an incredible tool for living with more ease and managing stress. The benefits of mindfulness abound, including:

  • Regulation of emotion
  • Increase in emotional flexibility
  • Protection against emotionally stressful effects of conflict
  • Increased immune functioning
  • Increased attention and sensory processing
  • Promotes empathy and compassion

We often associate mindfulness with meditation, picturing ourselves sitting calmly and quietly, focusing on our breath. But mindfulness is a practice that can encompass your entire day, from your morning routine to washing the dinner dishes.

The Benefits of Adding Mindfulness to Your Next Workout

Why would you want to refrain from zoning out during your next workout? There are countless benefits for staying in the moment when exercising.

Reduced risk of injury

This is a big one. Had I been practicing mindfulness three years ago, I would not have sprained my ankle on that stray walnut during an early morning run.

Being mindful will increase your awareness of your surroundings, helping you avoid stray walnuts, cars, or the big dude that likes to swing the dumbbells around.

The practice of mindfulness will also increase your kinesthetic awareness, your ability to coordinate motion and your awareness of where your body is in relation to time and space. This awareness allows you to gauge proper form and technique, giving you a better sense of where you might be compensating or imbalanced in your movement patterns.

Lastly, mindfulness can reduce your risk of injury by allowing you to feel the sensations of pain and discomfort and properly assess their meaning. Zoning out can easily lead to an inability to distinguish between discomfort and ongoing or increasing pain that may result in injury.

Increased effectiveness and efficiency of your workout

You may have noticed that a lot of time is wasted in the gym. Let’s consider a typical weight –lifting session. Let’s say you just finished five repetitions of squats and are waiting for your next set.

What you may typically notice in the gym is folks getting on their phone, chatting with a workout buddy, or taking a look at the latest sports story on ESPN.

And before you know it, five or ten minutes have passed. Trust me, unless you are working on your maximum weight load (and then you shouldn’t be lifting five reps), you don’t need five minutes of rest between sets.

Being mindful, aware of the messages your body is sending, you’ll know exactly when you are ready to lift those weights again. And you’ll be out of the gym much sooner.

Practicing mindfulness during exercise also increases breathing efficiency, which has a tremendous positive impact on your cardiovascular endurance. In addition, improving your kinesthetic awareness aids in activating and engaging the proper muscles for each exercise, increasing the effectiveness of each movement.

More enjoyment while exercising

One of the benefits of mindfulness is the release of judgment and the ability to become an impartial observer of the events around us. It is a calm experience of being present, regardless of the pleasantness of a situation.

Imagine what exercise would be like if you released judgment. If you no longer worried about what you looked like while you were running, what people might think about your huffing and puffing on the stationary bike, or if you can’t quite hold the plank for as long as you think you should.

Being mindful turns those workouts into something far more powerful than a set of exercises. It creates, honors, and fosters a deep connection with your body. You begin to see each workout session as a gift to your health rather than another tedious thing you “should” be doing.

During your Next Workout Try These 4 Practices

Set an intention

Before you begin your workout, know why you are doing it. Is it to lose some weight, work off some stress, train for a 5k?

Don’t judge the intention, just be aware of your why throughout the workout.

Slow down

Yes, some workouts are all about speed. This suggestion isn’t about going slow, but about taking the time needed to notice sensations, signals, and emotions. Slow down enough that you can listen to your body, notice your surroundings, and be aware in the moment.

Focus on your breathe

Breathing is an essential focus of all forms of exercise. When I work out, I tend to hold my breath, especially when the movements start to get hard.

Guess what… that just makes those movements even more difficult.

Timing your breath with certain segments of the breath will increase the efficieny of the movement. For instance, holding your breath as you go down in a squat and exhale on the way up will help you lift heavier weight.

Or exhaling as your foot strikes the ground will help alleviate side-stitches during runs.

So breathe with intention.

Be aware of your body

How does your body feel during each movement? When your foot strikes the ground, what does your foot feel like? Does it strike to the back of your foot or the front? Does your ankle roll a bit? Does it feel light or does it slam into the group.

When you squat, is the movement coming from your quads or are your glutes helping out? Are you pushing the ground away with all four corner of your feet or just the balls of your toes.

When does your body start to fatigue? Is there one body part that wears out quicker than others?

Listening to these sensations will not only help you improve your form, but will show you the weaknesses you need to work on for better overall fitness.

Implementing these 4 techniques during your workout will help reduce your risk of injury, improve your workout efficiency, and increase the enjoyment of exercise. Let the practice of being aware of the moment, rather than worrying about the past and future, create a deeper connection with your body.

Use the practice of mindfulness to turn any exercise program into a gift to your health and happiness.

Have you incorporated the practice of mindfulness into your exercise program? How has it impacted how you perceive your workouts?

