As an ultra-marathoner, group-fitness instructor and all-round cardio-junkie, I had a hard time sitting still physically and mentally. My body was always moving, and my mind was moving even faster, often on auto-pilot with a broken steering wheel. On a positive note, I was often referred to as “High-Energy” and on the flip side, I was occasionally referred to as “High-Strung” and an “Over-Thinker.” The thought of doing anything involving slowing down such as yoga or meditation had me joking that I would be unable to do anything like that because there was no way I could sit still and “my third eye would keep opening.” The only time my mind seemed quiet, other than when I was sleeping, was when I was deeply focused while training, running, teaching, or racing. I finally reached a point where the internal and external distractions of life were having a negative impact on me and my quality of life.
After exploring and learning to practice Mindfulness and Meditation and then becoming a certified instructor, I can attest it is possible to begin making some noticeable changes in your life by implementing a few simple practices:
- Feel Your Body
This might sound obvious, but most people approach exercise with a “Whole-Body” mentality. Take a few moments to do a body scan starting with the toes of your left foot, working your way up your left leg and then from your right toes working your way up your right leg and then from your groin, hips, torso and so on all the way to the top of your head. Notice what you can notice. Feel what you can feel with your body. Sensing and feeling the moment, helping to reduce stress and relax into motion. You may even enjoy your workout more.
- Notice Your Environment
I ran races all over the country and spent most of my time wearing headphones, with only the thoughts in my head and focused on the end goal. I was totally missing out on the opportunity to experience my surroundings and environment. You will never have this present moment again. Take off the headphones. Settle into your run or your workout, feel your feet touching the ground or the pedals, look around. You can notice your environment without losing sight of your goal. Being a part of our surroundings helps us be present to acknowledge what we are doing, where, and why we are doing it. You may be surprised by what you see and even overwhelmed by your senses. Unplug. Give it a try!
- Focus on Your Breath
You are alive and you get to breathe! Your breath is an anchor that’s always available to you. Whether you are at work or working out, take time to focus on your breath, even for a few minutes a day, or for a minute every few hours. This can reset your central nervous system, help you feel more grounded and connected, and increase your ability to focus on what you are doing in the present moment. Simply focus on the “in breath” and then the “out breath.” Notice what you can notice. You may notice as you focus on your breath that it begins to restore itself, slowing down into a quieter, natural rhythm, which helps reduce stress and anxiety. Every time your mind begins to wander, gently and non-judgmentally notice it and bring your focus back to the breath. It’s like a “bicep curl” for the brain. The more you practice, the easier it will become to notice yourself becoming distracted, which will give the choice to refocus. Choice = freedom! During exercise, focusing on your breath can help you stay concentrated on your workout. You can also alternate using your breath, your pedal stroke while biking, your arm stroke while swimming, or your foot stride while walking or running, as different anchors on which to focus.
- Practice Acceptance and Cultivate Patience & Trust
These 3 “biggies” are lumped together for a reason. As much as we wish, we are not machines with limitless energy and stamina. Trust your body and your instincts to know when you are pushing too hard, when you need to rest, and when you need to take time off. Don’t let other people’s opinions take you away from your truth. Injuries happen, practicing acceptance that you are injured may not take the pain away, but will change your experience of it. Cultivating patience is a sign of maturity, knowing that things will unfold the way they are supposed to and having trust in your body to heal can help your recovery.
Who wouldn’t benefit from an intention to practice kindness? Kindness to yourself, your mind, your body, and to others has limitless benefits. Appreciate yourself and every part of your body that allows you to move and pursue your passions. With fitness, appreciate your achievements and simply where you are and what your body can do today. Let go of comparison. Thank yourself and those who help support your endeavors, your loved ones, friends, your job that gives you an income to afford your gym, your classes, your bike, your shoes, your faithful dog that runs with you, and your instructors.
Shelley Brown is Merritt Clubs' Certified Mindfulness and Meditation Instructor and is dedicated to inviting others to the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Please reach out to email@example.com for more information about Shelley’s services and Merritt Clubs’ Health and Wellness programs.