The feeling you get after a blissful meditation session is truly one-of-a-kind. It's as if someone's undone the imaginary zipper on your chest, allowing all of your stress, anxiety, and negative emotions to leave your body and make way for feelings of peace and balance. Maybe you even feel this way about working out: like the stresses of your day are melting away and rolling down your body in cascades of hard-earned sweat. Meditation and working out share a seriously strong connection, whether you realize it or not. In fact, meditation can benefit your workout in a variety of ways, and if you're consistently doing both, you're setting yourself up for success both mentally and physically.
When you think about how a regular mindfulness practice goes hand-in-hand with a solid workout routine, it actually makes a whole lot of sense. According to Dr. Travis Baird, a mindfulness teacher and performance coach, meditation helps free up your mental resources and allows your brain to work more efficiently, which in turn gives you an amazing boost in several areas of your life, including your workout routine.
In terms of your workout, Baird tells Elite Daily over email that a consistent meditation practice not only improves your focus, but it can also help you sustain that focus long-term.
You know those moments when you want to give up and peace the F out about two minutes into your cycling class or HIIT workout? Believe me, I've been there, too, but according to Baird, something as simple as meditation could be enough to help you sustain that focus and stick with a workout to the end, even during the most challenging and brutal of exercises.
In fact, a 2006 study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, supports this theory: In the study, researchers found evidence to support the idea that meditation may actually change the structure of your brain — specifically, mindfulness seems to be associated with "increased cortical thickness," according to the research, meaning it thickens and improves the functioning of the part of your brain that's associated with sensory, cognitive, and emotional processing. "Any improvement in sensory processing helps with focus and decision-making," Baird tells Elite Daily. "The research suggests that a meditation practice may change the structure of the brain in ways that allow for easier concentration, improved awareness of sensory input, and improved emotional control."
TBH, all of that sounds pretty freaking cool on its own, but it's especially fascinating to think about these meditation benefits in the context of working out. As Baird says, "the last thing you need [during a workout] is to be distracted," so anything that helps you focus is definitely something you want to gravitate toward when improving your fitness routine.
According to Baird, you can develop your ability to concentrate over long periods of time through your meditation practice, and eventually, you can take that skill with you to the gym.
So if you already have a consistent meditation practice, keep doing you, girl — you've been inadvertently benefiting your sweat sessions this whole time, and you didn't even know it! But for people who want to start meditating and don't really know where to start, Baird says simply setting aside five to 10 minutes a day is a perfectly good place to begin.
"To practice mindfulness meditation, simply focus your attention on your breath," Baird tells Elite Daily. "Notice the subtle movements of your body as you breathe. With each inhale, feel the belly lift and expand. On each exhale, feel the belly release and relax."
If (and more realistically, when) your focus begins to waiver and move away from your breath to other, more distracting thoughts or physical sensations, Baird says to simply notice that your attention has wandered, without judging the fact that it happened. Meditation isn't about perfection; it's a journey, much like your actual workout routine.
"Before long, you'll discover that when you get distracted during a workout, you can bring your focus back to what you're doing much more easily," Baird says. "You might even find that your workouts are more efficient and effective, as your improved focus allows you to do more in less time."