Jacki Hayes, Holistic Fitness TrainerJacki Hayes is a personal trainer and women’s well-being coach. She writes about honoring your body, transforming your mindset, and nourishing your soul at JackiHayes.com.

Thanks for reading and sharing!  All my love, Sandra

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16 Comments

  1. Dear Jacki, I appreciate how precise you are in your knowledge of fitness and exercise. I feel this, in particular, would be a huge boon for almost anyone: “Imagine what exercise would be like if you released judgment.”

    Thanks for your contribution. You’re inspiring me to get back into exercise!

    • Sandra;
      Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit of my knowledge. It’s been my experience that we all seem to refrain from doing something important, and possibly life changing, for fear of what we might look like to others. Having a tool in our back pocket to help let go of that worry is so helpful

  2. Jacki, there is so much goodness in this post.

    I can admit to zoning out on my last jog and thinking, “well that makes a nice change from a busy brain”. Of course I had completely forgotten that exercise, like all activities, presents as an opportunity to practice mindfulness and enjoy the benefits of being present to the task at hand..

    Thank you for the reminder!

    • Liz;
      So glad you found this helpful. I think sometimes we need that zoning out. Learning to gauge when we need to zone out and when need to focus in is the key.

  3. I love this! Exercise has always been hard for me, but using mindfulness is really helpful.

    • I think for many “exercise” is hard. Too many negative emotions and attitudes go with that word. Mindfulness can help in shifting you from seeing it as exercise as something far more. Thanks for reading.

  4. I used to me a gym junkie, all the Les Mills classes, spin etc now QiGong, walking, swimming and some gentle yoga are great for me. I did buy some ankly amnd wrist weights for short walks around here for my bones 🙂

    • Fellow gym junkie here, and right now I’ve settled into doing only yoga. It’s so good to listen to what your body wants and needs at each phase. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

  5. These are really awesome tips you got here. I used to believe that morning routines aren’t as special as how they are presented especially in connection to successful people but looking closely, these routines have special purpose and benefits apart from being just routines. Exercise stimulates blood and energy, meditation gives clarity, and the rest goes on. Personally, I found that I am more in the mood and enthusiastic to get to work if I did exercise. Otherwise I feel sluggish and become unproductive. Thank you for sharing!

    • Merlene;
      I have a set morning ritual of a warm glass of water, yoga, gratitude journaling, meditation, and personal growth reading. It sets the tone of the day and I find that I am far more focused and much happier throughout the day if I get this routine in. Thanks for reading.

  6. Dale Crawford

    Actually, this is what I try to do. I workout for strength only, so it’s a very intense bodybuilding workout. I don’t wear ear buds, I wear ear PLUGS. 🙂 One of the reasons why is so I can concentrate better on what I’m doing. Also to TUNE OUT the ridiculous piped-in music at the gym, which is often LOUD, & which they refuse to turn down.

    • Dale, LOL. I will definitely have to try the ear plugs. My gym’s early morning music selection is often just way to distracting. I almost exclusively do yoga and power-lifting now and have found that workouts are so much more effective when I really tune into my body.

  7. I find my winter exercise routines very tedious. We live in northern Alberta and for six months I have to use a treadmill in the basement, because the sidewalks are too icy to walk at a decent pace. I’d break my neck. I hate going into the gloomy basement and walking on the treadmill. I never thought to use this time as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Thank you for the reminder. I will have to give it a try.

    • Sharon;

      I’ve found that by adding mindfulness to exercise, I’ve given up on exercise all together. Instead, I listen to what my body is asking for and in the winter she is asking for rest and slow intentional movements. So that’s what I give her (in the form of yoga). Now that we are getting closer to Spring, I can feel her desire for more activity ramping up, so I’ve been adding a bit more active movements to my day, but all in all, I just focus on intentional movements that I have the urge for, rather than sticking to an exercise routine.

  8. Thank you for sharing the many benefits of incorporating mindfulness along with one’s exercise routine.

    I’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation for a few years but hadn’t really consciously thought about extending this practice to when I’m exercising.

    That said, perhaps I have been doing this without really being fully aware of it… For example, I noticed how good it felt when I was working out today. (For a variety of reasons, I had not worked out for the last few months.) I also remember how I made a point of “listening” to my body on how far I could go with the various pieces of equipment in light of my having had a break (and not wanting to injure myself).

    I was also very focused on the whole experience and ended it with feeling that I was so happy that I had restarted my exercise routine and wanted to keep it going; to assure this, I even planned in my head when I would be returning to the gym.

    Thanks again!

    • Dorlee, is sounds like you were putting the practice of mindfulness in place without even realizing it. And your experience highlights how much more enjoyable “exercise” can be when we are mindful and listen to our bodies.

      I think we tend to focus on the “suck” of working out, and I love that instead, you noticed how good it felt to move your body. Taking the time to redirect our focus means we are far more likely to give it ago again.

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