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 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 that it is possible to begin making some noticeable changes in your life by implementing a few simple practices. Try the following tips:
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.
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!
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, taking time to focus on your breath, even for a few minutes a day, or for a few minutes every few hours 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 concentrate on your workout.
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 cultivating trust in your body to heal can help your recovery.
Who wouldn’t benefit from your intention to practice kindness? Kindness to yourself, your mind, your body, and to others has limitless benefits. Appreciate yourself, every body part 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 including 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 a Baltimore Based group fitness instructor, runner, certified mindfulness and medication instructor, and the founder of ROI Mindfulness , dedicated to inviting others to the practice of mindfulness and meditation.
Interested in learning more? Join us for Shelley's "From Muscle to Mindful" workshop on Saturday, January 19th, 11AM, at REV McHenry Row. Click here to sign up now!