We've all been there. You're in the gym or in a class (or at home, or on a walk, or...) and you see the person next to you working way harder than you are. Maybe they're doing more reps, or faster reps, or heavier weight, or they just look like they're in better shape. Maybe they appear to be able to wrap their lithe legs into an impossible pretzel. Let’s choose not to send tiny, invisible, really sharp daggers at them for making us feel like we should be working out more. What if you're already working out enough? What if the problem isn't that you need to work out more, but that you need to work out more mindfully?
Mindfulness In General
Most of us think of mindfulness as something that we need to do in order to relax and clear our minds. But mindfulness is about so much more than that. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and focusing on your breath. It's about being aware of your surroundings and your body. And it's about being kind to yourself. So, how can we bring mindfulness into our lives?
Well, there are a few things you can do:
• First, try to be aware of your breathing. When you're mindful of your breathing, it can help you to be more mindful of your body and your surroundings. You can do this by sitting down in a comfortable position and closing your eyes. Then, focus on your breath and count each inhale and exhale.
• Second, try to be aware of your thoughts. When you're mindful of your thoughts, it can help you to better control them. You can do this by observing your thoughts without judgment and letting them go.
• Third, try to be aware of your body. When you're mindful of your body, it can help you to better connect with yourself. You can do this by paying attention to sensations in your body and noticing how they feel.
Now, let’s take all of that and put it in your workouts!
Mindfulness and Exercise
You might be thinking, "Tami, I don't have time to add mindfulness to my workouts! I already have enough trouble getting myself to the gym." But the truth is, being mindful during your workouts can actually help you get more out of them. Did you know that studies have shown that mindfulness can improve athletic performance and prevent injury by helping athletes focus and by reducing stress and anxiety. And when you're focused on the present moment, you may even find that you enjoy working out more.
Of course, it's not always easy to be mentally present, especially if you're new to the practice. That's why it's important to start small and gradually incorporate mindfulness into your routine. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
• Set an intention for the workout you’re in. Don’t worry about what you’re going to do next time… What are you hoping to accomplish right now?
• Focus on your breath. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth in a relaxed way. All that puffing out your cheeks and pursing your lips is just adding unnecessary tension to this time you’ve created for yourself.
• Pay attention to how your body feels as you move and be sure to use proper form. If something doesn’t feel right, stop and reset. If you’re working with an instructor, speak up. Proper form is there to help you feel good and get great benefits.
• If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the present moment. My clients and I have wonderful conversations during our sessions, but we make sure the focus is on the form…and sometimes that means we’ll finish whatever we were saying in between exercises.
• Finally, be kind to yourself both during and after your workout. Remember that exercise is supposed to make you feel elevated! This is the ultimate in self-care so no beating yourself up!
Pilates = The Ultimate Mindful Workout
If you've ever been to a Pilates class, you know that there's a lot to think about. In just one exercise, you might be focusing on:
keeping your chest lifted and open
stabilizing your scapulae
engaging your abdominals…all of them!
activating your Thooty (that's the thighs and the booty!)
and doing all of the above with actual breathing!
No wonder people often say that Pilates is the most mindful workout out there.
Let’s break it down.
All About The Breathing:
The first thing you learn in a Pilates class is how to breathe correctly. That might not sound like a big deal, but trust me —it is. Proper breath helps you maximize the effectiveness of each movement, allowing you to get more out of each rep while also preventing injury. And once you've got the hang of it, you'll be surprised at how much easier it is to focus on other things—like engaging those 6-pack abs. We’ll get to those in a second.
Lifting And Opening The Chest:
Ah yes, the chest lift. This is probably the most important part of any Pilates exercise. In order to get the full effect of the lift, you must really engage your core muscles and imagine that you are lifting your sternum straight up to the ceiling. Try to keep your chin in a neutral as you do this so that you aren't straining your neck. Now, for the open. Once you've lifted your sternum as high as it will go, open your arms out to the side like you're giving someone a big hug. Reach those fingers as far away from each other as possible! Keep that feeling and lower your arms. And that's it – now you're in proper chest lift and open position.
Stabilizing The Scapulae:
The next thing on our list is stabilizing those shoulder blades! For this part of any exercise, you want to imagine that there is a string attached to each shoulder blade and someone is gently pulling them together and down along yourthe back. You should feel a nice squeeze between your shoulder blades when you do this correctly. And you’ll feel how easy it is to open and lift your chest!
Engaging The Abs:
Now it's time to talk about that transverse abdominis! Pretend like someone is going to punch you in the stomach – what would you do? You’d brace yourself and tighten those abdominals toward your spine so that they can take the impact, right? Well, that’s what we're going for here. You want to tighten your abs (more slowly than preparing for a punch!) so that they are pulled in toward your spine. And don't forget to breathe…A lot of people hold their breath when they try to engage their abs, but that's only going make things harder. So take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your mouth as you engage those abdominal muscles.
Activating The Thooty (Thighs And Booty):
This one seems like it should be pretty self-explanatory, but it can be one that isn’t quite in focus. It’s not just about squeezing those thighs and booty muscles tight together. Overdoing it can actually pull your body out of alignment. Instead, picture yourself trying to hold a $100 bill with the bottom of your buns. Sounds crazy, I know! But that space where the thighs and the booty meet is an amazing foundation for your spine and a serious source of power.
Are you still with me? Great!
Now, imagine doing the most basic biceps curl while keeping all of the steps 1-5 active the entire time. That’s why Pilates is most mindful workout you can do! Pilates doesn’t need you to work out more, it needs you to be more aware of what you’re doing.
The Bottom Line
The next time you find yourself feeling like you should be working out more, take a step back and ask yourself if you're being mindful during your workouts. If not, there's no need to beat yourself up or add more time to your schedule. Just a little bit of mindfulness can go a long way.
Start by adding this awareness to just one aspect of your workout routine, such as setting an intention for your session or focusing on your breath. As you become more comfortable with the practice, you can add other elements such as paying attention to how your body feels or being kind to yourself during and after exercise . Remember, the goal is not perfection but rather progress. With time and practice, being mindful during workouts will become second nature. After all, wouldn 't it be nice if every aspect of our lives could help us achieve our goals instead of feeling like another chore??
If you haven’t started a regular Pilates practice as yet, and you want to get more from your workout…instead of just working out more…get going!!!