Grounding, centering, mindfulness; whatever you choose to call it, properly-executed meditation can be a tremendous benefit to a person. Psychologists offer it as a means of reducing and controlling stress in our lives, martial artists use it to steady themselves before and after a match or throwdown, and ordinary people use it as a way to gain a measure of control in an often crazy, uncontrolled world.
So, why exactly are you leaving this advantage by the wayside?
That's right, meditation can bring serious aid to the workout routine of anyone who is seeking a higher level of physical fitness and strength. Whether you run or hit the adjustable dumbbells, the benefits of mindfulness meditation have been thoroughly documented, and if you incorporate it into your workout routine you will see the effects that so many others have found beneficial as well.
Mindset and mood are important parts of any workout routine. Ask any long-time gym rat about how their mood affects their workout, and you'll have a host of answers and anecdotes to work with. Go into the gym in the wrong mood and you can kill your progress without much effort.
This makes meditation an excellent tool to gear up for a workout with, getting you in the right headspace before you hit the racks and weights.
Become Aware of Your Body
Meditation isn't necessarily simply sitting and thinking of "nothing," despite common misconceptions of Zen style meditation. The mind doesn't work that way, after all. Instead, mindfulness meditation encompasses slow, steady focus on a particular aspect of your environment or your body.
Take the time before a workout to sit in a peaceful, non-distracting environment. Focus your thoughts on your breathing. Is it fast? Are you worked up already? Bring your breathing under careful control, with a measured breathing routine. Turn your thoughts to the part of the body you'll be working with during the day's routine. Are there aches or pains that might get worse? Could you stretch, or change the day's focus to alleviate these tensions? Feel what your body is telling you by focusing on it and nothing else as you breathe steadily and calmly.
We all carry all the baggage of our lives and minds, all the time. Whether we're actively thinking about it or not, that fight yesterday at work can still bother us in the subconscious background of our thoughts. This kind of tension can make us short with our workout buddies, or unconsciously affect our posture or practices during a workout.
Taking the time to slow down, center ourselves, and meditate can help us identify how we're feeling. By focusing our minds on the now, the state of our body and our breathing, we make ourselves calmer. We release some of that "Tension debt" we've been building up, and free ourselves to work out properly and correctly here and now.
Help with Metrics
Some of us are metrics fanatics. Resting Heart Rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate; these can be affected dramatically by our mood and latent thoughts.
When using a scale to measure items' weight, we set the scale to "tare" or zero. This clears the slate of latent imbalances and ensures the result is accurate. Meditation can help with this as well, by bringing us to a restful zero state before a workout and before measuring our results at the start of a gym day.
Meditation isn't just for the pre-game, though. You can see genuine benefits from meditating during a workout as well.
There's nothing as physically demanding as a properly executed workout regime. A super set or workout circuit can get the blood pumping hard, and you can feel the thumping in your chest, the pounding in your ears as you go on.
A soft reset is a computer reset that doesn't require cutting the power to the box. In mental terms, a soft reset is a brief pause for meditation before resuming activity, rather than stopping altogether.
In between major sets during your next exercise, perform a soft reset by combining your cooldown or recovery period with a careful, simple mindfulness meditative exercise. This will prepare you for that next set in a way that "psyching yourself up" won't accomplish. Instead of going in wired and grimacing, you'll go in with a mentally refreshed attitude.
Body and Injury Awareness
The time we spend meditating is often spent on considering our physical state and how we respond to it. Taking the time to meditate between sets as you're working out gives you the ability to consider what your body is telling you in the here and now.
Remember how before the workout we said to consider the body parts you would be focusing on? Now, consider the parts you've been exercising. Are they in a healthy state? Have they started that healthy "feel the burn" discomfort that comes from working your muscles? If not, perhaps you've not been working out as hard as you need to be, and could increase resistance the next time you target that muscle group.
Alternatively, are they too uncomfortable for the work you've been doing? Have you injured yourself, either in the workout or beforehand, and are only just now noticing? Perhaps it's time to modify your efforts, so you don't over-push. The adrenaline and endorphins that come with working out can be amazing, and they often can disguise genuine discomfort or allow us to write it off as "feeling the burn." A brief meditative pause can help avoid future injury.
All good things come to an end, even great gym days. A few minutes spent on meditating during the cooldown, post workout period can bring the whole thing together in a very rewarding, psychologically empowering way.
Faster Recovery Rate
We've talked about how meditating on our body's condition can make us more aware of specifically what is going on with the body. Not only does meditation reduce the stress that impairs healthy healing, it lets us walk through the specifics of our body's state. We can then focus our efforts on how to handle our recovery by knowing more of what our body needs.
There is some evidence that an excess of cortisol, a hormone produced under stress such as intense workouts, can contribute to abdominal fat buildup. Studies have also shown that meditating can help alleviate latent stress, thereby reducing the cortisol present in our bodies. The tests are in early stages overall, but the initial information looks promising, so meditation can even help with those weight loss goals!