Mindfulness Through Movement
Have you ever had someone tell you “you should start meditating”? To which you probably got defensive, rolled your eyes, completely ignore it, or made some remark about how you’re “not into that stuff” – as if it were some sort of drug you try to avoid.
The fact of the matter though is that mindfulness has its benefits, and they’re scientifically proven. With benefits ranging from increases in mental strength and focus to helping fight disease and increasing gray matter in the brain, mindfulness has become something that should be a bit more than a passing conversation. The question then is, why aren’t you doing it?
Personally, I think the hesitation for a lot of people lies with what they fear they might become. For example a person who dislikes yoga might associate meditation with yoga and therefore avoid it for fear of becoming a “yogi”. Or the idea of sitting cross-legged with your hands folded repeating “Ommmmmm” over and over again seems a bit too extreme for your personality.
But what if you could get some of the benefits of meditation without actually meditating? What if you could get some of those benefits during your workout? I don’t know about you but that sounds amazing to me!
What Is Mindfulness?
Google “what is mindfulness” and the first thing you’ll see is a definition:
- the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
- a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
So essentially mindfulness is being aware, living in the “here and now”, and taking inventory of your body, how you feel, and what you’re thinking. That’s pretty straight forward and I think we could agree you could, and maybe already do, easily perform mindful activities in your day to day life without actually being aware of it.
I’ve meditated before and practice variations of mindfulness daily. When I first started I used some YouTube videos that a friend sent me. They were guided meditations that helped me understand what it is and how I could practice. I eventually got to the point where I could simply close my eyes and take myself through a meditation. When my wife and I moved to Chicago last April I fell off my game a bit and to get back on track I used an app called Headspace – I highly recommend it for those of you who are new to meditation and mindfulness.
So to repeat, mindfulness is the awareness you have of yourself, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, and how you’re feeling about what you’re thinking… With that in mind let’s move on.
Mindfulness In Training
As a strength coach I’m attracted to things that make us better as humans, things that can make us more immortal, more superhuman. It’s a big reason why I’m such a big fan of Bulletproof and everything that Dave Asprey talks about.
My search of becoming more superhuman led me to kettlebells and not only the strength they yield but also the longevity and return on your investment (hard work) you receive. Proper hardstyle kettlebell training requires your focus and your attention to detail (sound familiar). It teaches you more about your body while at the same time providing an opportunity for your body to talk to you. The question then is, will you listen?
I can attest from personal experience having seriously gotten into kettlebell training just this last year. The infamous Simple & Sinister program taught me how to use my hips, pack my shoulders, and remain tight while at the same time moving in a supple manner through various positions – this coming from someone who had worked in the fitness industry for the past 6 years and learned a lot about “movement” through organizations such as PRI, DNS, FMS, and all the other acronyms you can throw in here.
Kettlebell training has taught me about isometrics and how focusing your attention on the small individual parts of a bigger movement can and will enhance a movement pattern. I started simple and sinister because I liked how effective it was and what little time it took to complete. I had no idea it would lead to a monumental “aha” movement in my training.
Then there’s Ido Portal. Oh Ido. Ido Portal is the “mover” of all movers. His movements are effortless, fascinating, and well, moving. To even know that the human body can move the way he does is an inspiration. Naturally when I was first introduced to Ido I began playing around, as most people do, seeing which of his “basic” movements I could do. When his beginner variation of a movement was far too difficult for me I felt challenged – moved so to speak.
It wasn’t until just the other day that I connected all the dots. I hadn’t been formally meditating in weeks, but had been training daily. I hadn’t realized what the past 8 weeks had done for me until listing to a podcast with my wife the other night – mindfulness is something we can geek out on together now, which I think is amazing!
Simple and sinister had taught me how to use mindfulness in my practice and transfer that into my movement sessions. I started to notice some of the benefits listed below that come with mindfulness/mediation. You can read the full article of where these came from here.
- I realized my mind had gotten stronger
- I had more mental strength and focus
- My memory retention and recall were better
- I could think more clearly and problem solve easier
- I was better at making decisions
- I was able to easily ignore distractions
- I had more energy
- I was more in tune with my breathing and it felt easier to breathe overall
- I gained mobility and control of my body and my body was changing because of that
- I felt less anxious and impulsive
- I had less stress
- I had more self-esteem and confidence
- I’m already an optimistic person, but I felt more relaxed and aware of my surroundings
All this by performing 100 kettlebell swings and 10 Turkish Get-ups 5 days a week meticulously with precision, razor-sharp focus, and an open mind.
Mindfulness Through Movement
Simple & Sinister set me up for my big “aha” moment, which was this: You can, and most certainly will, obtain mindfulness through movement. A few weeks ago I started to play around with more of Ido’s movement training, once again. It had been a while and frankly the stuff is just fun so I wanted to get back into it. It takes you back to when you’re a kid on the playground – your workout becomes play which I’ve found can also make your workouts last upwards of 2+ hours!
Take a look at this statement taken directly from this research article regarding meditation/mindfulness and it’s effects on the brain.
“The results suggest that participation in MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”
Read that again. Essentially you can make yourself smarter; you can change the makeup of your brain through mindfulness-based activity. That’s huge! And is a statement that can take you far beyond this article.
Currently, my favorite methods of movement come from these 4 practices…
- PRI (Postural Restoration Institute)
- FRC (Functional Range Conditioning)
- Movement (Yoga, Martial Arts, Gymnastics, Ido!)
- Kettlebells (StrongFirst)
Each and all require you to be present, focus, listen to your body, and in turn make you more mindful.
So, how do you become more mindful through movement?
Listen to your body. This is made a little easier by performing exercises that insist you focus such as get-ups, swings, bent-presses, hand balancing, crawling, hanging, tumbling, breathing into balloons, isometrics, and various other forms of movement.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a certified FRC, PRI, or StrongFirst instructor near you, hit them up and hire them as you’ll not only gain immense control of your body, but as you now know, you’ll become more mindful as well.