Sarah Maxwell takes a closer look at mindfulness and its role in exercise

The health, fitness and wellbeing industry is ever-changing, over the years we have seen many things come and go, but mindfulness practice is here to stay.

Mindfulness is about being aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Research is continually showing that with mindfulness training you can actually change the structure of your brain for the better.

While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodelling the physical structure of your brain.

What is mindful fitness?

In the simplest of terms it’s about actually listening to what your body needs whether it be nutrition, exercise or rest.

We all know that we need to eat well, move more and take time for ourselves in order to obtain and maintain the healthy lifestyle we want and need. For many of us these seem like an impossible task – time spent running around looking after everyone, work and family commitments all get in the way in our quest for a healthy lifestyle.

So how do we go about doing fitness mindfully?

Let’s say you like to go out for a regular run, cycle or swim; you attend exercise classes, go to the gym or workout at home.

  1. Before you start your exercise or activity take a few moments to enjoy a few deep breaths and set the intentions of what you want to achieve or feel when you have finished. This is something I have done with athletes for many years, but it is also one of the things I have implemented for my clients and the results speak for themselves.
  2. Listen and breathe. Take a few moments to notice everything around you – sounds, smells – notice your surroundings and take it all in. If you’re used to wearing headphones or listening to music, consider taking them off for a few moments, breathe and listen.
  3. Observe how you feel physically and acknowledge aches and pains or difficulties and work out whether your emotions are good or bad.
  4. When you have finished whatever activity you have chosen to do, pause for a moment, take some deep breaths and reflect on your achievements, however big or small. If you’re like me and struggle with meditation – unable to have a blank mind for more than 5 seconds because your to-do list is huge – as soon as you’re aware that your mind has drifted, just bring your mind back to the present.

Thoughts like this are OK and completely normal, Give mindfulness a go and see what it can do for you. Start small and smell all the roses!

If you would rather try some guided mindfulness/meditation there are many options to explore. These are the two I currently use. Both have free trial periods, so it’s worth seeing if they would work for you, too. I’ve been using the CALM app to help me sleep at night and it’s working well for me: calm.com. Headspace is another good one I’ve tried, which is worth checking out: headspace.com.

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