How exercise promotes mindfulness

Exercise is a great way to promote mindfulness

Exercise. Urgh. We all know it’s good for us, and most of us really don’t like it. It’s a bit like mindfulness, in a way. At first. We’re all beginning to gradually accept that mindfulness and meditation are good for us too, but that doesn’t stop most of us from trying to get out of doing it. Something I’ve noticed is that, while you’re exercising, it’s pretty easy to be mindful. Focusing on the breath and the body becomes a lot easier when you’re quickly losing your breath and your heartrate is going into overdrive.

Different types of exercise aid mindfulness in different ways. When you’re swimming, it becomes quite simple to notice the feeling of the water on your body, and notice the escalated pulse, and experience the smells and sounds of the pool. Playing football lets you focus on the green of the grass and the feeling of the wind in your hair as you run. Exercise, in its own way, is one of the best times at which you can be mindful. And combining exercise and mindfulness is a sure-fire way to get a huge dopamine boost and feel good about yourself.

Another advantage of exercise as a form of mindfulness is that it isn’t impossibly difficult to incorporate exercise into your everyday life, which means that mindfulness is incorporated into your everyday life by proxy. If you cycle to work or school every day, and you’re able to mindfully cycle and be aware of the feelings in your body and the road ahead of you, you’ve found a simple way to add mindfulness into your life every single day. I’ve written before a list of how to incorporate mindfulness into your life every day and why it’s so important, and exercise would make a fine addition to that list.

One thing I used to do was do my daily workout, and then have a meditation session directly afterwards. The reason that this came so easily to me was because, while exercising, I was already hyper aware of the experience and the present moment, and so meditation directly afterwards felt like a natural continuation of that. When you have just woken up or whatever and go directly into a meditation session, it can often feel like you’ve gone straight from one thing (sleep, work, etc.) and into a completely different thing. Meditation doesn’t feel like much else, but I do think that when you’re exercising you do get some of that same feeling that you get from meditation and mindfulness, especially if you’re making a conscious effort to exercise mindfully.

Exercising is fantastic. It makes you feel great, it makes you healthier, and it makes you look better. There is nothing bad I can say about adding exercise to your daily routine. But if you’re able to combine that exercise with mindfulness, either by exercising mindfully or by making a meditation session the thing you become used to doing after taking up your exercise, the benefits of exercise will be multiplied.

Why I started waking up early and why you should too

I wake up early every single day. You should too.

I wake up most days at 6am. Some people are stunned by this. Some people are not. I’d like to say there’s a clear correlation between the people who are stunned and those who aren’t, with the people who are not stunned being the driven, calm, mindful people. That isn’t quite the case, and I’ve been pretty surprised myself at who also wakes up very early to get things done. Either way, it’s something I really recommend. I started waking up at 6am, even on weekends, a few months ago. It has honestly changed my life.

I wake up, meditate, exercise, and get some work done before most people have even woken up. It’s all related to establishing routine: it’s difficult to form positive habits when your sleep is all messed up and you wake up at different times every day. I’ve written before about how important it is to be mindful every single day and how to do it, and waking up early and at the same time every day has been a huge factor in establishing that routine and gaining the habit of being mindful each day.

When I did some of my university exams, I was still in the habit of waking up at pretty random times. I’d go to bed at 5am and wake up at 2pm, and then sometimes I’d try and reset my internal clock by doing an all-nighter filled with work and then going to bed at 8pm the next day. Did it work? Not really. Was it healthy? Certainly not. If I could go back in time to myself then I would just scream: “Start going to bed at a sensible hour! Wake up early enough to actually be productive, don’t just bank on doing ridiculous, caffeine-fuelled all-nighters!”

Old me would have been aghast at the prospect of waking up at 6am every day. New me is aghast that I’ve ever woken up at 2pm in my life. The difference is, well, night and day. I feel healthier, I get more work done, I’m able to establish a genuinely beneficial routine. It’s also worth noting that I don’t have a 9 to 5 job that requires me to wake up early, I haven’t been forced into this through coercion, I’ve chosen to do it. I could still be waking up in the afternoon, and I could still be an unproductive mess.

I really, really recommend waking up early. If you’re not sure how, I’ve written an article that includes a great tip on how to wake up early. You can find it here. But this article is about why I wake up so early, and the reason is pretty simple. I wake up early because it makes me feel better. It makes me happier. It makes me more productive. When you establish a routine of waking up at 6am, you get things done. You read more. You write more. You’re more creative. It might sound slightly ridiculous to claim that waking up early will provide all of these benefits, but it’s the truth. To say that waking up early hasn’t changed my life immensely, and exclusively for the better, for the sake of seeming truthful, would be a lie. So this is me being honest: waking up early will change your life. Try it for just a week and if you don’t see any benefits (you will), comment here telling me how wrong I am.

Five simple ways to be mindful every single day

Mindfulness, for an idea so simple, can be pretty difficult to implement in your life every day. Really, all mindfulness involves is taking some time out of your day to just be in the moment and experience life, not worrying forward to the future or living through the anxieties of the past, but simply existing in the now. Being mindful is so, so important for your health and wellbeing.

It sounds pretty simple, and as a concept perhaps it is, but in reality introducing this idea of experiencing the moment rather than getting lost in thought or anxious about the future or the past can be really, really tough.

So, here are five simple ways to introduce mindfulness to your life every day. They are simple, but they aren’t necessarily easy. Being mindful takes dedication, and consistency. In a way, being mindful is like doing push-ups or taking a stroll. Over time, your mental muscles get stronger through consistent practice and exercise. Doing a push-up, once you learn the form, is simple, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to persevere with doing push-ups everyday!

1) Concentrate on the water running over your body as you take your daily shower.

Most people take a shower every day (I hope!) While you are taking your shower, focus on the feeling of water streaming onto your body and be aware of the physical sensation of the drips and drops making their way down your arms and legs. This is a really easy routine to get into because it wedges itself into your day-to-day life.

2) Be mindful while you brush your teeth

Similarly, almost everybody brushes their teeth everyday. Not once, but twice! So, this gives you to opportunities to be in the moment and experience the feeling of the toothbrush and the taste and smell of the toothpaste in your mouth.

3) Be mindful while cooking

Cooking is a great way to cultivate mindfulness. If you cook everyday, and I highly recommend that you do (it’s a great way to save money as well as incorporating mindfulness into your life), concentrate on the sensations of cutting the vegetables and seasoning the food. Cooking can be stressful, and an easy way to help alleviate this stress is to try and be mindful while making your meal.

4) Be mindful while eating

Following on from this, it’s great to be mindful while you actually consume your meal. Studies have shown that not only is mindfulness itself great for your mental health, but partaking in mindful eating can mean that a more appropriate amount of food is consumed. This is a fantastic way of eating more healthily without attaching an emotional or moral baggage to food.

5) Be mindful while listening to music

Listening to music isn’t something that many people associate with mindfulness or meditation, but it should be. Many of us listen to music everyday as a way of zoning out, but instead you ought to try zoning in on the music that you’re listening to. Be aware of the different instruments in your songs, and try to really listen to all the lyrics in one of your favourites!

These five simple ways of incorporating mindfulness into your life every single day make mindfulness a routine rather than a chore. Mindfulness can certainly be tough, but by making it a habit we can make it easier to improve our mental health  and general wellbeing one day a time.