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Mindfulness is exactly what it sounds like, being present and having conscious awareness of yourself and what is around you in this moment. Whether you are trying to maintain that throughout the day, or if you are taking time out to focus on it for a few minutes each day, simply introducing it into your life in a way that works for you can not only improve your mental health and reduce stress, it can also improve your attention span and focus which can help us in our day to day tasks at home and in the work place.
Mindfulness & Exercise
One of the fascinating things about mindfulness, and we can include meditation in this is that it it arguably makes your workouts more effective, perhaps not directly in the performance sense, but by helping to reduce stress, which will then help to lower stress hormones like cortisol. This is important because cortisol has been demonstrated to be catabolic, and impede one’s ability to lose body fat.
Which basically means that high stress levels mean that your workout and meal planning efforts aren’t getting a fair shake, stands to reason then that lowering stress levels is one of the best ways to help you enhance weight loss, speed up fat burning and improve muscle building.
Which reminds me, and this is worth mentioning, without being weighed down by the technicalities, if your goal is building muscle, one of the mechanisms to achieve that is utilising your maximum recoverable volume or exercise, i.e the maximum amount of stress you can put on your muscles without reaching a point of fatigue from which you can’t recover, so it stands to reason that if gaining muscle is on your goal list reducing or managing your stress levels is a smart move.
In fact regardless of exercise goal, I set almost all of my online personal training clients a short daily mindfulness exercise like the one below for exactly the reasons i’ve outlined above.
I started doing this after a survey of my online personal training clientele revealed that 85% were experiencing stress on a daily basis. A subsequent survey revealed that after daily movement, mindfulness at regular exercise 92.7% had experienced a reduction in their perceived stress levels after just one week.
As we are all aware in modern life, we can easily rush from A to B on autopilot with our heads down and earphones in, only to work in front of computer screens then home to rest in front of the TV. It can become very easily slip into a virtual world, filtering our awareness to notice the ping of a new email or the buzz of phone with very little day to day activity, in fact it isn’t particularly uncommon for those on my online fitness coaching program to report a sub 10,000 daily step count in the run up to starting their online workouts, especially when working from home.
By learning to press pause and be present in the here and now, we learn to listen to our internal feelings and emotion, and take heed of what our bodies are telling us.
Through this we can learn to understand ourselves more, and figure out for example that the reason you have that achy neck is because you have been carrying muscular tension around all week after a stressful event at work or the reason you are not progressing in your workouts is because you are compromised by the stress of your hectic work schedule.
Taking time out to focus on your mindfulness will allow you to connect to that stress and give it an outlet, or simply affording you the time to look at the bigger picture, letting go of that feeling, reducing anxiety and releasing muscular tension. Learning to step away from downward spirals, or spot negative thoughts and feelings early enough to do something about them. Over time can help us maintain better long term mental health.
7 simple tips to help you incorporate a mindfulness practice into your daily life:
- 1. Pick Your Moment
- Choose a time that works for you each day, which may be in your lunch break, or even on your bus or train journey to or from work. Try to keep consistent with your practice every day so it makes it easier to become a positive habit.
- 2.Focus On The Now
- Start by stepping away from your clouded brain full of thoughts, and focus on the here and now, whether that be the the taste of your sandwich or how your muscles are moving for each bite, perhaps the noises around you and the feel of the seat on a busy commuter bus. The goal is to tune into your sensory perceptions and tune out the thoughts racing in your mind.
- 3.Step Away
- If you struggle to do this with family, friends and colleague nearby, take yourself away somewhere for a break at some point during the day, sit on a park bench and listen to the sound of the birds and the feel of the breeze on your face, or go for a walk around the block and focus on your steps of the pavement and notice your surroundings as your navigate the pavement. I know that can sound a little wishy washy, but if you never take the time to be alone with your thoughts, you are operating on auto-pilot and that should be a scary proposition.
- 4. Relinquish Judgement
- Remember mindfulness isn't about clearing your mind entirely, only preventing multiple thoughts running simultaneously in a way that you cannot control. Don't judge not being able to free your mind entirely for more than a fleeting moment, trust me noone can, it's the practice that counts not it's perfection.
5. Consider Moving Meditation
- If this informal practice of mindfulness doesn't work for you, and you find yourself thinking about what you are having for dinner, try formalising a mindfulness session each week in the form of a class or guided moving meditation practice. Yoga, dance, Tai-chi can or any activity that you enjoy can provide a moving mindfulness practice and help you make the connection between reducing stress and your breath.
6. Try Post-Workout NSDR
- Consider adding a short NSDR (non-sleep deep rest) practice after your workouts, this simple practice can massively help reduce stress and help draw a relaxing close to a challenging workout. At the end of your workout, simply grab a quiet space and try this 5 minute guided Yoga Nidra practice. You can learn more about Yoga Nidra here
7. Check-In Frequently
- Set reminders throughout the day to check in with yourself, if you feel mental or physical tension, focus on releasing it consciously or by engaging in something that you find pleasure of joy in to change your physical state. You can consider setting a timer on your phone to prompt your check-in or simply have a number of cues in your environment that will serve the same purpose.
Of course periods of stress and overwhelm are always going to be a part of operating at a high level, so the goal of mindfulness is really not to become stress free as such, but more to integrate strategies that help us mitigate the negative effects of stress.
Firstly because as far as my online fitness services go, if you can reduce your stress levels your workout program is going to be more effective i.e you may be able to lose more weight, gain more muscle and consistently have more energy. Secondly, because on a wider level why trade in all of your energy, joy and health for the pursuit of success? In fact, discovering a better way to pursue your goals without compromising your health is the theme of my podcast ‘Healthy Ambition’ and really the main goal of my online personal training service.
If you would like to discuss how I might be able to help you create a lifestyle that helps you achieve your fitness goals whilst implementing strategies that help you reduce stress, let’s book a consultation call.