Here's How Mindfulness Affects Your Workout & Motivates You To Move More

I've always found it kind of strange how exercise is often considered something that requires a ton of discipline. Hear me out: If you start doing something that makes you feel incredible, wouldn't you naturally want to keep doing it, rather than begrudgingly force yourself to keep with it? I guess, fundamentally speaking, what I'm saying boils down to how mindfulness can affect your workout, and even motivate you to exercise, because it encourages you to be aware of what your body truly wants, and what will make it feel its best.

"Mindfulness, at its simplest, is the nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment," Pax Tandon, a mindfulness expert and author of the book Mindfulness Matters: A Guide to Mastering Your Life, tells Elite Daily over email. "When we practice mindfulness, we are cultivating our ability to stay in the moment, noticing exactly what we find, just as it is."

According to Tandon, it’s in this aspect that the practice may have the power to motivate you to exercise. When you practice mindfulness, she explains, you start to pay more attention to what’s happening in your internal experience of the world and the things you do, and when you develop this heightened awareness, she says, you're able to recognize much more quickly when your body feels good, when you need movement, and of course, when you need rest.

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Interestingly enough, a recent study reinforces exactly what Tandon is describing. The new research, which was published in the medical journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, focused on finding different ways to inspire people to move more, specifically during the winter months when, honestly, all you probably want to do is hibernate and watch Lifetime movies.

For the study, The New York Times reports, the researchers recruited 49 healthy, but generally sedentary women and men who'd never practiced mindfulness before. They began by asking the participants to wear activity monitors for a week to see how much they moved every day in their usual routine. The researchers then randomly assigned some of the participants to meditate, another group to exercise 20 to 40 minutes a day, and the rest were told to just continue with their normal routines.

After two months of sticking with their respective assignments, The New York Times explained, the participants were asked to wear activity monitors once again for a week. Based on the activity monitors' readings, the study's results revealed that both the exercise group and the mindfulness group were engaging in somewhat regular movement (walking, jogging, light exercise, etc.), even though none of the participants were being told to do so anymore at this point in the experiment.

See, according to The New York Times, the researchers expected the exercising participants to keep moving after the experiment was over, but they were surprised to see that those who practiced mindfulness for two months had bumped up their overall activity levels, too, without ever being nudged or told to do so.

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As far as Tandon is concerned, this study's results make total sense. "Mindfulness helps you hone these ‘spidey senses,'" she explains. "Generally, what’s happening is that you’re aware of how amazing it feels when you finish a workout; your body is screaming ‘thank you’ in the form of endorphins flooding your brain, and muscles that are more flexible, stronger, and capable of doing more." This inherently gives you a sense of renewed vitality and endurance, Tandon adds, so you’ll be more likely to work out because you’re stronger — both inside and out.

Plus, the increased awareness and focus that you can cultivate through mindfulness can greatly improve the quality of your workouts, Dr. Travis Baird, a mindfulness teacher and performance coach, explains. "When you're connected to your body, you can move more intentionally and skillfully," he tells Elite Daily in an email. "That makes it possible to make the small adjustments you need to maximize the benefits of your workout routine, no matter what kind of routine it is."

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To begin practicing mindfulness meditation, Baird suggests starting with a brief, but powerful practice. "Give yourself five minutes to come to stillness in either a comfortable seated position or lying down," he suggests. "Allow the eyes to close, and set an intention to observe your breath for the next few minutes."

Then, Baird says to bring your focus to your breathing, letting the air move in and out through the nose in whatever way is natural for you. As you continue, he says, notice when the mind wanders to other thoughts.

"When your focus wanders from your breathing, simply observe that the focus has drifted, and gently bring your attention back to your breathing," Baird explains. "At the end of five minutes, allow the eyes to open and notice what you feel."

According to Baird, if you're looking to develop a mindfulness practice, some of the greatest benefits can come from a consistent daily practice, so try to set aside a bit of time each day. "If you'd like, pick a goal that you'd like to stick to for a few weeks," he suggests. "For example, you might aim to sit and observe your breath for three to five minutes each day. Or you might skillfully experience 10 full rounds of your breath."