Since 1979 I have exercised regularly, but it wasn’t until the couple of years that I began to exercise mindfully.
I became a runner shortly after college. It was a great way to relieve stress. I looked forward to running as it gave me the opportunity to be outside and also to go to Lala Land. Only a few minutes of each run would I focus on my stride, really being in the present moment. Thus, I ran with a form that led to plantar fasciitis and ignored it for many years. When I went to a physical therapist, he asked why I let it get so bad. I indicated that I really did not feel the pain. To which he replied not feeling pain is not something to be proud of. That was an eye opener for me.
After the birth of my third child, I starting doing sit-ups to reduce the size of my belly. I did them three to five times a week for years with no results in my stomach. As I was striving to do as many as I could, I was not being mindful about which muscles I was using. No wonder there was no change in my stomach. I was using momentum and my shoulders and neck muscles to do the sit-ups. When I went to a physical therapist for shoulder issues, I was told I had muscles in my neck that shouldn’t be there.
Fast forward a few years, I had to significantly cut back on running and began attending yoga classes. Notice I did not say practicing yoga. I was focused on doing the poses correctly, rather than paying attention to what I was feeling in my body and what muscles I was activating. Yoga can be a workout, a striving to be perfect or a way to get in touch with your body. For me it was an exercise in frustration trying to do the poses perfectly with a body that was inflexible due to years of running and very little stretching.
My foray into mindful exercise began when I joined Supreme Health & Fitness and took the Aqua Core and Yoga classes. The instructor Luann, would look at how we were performing the exercises and telling/showing us the muscles we should be activating. That may have been the first time I actually activated my core muscles.
In my Mindfulness Meditation Teacher training, Jonathan Faust said that you should exercise at 70% of your capacity. By doing so it frees you up to actually experience what is happening in your body. At first glance you may feel that you can’t improve if you only work at 70%. But in reality, your 70% continues to increase, thus increasing your fitness.
I decided to try it in my Aqua Core class, because I did not feel the activation of the muscles Luann was telling us to use. By exercising at 70% I was able pay attention to exactly what I was doing. Rather than using my neck and shoulder muscles, I am learning to activate my core – muscles I have not intentionally used in the past.
While you may not be making that gross an error, you may not always be using your muscles to the greatest effect. When you give 120%, you may be using momentum or joints rather than muscle power. So, you are working hard, but not getting the results you want. And at the same time increasing your chance of injury.
You may be someone who tunes out the instructions in an exercise class. Your mind is a million miles away. This may seem to make the class go faster. Instead I challenge you to consider the instructions to be a guided meditation. Each instruction is a bell of mindfulness reminding you to tune into your body and really focus on which muscles you are activating.
Ideas for your New Year’s resolution may include:
- Exercise at 70% so you will enjoy the exercise more and stick with it.
- Exercise at 70% really paying attention to which muscles you are using at least 5 minutes in every workout.
- Slow down to focus on which muscles you are using until you eliminate bad habits, then go back to your regular speed/intensity.