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The Benefits of Mindful Exercise

I was at the gym this weekend running on the treadmill and minding my own business. But then I noticed a gentleman on the machine in front of me. He caught my eye because I noticed he was talking while barely jogging. He was talking on his cell phone through his wired headset. Nothing out of the ordinary these days. However, seeing this really bothered me. I shouldn't care how he's doing his exercise, but something kept nagging at me. Then I remembered what I had learned in my "Moving and Sensing" class in grad school and I realized why his behavior was bothering me.

In this class we studied movement and learned that movement is life. If we don't have movement, if we don't move, then we are basically dead. If our blood stops moving through our veins; if our lungs stop moving the oxygen in and out of the air we breathe; if our heart stops moving - we die! I was reminded of this abruptly this weekend. My father's heart was taking four second pauses and causing him to go unconscious. His heart was resting when it should have been "moving." He's fine now after inserting a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat. But this experience was a keen reminder of the importance of movement to life. We need to move!

More importantly what I learned in that somatics class (somatics is the study of movement) is that MINDFUL movement delivers a different experience than non-mindful movement. Awareness and intention in our movement can result in a different, often better experience.

If you've ever worked with a personal trainer you hopefully will have experienced what I mean by mindful movement. When lifting weights you often hear the trainer say "focus on your triceps" (or any muscle you are exercising). Now I don't know if your trainer knows the full importance of this, but studies show that our attention to our muscles when we exercise will give us better results.

Let's go back to the guy on the treadmill who was not paying attention to his "movement." You can run on a treadmill and carry on a conversation, watch television, talk on the phone or listen to music, but you are removing the benefit of having your whole person present in that exercise. There are obvious reasons to pay attention, like not falling off of the machine, twisting an ankle or spraining a muscle. However science is teaching us that we can also achieve better results if we practice mindfulness when we exercise.

Here's an interesting article I found in the NY Times about a study done with maids and their health. These maids showed improved results in their health and fitness just by suggesting to them that the work they do is good for their fitness levels. Mindfulness gave them better results.

Now I won't go deep into the science of mindful exercise in this article. But I do want to make you think about it. When you exercise, are you mindfully present in that exercise? Or do you drift off into the universe day dreaming about other matters? The next time you go to the gym or run around the block, try paying close attention to your body and to what you're trying to accomplish. Talk to your body, if you will.