Meditation During Exercise

Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together.

Anais Nin

We all know that exercise is good for us, but how many of us follow through with our exercise plans? We may have all sorts of excuses for not exercising, and one of them may be that it is boring. Let's say you go to the gym to lift weights. You lift the weight up and let it down . . . lift the weight up, and let it down. This may not be intellectually stimulating for you. It is good for your body, but if your mind isn’t engaged, you will eventually give up your exercise plan, because it is your mind that decides whether you put on your workout clothes, or do something different. Making exercise a meditation may make your exercise routine more interesting and it works out your mind as well as your body.

Yoga and Tai Chi are systems that exercise the body while placing the mind in a meditative state. Why not do your favorite exercise with the same sort of intention?

Before you begin to exercise, take a few moments to center yourself. Take a few slow deep breaths, relax your muscles, and calm your mind. Perhaps say a brief prayer to dedicate your workout to your physical and spiritual development.

As you exercise, be mindful. Observe the sensations in your body and observe your thoughts.
Especially note any discouraging thoughts you may have during the workout that may turn you away from your discipline. As the muscles tire, it is natural to have thoughts about stopping the activity. Notice these thoughts. By making them conscious, you can use them as guideposts, but you don’t need to be controlled by them.

As in any meditation, be aware of your breath. Breathe consciously. You can use breath counting in exercise as you would in meditation (See Breath Counting Meditation).

When lifting weights, exhale while lifting. Count each time you exhale. Count to the number of lifts you intend to do, and then stop. Focus on the breath and the sensations in your body. Extend Chi (life force) with each extension. Draw it back in with each flexion.

During aerobic exercise like running, cycling, or rowing, you can also synchronize your breath with your movements, but you may have several repetitions of the movement for each breath. For instance, while running you can count your steps to coordinate them with your breath. Try breathing in for about four steps and breathing out for about four steps. Adjust the number to your own pace, but let your pace become rhythmic, relaxed, and conscious. As you move, visualize your breath or your Chi moving on ahead of you and drawing you on along your path.

An alternative to being totally present during exercise is to visualize being someplace all together different. On the rowing machine, imagine you are rowing on a river or lake. Imagine the wind blowing through your hair and across your skin. Imagine the smell of the water. Hear the call of birds. Perhaps you can hear a crowd of people on shore cheering you on. Perhaps you are in a race and you can hear your inner boatswain calling the stroke.

On a stationary bike imagine yourself wheeling through the countryside. On a Nordic Trak imagine the cool mountain air. Smell the evergreen forest. Visualize the snow covered forest or meadow that you slide through so gracefully. On a stair stepper machine, imagine. . . well, this one stumps us, but maybe you can think of something. Use all of your senses in your imagery. Put yourself in an imagined scene that you will enjoy. Set up a scenario that encourages you to exert yourself. Use these images to make your workout more enjoyable and to stay motivated.

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© 1998-2002 Tom Barrett