Nowadays, with our busy schedules, most people tend to race through their days and who knows how they manage to get everything done. This week why don’t you decide to slow down and be more mindful. Take a look at what is going on around you, in a more detached way. Why not make a deliberate choice of becoming an “observer.” The goal here is to take a step back and to look at yourself when you partake in any form of exercise: are you present or is your mind wandering somewhere else? Are you getting your exercise done because you have to or are you giving it your all? The way I see it: when you do something, give it your undivided attention. I would rather you do 20 minutes of exercise with intent, than one hour without it. Try it! Try being totally in the moment. Talk to yourself. Tell yourself what it is you are doing exactly: if you are going up the stairs, do it mindfully and feel your feet on the ground, your muscles contracting, your heart pumping and your body sweating.

If your body is your vehicle, are you the driver or a simple passenger?

Why be mindful or train with intent when exercising?

 Difference between exercising and exercising with intent

The best way to understand why it’s a good idea to train mindfully or with intent is to simply give it a try. When you DECIDE to do something, you bring INTENT. This intent puts you in a certain concentration mode and makes you FOCUS on what you are doing. You can either focus with your eyes closed, to grasp every sensation that is taking place within your body, or you can do it with your eyes open and really look at your muscles contractingand relaxing; whatever works best for you. This focusing, you will come to see, creates ENERGY. And this energy brings CHANGE, in other words, RESULTS. Understand that it is one thing to simply exercise, and it’s a whole other ball game to exercise with intent. So, it’s your choice: you can either feel good or you can feel empowered and discover a new path: one of TRANSFORMATION. Let’s take the example of a bicep curl: the exercise consists of flexing and extending your arm. Make sure you start with proper posture: shoulders back, tummy tight, arms relaxed, legs slightly bent. Flex both arms while looking at your biceps. See them flexing. See the muscles contracting. Feel the contraction. Put intent into your exercise. When you reach the top, squeeze a few seconds and feel. Keep concentrating. You’re not finished yet. While bringing those arms back down, keep everything under control. Don’t just drop them. Mindfully bring your arms back into their initial position. Try doing this, 12 to 15 times. Then try to do the same exercise without any intentat all: by simply lifting your arms up and down, up and down again. Do you feel the difference?

If you want results, “Intent” is the way to go.

With intent will get you where you want to go, faster.

What if I am just a recreational exerciser?

Some of you might say:“But I am not a competitive athlete, why would I bother working out this way?   My answer is: “Why not?” Yes, why not give it your undivided attention? Aren’t you worth it? Even if you are just an occasional exerciser, why not give it your all and do the best you can while you are working out at the gym? Do it 200%. Living mindfully means being totally present when you are doing somethingand not letting yourself get distracted with all that is happening around you, as well as inside your mind. Try, as much as possible to do things mindfully when working, talking to a friend, or studying. Also make sure you have moments when you can let your mind wander freely, such as in the car or when you take a break

Benefits of training with intent

Working out with intent or mindfully also has other benefits:

It relieves stress

When you focus your attention on what you are doing, you don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your surroundings such as noise or people talking. All this action that takes place around you is tiring your mind. I would even suggest that you turn your music off and learn to stay in tune with your body rather than a song!

A sense of accomplishment

When you give your undivided attention to something, you tend to be prouder of what you have accomplished. Once you have finished exercising, if you have given it your all, there is a big probability that you will feel a high sense of pride.

Helps to increase your self-acceptance

Focusing on yourself and on what you are doing can help you increase your self-acceptance. There is a certain power in determination that makes you stronger. As you progressively learn to focus on what you are doing, you will feel your inner strength grow and when leaving the gym, you will feel more confident and happier.

Learn to abstract the outside world

Training with intent and mindfully will progressively teach your mind to “zone out” and calm down. Think of it as a double workout: training your body to become healthy, but also training your mind to keep everything under control. Now how cool is that? Not only will you be beautifying externally, such as firming up your biceps or your booty, you will also beautify internally!

Focus. Intent. Presence.

Finally, by completely concentrating your attention on what you are doing, you are actually learning to increase your presence. Try as much as possible to expand this concentration to other aspects of your life, for instance by being more present when someone is talking to you or when you are with your children. People will feel it and believe me, will love the attention. So, learn to focus on one thing at a time: when you train, focus on the training, when you work, focus on the task at hand, and when you are with a friend, give them your undivided attention.

How can you integrate more intent and/or more mindfulness when exercising?

