Meditate or exercise, why choose? Movement as a vehicle for deeper self-awareness has been a long-standing practice in many traditions such as Yoga, T’ai Chi, and Chi Gong. You can take the same principles of mindful movement into any workout. Exercise can become the way you deepen your sense of self, relieve anxiety and give your body a great workout.
Let’s take walking for example:
Walking’s innumerable health benefits have been well researched and documented. From a reduction in heart disease, cancer and diabetes to increased mental cognition to an overall sense of well being, walking 4-5 times a week for 30-60 minutes improves the quality of your life. When you add mindful practices, you have a recipe for an even more profound transformation. It’s also easy to add just a bit of running to up the ante and burn more calories.
One of the goals of meditating is to tame the mind’s wanderings. Generally, the mind jumps from one subject to another, losing its focus and often entering the dangerous terrain of fear and negativity. Meditation brings the mind back to the here and now and to a singular, calming focus.
This list of mind/body focuses will transform your walking (or adopt for any workout) into a meditative practice:
Focus on them one at a time. Experiment and see which focuses work best for you.
1. Start every workout with a brief standing meditation.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and balance your weight evenly on both feet. Take the time to feel the stability and support of the ground beneath your feet. Scan up your legs to your knees. Keep your knees soft and buoyant (don’t lock them). Continue up through your body and notice any soreness, tension or blocked energy. Make note of any sensations, thoughts or feelings. You don’t have to change anything, just “listen” and observe. Scan all they way up to your face and head.
2. Now, imagine a small ball of light in your head and slowly drop it down into your dantien (the Taoist term for your center) which is located about 3 finger-widths below your naval and 2” in toward your spine.
This is your physical center of mass, the center of your being in the Taoist tradition, and your powerhouse in Pilates. Your dantien is the primordial home of chi, your life force energy. Focus on this point to center yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. Nest the ball of light in your dantien. Think about keeping it safe. Your “job” during your workout is to care for and nourish this ball of light.
3. Begin to walk smoothly down the road with an awareness that you are carrying the ball of light in your center.
You do not have to walk slowly or look like a zombie. Just maintain a nice brisk pace, but keep your speed within the bounds of being able to tend to the ball of light.
4. Bend your elbows and let your arms swing naturally from relaxed shoulders.
Your hands will swing to either side of your center, so use your hands to remind you to come back to the ball of light in your dantien when your mind begins to wander.
5. Relax your whole body except for the energy field nesting the ball of light where there should be a light tension.
Physically this will feel like a slight crunch.
6. While nestling the ball of light in your dantien, extend the crown of your head into the sky above while feeling your feet on the ground beneath.
In this way you will walk tall, grounded, relaxed and centered.
7. Allow the energy of your environment to come in your eyes and your chest and then drop that energy down into the ball of light, nourishing it, replenishing its energy.
Notice the difference between losing yourself in your environment and creating a connection to your environment.
8. Always return your focus to the ball of light in your center.
Thoughts, feelings and emotions may also come into your awareness. Rather than get caught up in these triggers that can kidnap your mind, choose to redirect your mind to your body. Practice regularly to create a sense of ritual and sanctity around your exercise sessions. Soon, every time you walk, run or workout in the gym, you will “find yourself” in the center of your being, rather than in the machinations of the mind.
A quiet, focused mind and a fit body can become your norm, whether you are walking through your office halls, walk-running in your neighborhood, or weight-training in the gym.
Katherine and Danny Dreyer
Katherine and Danny Dreyer are authors, speakers, coaches and co-founders of ChiLiving®. The Chi programs bring principles of T’ai Chi into running, walking and everyday living. As seen in most major media from Fitness Magazine to The New York Times to CNN.