September 2014: Sweat and Smiles

I just heard a great TED talk on happiness:

To summarize this talk, his research supports that when our mind is focused completely on our task we are happier.  I think this is true with exercise as well.  When we are mindful with our exercise and let go of distractions and unrelated thoughts, you can focus your attention on breath and movement of your body instead.  When you do this you are improving coordination and ease of movement.

Mindful exercise is about performing physical activity while focusing inward.

Here are 5 mindfulness practices to improve your fitness routine:

  1. While lifting weights, put your full attention on the muscle(s) you are strengthening.  Really feel your muscles contract and relax with each repetition. Allow your breath to be slow and steady.  As unrelated thoughts arise, let them go and return your attention to your muscles and your breathing.
  2. While running, turn off your iPod and bring your attention to the sound of your sneakers, the rhythm of your breath and the movement of your arms. Notice how you feel during and after your run when practicing mindfulness in this way.
  3. Before a workout, or after your ‘warm up,’ tune in to your body and notice what level of exertion your body is ready for.  If you’re particularly tired on a given day, try skipping your run and doing some gentle stretching and mindful walking instead.
  4. While stretching, bring your attention right into the area you’re stretching. Close your eyes and take 10 slow breaths, as if you are breathing directly into the muscles you’re stretching. Notice how your focus and breath support your body to open up and expand more easily.
  5. During spin class, or when riding your bike, focus your mind on the movements of your leg muscles.  Feel your muscles working in unison to peddle the bike. Smile and take a moment to appreciate the miraculous coordination of your body to perform such a task!
Deep Breathing exercises for ANYWHERE:

Rapid, shallow, erratic breathing is a common response to stress. Slow, deep, regular breathing is a sign of relaxation. 

Learning to control your breathing, even when not engaged in exercise, can help improve well-being and reduce stress. Whether it is in a formal setting or on your own time, simple breathing exercises are valuable.  When done properly controlling your respiration can actually mimic the effects of relaxation.

Here’s how deep breathing exercises work:

  1. Breathe in slowly and deeply, pushing your stomach out so that your diaphragm is put to maximal use.
  2. Hold your breath briefly.
  3. Exhale slowly, thinking “relax.”
  4. Repeat the entire sequence five to 10 times, concentrating on breathing deeply and slowly.

Deep breathing is easy to learn. You can do it at any time, in any place. You can use deep breathing to help dissipate stress as it occurs. Practice the routine in advance; then use it when you need it most. If you find it helpful, consider repeating the exercise four to six times a day – even on good days.