April Monthly Musing

April 29, 2016 by School of Medicine Webmaster

We all have innumerable opportunities to practice mindfulness every day, and we can choose to bring present moment awareness to more of the things we do.  One of the opportunities many of us have to be more present is during exercise.  According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, we should all be exercising for at least 2 ½ hours a week.  That’s 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. This is a lot of time we can use to practice being present, and there is a lot we can pay attention to while exercising.  We can pay attention to our breathing as it is constantly changing as we work out. We can pay attention to our bodies, noticing sensations and what muscles we are using and what muscles we are not using.  We can notice the sounds we are making, or listen to the sounds around us.  We can be aware of what we are seeing.  We can notice the activity of our minds.
And yet, for many of us, when we exercise we do everything we can to not pay attention.  If we’re at the gym, we may watch television or read a book. Whether we’re at the gym or outside, we might wear headphones and listen to something distracting.  One of the things we may be distracting ourselves from is self-judgment, judging ourselves in comparison to those around us.  We may feel we don’t look as fit, or aren’t running as fast, or lifting as much as others.  And yet here we are, with this body, which has a lot more right with it than wrong with it if we’re able to exercise at all, and with these thoughts, perhaps wishing we were somewhere else, doing something else.  So is it possible while exercising to just be with exercising, to notice what’s happening right now, perhaps noticing the tendency of the mind to judge, and to bring some kindness to our experience?
As a long-distance runner, I have personally found exercise to be a great opportunity to practice mindfulness in this way, and it has become a significant part of my formal mindfulness practice.  If you would like to experiment with this, try setting aside a specific period of time while exercising to just pay attention, perhaps for only five minutes.  Notice breathing, notice the body, notice what’s going on in the mind, and see if it’s possible to just be with whatever arises without judging it. We often bring this attitude to mindful movement practices like walking meditation, yoga and tai chi. Why not other active pursuits as well?

Filed Under: Monthly Musings