Written by one of our members (George Eliot) who wishes to remain nameless.
Staying Healthy Outside the Gym
But, how can it help me at the gym?
I’ll start here because I don’t anticipate everyone making it to the end of the post and I’d like to hone in on some key points and maybe hook some of you to read it through. Being more aware of your mind and your body can completely change your gym game ;) Mindfulness can help you breathe easier and fuller. Breathing properly can help you cycle through your workouts quicker and more efficiently. As outlined in the post below, mindfulness can also help with losing weight, reducing stress, becoming more in control of your muscles, and so forth. The following strategies don’t take very long, but need to be practiced.
An easy mindful activity that I encourage you to start with is taking a minute out of your day to be completely aware of yourself and how your body feels. Breathe and reflect. Oftentimes, I suggest picking a specific time during the day. To make this even better, pick a time with your partner. Do it separately, but know that the other person is also participating in this mindful activity during their busy day. Say your anniversary is December 2nd… every day at 12:02 take a moment to stop and appreciate life. I guarantee you it’ll put a smile on your face and it’ll break up your busy routine. Simple things like this have been proven to reduce stress and improve quality of life. It is important you reflect on the positive things that are constantly going on around you! Fellas- I assure you you’ll earn some serious brownie points if you suggest doing this with your lady.
What is mindfulness?
Okay, for those of you who I have baited, let’s break it down for a minute. Mindfulness can be traced back over two thousand years to the religious traditions of Buddhism. One way to describe it is in terms of specific techniques that can be practiced, such as meditation and yoga. Another is in terms of the types of therapeutic value it has, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction. Put simply, mindfulness is being an observer of your thoughts, feelings, and behavior in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness can be used in a variety of ways to help your life.
Using Mindfulness to Help Breathing
Breathing is essential for life and we often take it for granted. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. When we do not breathe fully and deeply we are more likely to experience problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue because this flow of gases is disrupted. We can learn to control these problems by becoming aware of our breathing. Training our breath also helps us to manage our emotions and reactions to things that happen in our lives.
Breathing correctly actually takes quite a bit of practice. Working with children has allowed me to be very concrete when giving examples. I always tell my kiddos to take “Pizza Breaths.” Imagine you have the best piece of pizza in front of you. You’d like to devour it but it is piping hot. Now, take a deep breathe in through your nose and smell the pizza. Pause for a second and enjoy the smell. Then, naturally, breathe out through your mouth as if you are cooling off the pizza by blowing on it. Pizza breaths.
Short, shallow breaths are not good for your body. This type of breathing, thoracic breathing, draws air in using the intercostal muscles rather than using the diaphragm. Shallow breathing draws minimal breath or oxygen into the lungs. Practice standing or sitting upright with your shoulders back, now take a DEEP breath using your diaphragm. You should be able to see your diaphragm expand as your stomach noticeably moves outward.
I kid you not, the majority of Americans do not breathe correctly. Like I said, breathing correctly takes practice. Give it a try. Take some time out of your day to notice your breath. A simple way to do this includes practicing at every red light. Instead of looking down at your iPhone or getting caught up by being annoyed that you are stopped, relax a moment and practice breathing. After much practice, this will become routine and will eventually help you out when you are working out. I know when we are tired we tend to put our hands on our knees or after a workout we keel over. Try getting in the habit of taking some pizza breaths after your workout to control your breathing, slow your heart rate, and make your body’s use of its oxygen more efficient.
Shallow breaths raise your heart rate and increase anxiety. This is another reason why it is important to take deep breaths when you are angry or stressed out. It helps get more oxygen throughout your body, calms you down, and essentially makes you feel somewhat better
Mindful Eating to Lose Weight or Become More Lean
Too often we don’t think about what we are eating and even if we are eating something healthy and tasty we are not fully enjoying it. How often do you grab a bag of potato chips and eat them on the couch while watching TV? This is one of the worst American practices. This practice does not allow us to monitor how much we are eating or fully appreciate the taste of the food because we are distracted. Try mindfully eating your food. Start by smelling your food, then chew the pieces slowly and focus on how each one really tastes. Focus on the flavor, the texture, and how it feels on your tongue. Oftentimes, when you slow down your eating and appreciate what is going into your body, you do not overeat. Mindful eating also tends to guide us to healthier food choices.
Using Mindfulness to Gain Better Control of our Muscles
Short progressive muscle relaxation scripts can be easily found online. Everyday go through the muscles of your body from head to toe and try to tense up each muscle and then relax each muscle. This will surely help you out in the gym when you are doing specific exercises and the coaches single out a muscle group and tell you to be tighter in a certain area. Oftentimes, that area is your midline. Practice contracting and relaxing these muscles in particular. You can do it at your desk, it does not take long.
Using Mindfulness with Kids
Kids have a harder time with some of the muscle relaxation techniques, so again, I use more concrete examples. To help kids with certain muscle groups I use these examples:
Hands- Imagine you are making lemonade with real lemons. Now, squeeze the lemons as hard as you can for 5 seconds, relax.
Abdominal muscles- Imagine you are laying down and an elephant is about to step on you! Now, tighten up your stomach muscles before he crushes you, hold there for 5 seconds, and relax.
Jaw- you have a giant piece of gum in your mouth. It’s very hard to chew. Bite down hard on it, then relax.
Feet- pretend you are standing in a pile of mud. Squish your toes down deep into the mud and really try to get to the bottom of that mud puddle, you’ll probably need to use your legs to help you push, keep going, now relax.
I’ll end with those fun examples.
There really are so many more ways that mindfulness can be used to improve your life. Thanks for reading about just a few, some take away points include:
- Try using mindfulness to help your breathing, it will eventually translate to the gym. At every red light take a few seconds to grab a deep breath. Practice your pizza breaths.
- Appreciate your value. Pick a time with a partner and every day at that time take a moment for yourself and reflect. Know that your partner is also taking a moment at that particular time.
- Use mindfulness techniques while eating to fully savor and appreciate the meal.
- Use mindfulness to better control and utilize your muscles.