Mindfulness is one of those buzz words that evokes images of sun-kissed yogis chanting “om,” but at its core, mindfulness in itself has nothing do with yoga, spirituality, or even Oprah (as much as she might have you believe otherwise).
If you have goals–training, life, or otherwise–mindfulness can be an essential part of making progress toward those goals.
Below, I’ll show you how it works, and how to apply it to your training. And I’ll give you an alternative approach to meditation that I bet you’ll actually enjoy.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of keeping your mind focused on what’s going on in the present moment. This sounds simple, but it’s something most of us are terrible at doing. Most of the time, we’re either:
- worrying about what’s going to happen in the future
- ruminating on past events
- or tuning out altogether
A lot of mindfulness “gurus” make it seem that thinking about the past or the future is a terrible thing, and you’ll never become your best self unless you rid yourself of those thoughts.
If we never think about the past, we won’t give ourselves much of a chance to improve our situations. And if we never think about the future, we can become apathetic about our goals.
But if you rarely allow yourself to focus on the present, you’re missing out on an integral part of achieving what you want in life.
Getting from Point A to Point B
Real talk: if you want to get from Point A (the past) to Point B (the future), you’re gonna have to go through a whole lot of present. We’re all on this road so let’s make the best of it.
Sometimes it will be smooth sailing, and other times it will feel impossibly long.
But where you’re at right now, at any given time, and understanding your condition in each moment is essential in moving toward your goals. If you’re checked out of that process, you might still make it to your destination, but two things will happen:
- It’s harder to actually get to your destination if you don’t pay attention to the road.
- The journey is far less enjoyable if you don’t pay attention to the road.
At the risk of beating this metaphor to death…
Imagine you’re driving from Seattle to Los Angeles. Your destination is L.A., and if you just keep driving on I-5, you’ll eventually get there.
You could tune out and drive on autopilot, feeling the hours drag on and on, or you could be mindful of your journey and soak in all of the incredible sights along the way. You could miss your exit and tack extra time on to your trip because you weren’t paying attention, or you could reach your destination and avoid obstacles on the road by being mindful.
The same idea applies to bringing a sense of mindfulness to your life, and it can make a huge difference in your experience of working toward whatever goals you have.
How to Apply Mindfulness to Your Fitness Goals
I’ve been at this, and teaching, for a long while now and I’m happy there is a “movement culture” gaining popularity now, where people all over the interwebz make videos of themselves moving and grooving. It’s great to see and I want more people to explore how they can move.
But movement for the sake of movement, without a meaningful context that matches your life, can lead to random, inauthentic displays of “mindfulness.”
If it’s not meaningful with intent, it’s meaningless and empty–that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
When we talk about moving mindfully, we are talking about being present and mindful in the movements you need to be doing–whether that’s in your daily life or in your training.
Let’s say you’re currently working on handstand push-ups.
It’s a tough skill, that requires you to have control over your movements in that skill.
Rather than trying to force yourself to “move mindfully” in random ways, all you need to do is focus on being as mindful as possible in practicing the components of the handstand push-up.
That mindful attention will lead to a better understanding of the details, which makes it possible to move with greater control. And as you make progress towards the handstand push-up, your mindful attention to detail will be apparent because it’s meaningful to you.
Let’s look at an example of the kind of movement we’re talking about.
Finding Purpose in the Process
In the following video from Tom Weksler (founder of Movement Archery), the sincerity of his movements is apparent.
Mindful movement can be applied to any exercise, but dance is a really good example of the importance of the intention behind the movement.
If you’ve ever seen those hugely popular dance competition shows, or if you go down the rabbit hole on YouTube to see different types of dancers, you know that intention is key. It’s obvious when the dancer is really feeling what he or she is putting into motion, and when they’re just following the steps without the same sense of purpose.
Obviously, Tom Weksler is an incredibly talented dancer, but his talent is not what makes his movements beautiful and authentic. It’s clear that each and every movement has focused, purposeful intention behind it. It means something to him.
And anyone–no matter what level they are at, or what they’re working on–can move with this level of intention.
The key is to do things that are meaningful to you, so that the process itself has purpose for you. If you’re working on skills or attributes that are helping you toward a bigger purpose, you will be able to be sincerely mindful in that work.
3 Practical Tips for Mindful Training
Real mindfulness in training has nothing to do with the hashtags you use on Instagram, or with forcing yourself to look as if you’re moving “mindfully”. So let’s get on with some practical advice on how to incorporate this into your training.
You can learn to make Mindfulness a habit within your training with the following tips.
1. Use Mindful Assessments
The first step to being more mindful in your training is to start with an understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and your overall baseline.
