I’ve talked about intuitive exercise when I discussed what I learned from doing 6 months of yoga. I’ve talked about how to get fit. I’ve even talked about how savouring the process can help you stick to your new year’s resolution.
Today, I want to discuss how to savour physical activity. What does it mean? How will it help? When does it get in the way?
What I’m talking about is a mix of mindful movement, gratitude in your abilities, and the joy of movement.
A little note before we get into the article: I use the pronoun ‘we’ throughout this article. Like most, if not all, of the articles on this site, this is as much for me as anyone else reading it.
A body scan is a way of bringing your attention to each part of your body. Start with your toes and scan up to the top of your head. Put your attention fully in one part of your body at a time before moving onto the next part. Spend a few moments in each part of your body. Be aware of the physical sensations. Are you muscles tight or relaxed? Do you have any aches and pains? Hold the awareness in a non-judgemental way.
Next, you can move into your activity – whatever you have planned. Yoga, strength training, running, walking, or any other movement will work with this strategy. As you move, be aware of what muscles you are using. If you‘re walking, feel the muscles of your legs work. What other muscles are being used? Feel the muscles contract and relax with each movement.
Aim to keep this awareness in a non-judgement space. It’s simple, but not easy.
Mindfulness to Savouring
To savour movement, rather than just being mindful, see if you can be grateful and enjoy your movement. Feel how good it feels to move your muscles. Feel how strong you are. Feel gratitude for the abilities you have, for the place you are, or the people you are training with.
Why should I bother with this mindful stuff?
Wouldn’t it be better to watch TV or listen to music or a podcast so I don’t notice how long I’m exercising? This can help at times, but…
There are serious benefits to savouring the movement, instead of distracting yourself.
- Increase your awareness of the intrinsic rewards of exercise
- Reduce the risk of injury
Be more aware of the intrinsic reward of exercise
“Intrinsic reward” isn’t something that many people say. It’s a quick way to refer to rewards that happens automatically without you or anyone else needing to do anything. These rewards could be more energy, feeling strong, enjoying the way your body feels when you move. (The opposite would be extrinsic rewards like earning points, going higher on the leader-board, or even getting money.)
Bodies work better when they move. We feel better when we are active. It feels good to move. For people with chronic pain, injuries, or other physical difficulties, movement isn’t always pleasurable. But compared to sitting all day, moving, in whatever way you can, is better. Have you ever noticed how stiff you feel after spending the day watching TV marathons or reading a book for hours? I feel tired, but then have trouble sleeping that night. And I usually get a headache that lingers for quite a while.
When we are deeply aware of the direct benefits of being active, we actually want to be more active. It’s not enough to know it is good to be active, we need to experience it.
When we are distracted while being active, we don’t gain that experiential knowledge. We block our ability to soak it all in.
Reduce your risk of injury
I have not read any studies that say whether this is true, but it makes sense in my experience. Being more mindful creates a way to get quick feedback on what’s going on in your body. If you use that information, you can prevent yourself from getting hurt.
Injuries are more likely when you are doing exercise with poor form. Being mindful of your movements gives you instant feedback on whether you are using proper form. Once you know what proper form is, and how that feels in your body, you can instantly know if you are doing the exercise right.
Injuries are also more likely when you are over-training. Again, being mindful of your body can give you instant knowledge on this too. Your joints get sorer. You’re sorer after exercising. You are more tired. Your workouts aren’t as productive – you get tired faster, you can’t lift as much, you can’t run as fast or as far. If you know the signals coming from your body, you can notice when you need to rest.
So if you’re more aware of your body – and you respond to the feedback you’re receiving – you’ll prevent injuries.
The possible danger in savouring physical activity
If your focus is on trying to enjoy your exercise and you’re wanting to get more fit, stronger, or faster, you need to be aware of a potential pitfall… And one I’ve fallen into many times.
When you want to savour the movement, it is easy to fall into the idea that you should only feel the pleasure of movement. That could work, but it depends on what you want to get out of being active.
The problem is when you also want to get stronger or faster. Improving physical abilities requires that we do a little more than we can do now. We have to stress our muscles in order for them to get stronger. This isn’t comfortable.
That means you have to be willing to experience the discomfort to get stronger. It is possible to savour the discomfort and difficulty. It is possible to learn to like the feeling of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It is in these moments you can feel STRONG. But it isn’t something that comes naturally to many of us. It doesn’t come naturally to me.
Next time you go for a walk, exercise, or even stretch, try out these ideas. See if you can savour the movement. Bring your awareness to what your body is doing and how it feels. See if you can bring a sense of joy, gratitude, or enjoyment to the party. And then just see what happens.
Let me know if you try this and how it worked out for you!
You are reading this because you are interested in improving your life. That means we have something in common. I’m still working on what the Foundations for the Good Life is all about, and I’d love for you to join me in this journey. I’d love to build a community with you. With people who are trying to figure out what “the good life” means, and how to set up their life to make it possible for them.
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