How to Exercise Mindfully – The New York Times

It was a blustery summer day in south-east Tasmania, and Heather Larsen, a professional slackliner, was standing on a one-inch-wide strip of nylon suspended between two of the tallest cliffs in the hemisphere. South. Nearly 1,000 feet below, seals barked and waves pounded against the rocks.

Ms Larsen was tied to the line with a harness and leash, but the gusts of wind and the height terrified her as she crossed. So she focused on her breathing. Arms above her head, knees slightly bent to absorb the vibration of the line, she inhaled as she took one step and exhaled as she took the next.

Be here, she thought as she put her foot down. “Now be here.”

Ms Larsen, who is 35, uses this type of breathing and mantra as a form of meditation to stay focused while balancing on a bouncy strap band. “It helps me stay only in that moment,” she said, and avoids distractions, like previous shaky footsteps or upcoming line tension changes.

Although meditation has been shown to have many benefits, including increased focus, reduced stress, and a mind clear of distractions, it can be difficult to find time for it in a busy day. But some trainers, doctors, and athletes say it can be incorporated into your exercise routine, enriching your workout.

With a clear, focused mind, you’re better able to make quick decisions in a basketball game or react to a beach volleyball set. And experts say meditation’s focus on the breath and the body shifts the focus from the outcome – whether it’s winning a race, increasing your running time or losing weight – to movement for the pleasure of movement, which makes it more enjoyable.

Most often, this meditation takes the form of mindfulness, which Sara Lazar, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, has called “paying attention to the present moment in an open, inquisitive, and nonjudgmental way.” His research showed that just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation, including movement-based forms like yoga, produced beneficial structural changes in the brain, particularly in brain regions associated with mind wandering and stress. . She said incorporating mindfulness into your movements is simple and can bring unexpected rewards.

Before a sports game or activity that requires focus, a few minutes of intentional breathing can prepare you mentally, said George Mumford, performance expert and author of “The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance,” who conducted regular meditation sessions with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. And during activity, deep breathing can get you out of your head and calm what he calls “the monkey brain,” a mind filled with emotions and thoughts.

“You are frantic, you are scattered. You’re everywhere, so you don’t belong,” he said.

Dr. Chiti Parikh, who directs the Integrative Health and Wellness Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, teaches her patients how to breathe deeply in a way that engages the diaphragm, the largest respiratory muscle in the body, which separates the chest cavity of the abdomen. Studies show that deep breathing can activate bodily functions associated with calm and relaxation, as well as calm responses to stress. Also, she says, people tend to take shallow breaths during exercise rather than lung breaths from the diaphragm.

To practice breathing this way, says Dr. Parikh, lie on your back, relax your muscles, and place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take long, slow inhales and exhales through your nose and watch your hands as they move. Inhale for four seconds, then exhale for six. Over time, lengthen your exhalations. Notice how with shallow breaths the chest moves, but with deep breaths the belly moves too.

Once you’re able to breathe deeply, you can incorporate it into any activity: swimming, diving, or plowing the driveway.

Focusing on the sensations of your body as it moves — for example, mentally scanning body parts and thinking about muscle groups that are engaged — can also bring peace to a wandering mind, said Kalpanatit Broderick, who runs a fitness studio in Seattle that combines strength and cardiovascular training with mindfulness meditation.

“If I pay attention to my body while doing pushups, I can feel my shoulders, my chest, my triceps, my quads,” said Broderick, who was once a nationally ranked distance runner. Or during a run, he says, think about how the arms swing, whether the shoulders are relaxed, whether you hit the ground with your heels or your toes.

It forces you to commit to the movement rather than focus on the outcome, he said. “The current fitness paradigm is so results-based,” he said. Training with meditation, he added, slows down the mind, connects you to the body “and then we can enjoy what’s around us”.

Dr. Lazar suggested using a meditation app, some of which offer meditations specifically designed for walking or other types of movement. Many are free; others require monthly payments.

Two years ago, Imani Cheers began a daily ritual of meditative running, walking, yoga and cycling to combat the stress of a busy job as a single mother during the pandemic. A fundamental part of her meditation is setting an intention for each day which she says out loud to herself while exercising. “Don’t repeat bad habits and expect a different result,” for example, or “Finish that half marathon without injury.”

His routine affected more than his training, said Dr. Cheers, who is provost for undergraduate teaching at George Washington University. “At 41, I am healthier, happier and stronger than I have ever been. And who says that after a pandemic?

Putting meditation into motion can have another benefit: reaching the state of “flow”.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term flow, defined it in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to have of importance”.

Anyone who exercises or plays sports, whether professional or amateur, has likely experienced some version of a flow state. On the basketball court, Mr. Mumford said, the basket gets bigger and time slows down.

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of flow is very similar to the benefits derived from meditative movement: inner clarity, intense focus and a sense of serenity. And while meditation before or during exercise can’t guarantee flow, it can set the conditions to achieve it. “You don’t try to make things happen, you allow them to happen,” Mr Mumford said.

Ms. Larsen, the slackliner, agrees. She is best known for her stomach tricks, such as lunges, handstands, and upside-down hanging of her ankles, all performed incredibly high in the air. One of her favorite slacklines near her home in southern Utah spans a slot canyon overlooking swirling sandstone and cottonwood.

There, Mrs. Larsen can easily access the state of flow because she has become better, through meditation, to put aside distractions, ego and focus on results. And that’s the point of meditative movement, she says: “The effort goes away and that’s it. It feels good and it’s easy.


Jenny Marder is a senior science writer for NASA and a freelance journalist. She was previously digital editor for PBS NewsHour.

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