Most people neglect this when starting a training program. But if you don’t know where you’re starting from, it’s impossible to assess how you’re progressing and how to troubleshoot when there are issues.
Of course, the assessment you go through will be specific to your goals, but this article will give you a good idea of how to approach this assessment, and what it looks like in action. Self-assessment adds a layer of introspection that will set you up for success in your training program.
2. Pay Attention and Make Adjustments as Needed
As you work on the exercises in your training program, pay close attention to each part of the movement. Pay attention to how you are feeling and performing.
We use a method called autoregulation, which amounts to approaching each and every session with fresh eyes, and adjusting your workload based on that day’s performance. This lends itself to far more mindful training than the typical approach of trying to complete whatever is prescribed in your workout session for the day, no matter what.
Autoregulation will mean sometimes lessening your workload, and sometimes pushing yourself further than you’d planned, but making those adjustments requires staying mindful and present in your performance in what’s in front of you.
3. Reflect on Every Session
It’s important to take some time (even if it’s just a minute or two) at the end of every session to reflect on how things went.
In our Elements course, each session ends with what we call the “Ponder” portion of the session.
- We start by Preparing our bodies for the work ahead.
- Then we Practice the movements we’re focusing on that day.
- After practicing the movements, we either take some time to Play with those movements, or we Push ourselves further with them.
- Finally, we Ponder about how the session went.
The Ponder portion is simply a reminder to think about what went well, what was challenging, and what details you’ll want to pay closer attention to next time. Ending each session in this way reinforces the mindful approach you’ve taken to the session, and will get you off on a good foot in your next session.
And it’s not only a time to reflect on the session as it relates to your training goals, but also to think about how the session has impacted your other goals and your life overall.
What About Meditation?
If you Google mindfulness, you’ll see all sorts of results that relate to meditation. Is meditation necessary for learning mindfulness? No. But it can help.
The problem with a lot of approaches to meditation is they encourage you to “empty” your mind, but when you try to “do nothing,” the mind reacts by drifting and thinking about all kinds of stuff. It can be very difficult to turn off the internal monologue.
So, we prefer these 2 approaches to meditation instead:
- Meditation that encourages focusing on whatever thoughts and surroundings are going on. Apps like Headspace are great ways to ease into this kind of meditation, which reinforces mindfulness, rather than mindlessness.
- Moving meditation, which we will describe below in greater detail.
Sitting meditation is tough for a lot of people because we’re so used to having something to occupy our attention when we sit. We get bored, antsy, and/or nervous.
A meditative movement practice bypasses this issue by occupying your body and mind. It differs from “exercising” in that, instead of just counting reps and going through the mechanical motions, you actually focus on the movement itself.
So, as you focus on your movements as we discussed above, you can also use it as a meditative practice.
To do this, we suggest working with simple movements (at a level below your maximum capabilities), and focusing on slowing those movements down as much as possible, so that you can pay attention to how each movement feels.
For example, if you’re working on a Bear crawl, move slowly and pay attention to:
- how the arm feels as it moves
- the weight distribution as your hand presses into the floor
- how your balance shifts as you move forward
- whether any areas feel particularly tight
- your breathing patterns
None of these are special techniques, but they give you something more significant to focus on than just asking, “am I doing this right?” or “how may reps have I done?” or “how much longer do I have to sit here?”
Give yourself a couple of minutes to adjust to the novelty of paying attention as you move. That’s when it starts to get pretty fun. You’ll start noticing how subtle variations in your movements feel. As a result, you’ll start experimenting and making adjustments.
When you focus in this way, you’re automatically thinking only in the moment and focusing on how your body, mind, and breathing work together, without having to try and force yourself to meditate.
And I guarantee, you’ll get a lot more from each movement this way.
Move Mindfully for Your Goals
There are many layers to mindfulness, as I’m sure you can see, but the key take away is to work on mindfulness in a way that’s meaningful and specific to your life and your goals.
As it relates to training, a mindful approach will help you learn skills better, make smoother progress, and most importantly, it will make the journey toward your goals a lot more fun and meaningful. And enjoying the process is really what it’s all about.
The primary tenet of our training philosophy is building physical autonomy–the confidence in knowing your body can handle whatever you need it to be able to handle.
And the only way you can really know what your body needs is by being mindful of your particular goals and your specific limitations. Our Elements program will help you gain those insights, and help you build the attributes you need for your physical goals.
Develop Mindful Movement
With Elements, you’ll build a foundation of strength, flexibility, and control over 8 weeks, setting yourself up for a lifetime of play and mindful movement.