Environment

The first important thing to consider is your environment. Does it suit you? Take a few minutes to look around and ask yourself: is going to the gym, jogging, or tennis really your thing? Do you find it more motivating to have people train beside you or, on the contrary, are you more of a solitary person? Maybe you feel too self-conscious about what others might be thinking. And how do you feel about training indoors or outdoors? Why not switch things around a bit? Sometimes, I jog to the gym ready for a great workout, but upon arrival I see that the place is packed and it’s all hot and sweaty. I know, there is no way, that I will be able to focus on my training session. So, in such a case, what I normally do, is head back outdoors for a stress-free workout. When you train, do you find that you tend to do the same thing repeatedly over and over again? Are you bored or do you often feel distracted? In this case, it might be time for a change in activity. The good thing about starting a new sport is that you have to give it your full attention and concentrate to learn the moves properly. If, on the contrary, you love your activity, have a look at the way you train? Do you train with the same enthusiasm as your very first day? Probably not. Does it need a little bit of revving up? Why not take a coach for a while or sign up for a boot camp: if you are working out properly, normally there is no way you can have anything else on your mind! If you run, walk or cycle, open up to your surrounding environment. Be curious and discover the names of the streets, the shops and the people. Be adventurous and follow some new paths. Become one with nature, observe the trees, smell the scents, recognize the sounds around you and see how they change from season to season. Sometimes the best way to forget what is going on in your mind is to try to focus on what is going on, on the outside. When things are buzzing inside your head, it’s a good idea to open up, widen your perspective by focusing on something specific on the outside. This will help calm down the interior noise. I have tried it and know that it works. When I was diagnosed with cancer, my head was a constant chatter box and I just couldn’t seem to quiet it down. I went out daily for some long walks and the fresh air was invigorating. One day, somehow, I decided to ”forget” myself and to focus on everything that was going on around me: nature, the people, the sounds, the air going through my nostrils. It really helped me to disconnect from what was happening to me and it felt so good not to hear my mind blabbering away all the time.

Learn to be in tune with yourself

To bring more intent or mindfulness, the second thing you might want to look into is to be more in tune with yourself.

For example, how do you feel before you exercise? Are you stressed, tired, mad or happy and enthusiastic? Write it down on a piece of paper and then head off for your workout. When you return check out how you feel and write it down. Chances are, all the tension has disappeared and you are feeling energized again. So, listen to yourself and take the time to see how exercise makes you feel.

I also really recommend finishing every workout with a few minutes of total relaxation: you cannot imagine how beneficial it can be for your inner-self to take the time to simply close your eyes, even if it’s only for a minute or two. So, before you leave, treat yourself to a little bit of alone time, and listen to how you feel. Check out if you have any aches or pains, in which case in might be a good idea to switch activities or rest for a while. Do you feel jittery, as if you couldn’t seem to relax? Many of us find it impossible to stop for two minutes: we are already creating a “to do” list in our minds, stressed about all the things that need to be done as soon as the workout is over. Try putting the list down, just two minutes, RELAX, BREATHE and let it all go. Also check your rhythm and your breathing pattern. It’s hard to focus when you are out of breath. If you are running, walking or swimming, try to synchronize your breaths with your steps or strokes. You can, for example, do 4 steps and breathe in, followed by 4 step and breathe out. This is all “trial and error” so you have to see what works for you. Once you have found your rhythm, try to pay attention to technique. For example, if you are swimming free style, make sure you are stretching your arms out, keeping your fingers closed, pulling the water with your hands, bringing your arm all the way down to brush your thighs. This can basically be done with any other type of exercise: I can’t stress enough the importance of focusing on proper technique and posture. It’s just as important to center your thoughts on your training aspects, such as physical sensation and breathing, as it is to focus on proper technique. Of course, I can only encourage you to learn, learn, learn: if you want to know more about becoming mindful, check out my website for more articles, take an online class and learn new tips on how to live in the moment. Decide today, and from now on, that you are going to exercise with a purpose: the moment that you are out there, you will be giving it your all. Keep in mind that deep focus leads to increased energy flow to the muscles that are working, therefore better results in the long run. And remember:

Let go of what is troubling you and broaden the perspective 

This change of focus can be a good thing: We often tend to obsess over something, such as our weight for example. Why don’t you “decide” to obsess over something else such as training with perfect form and technique, this way you will be getting your mind away from that number on the scale. Try it: change gears and forget about the weight. Move on to second gear and focus on technique and with the third gear steer your mind towards being more aware and feeling your muscles as they are working out. Once you change your pattern of thought and keep it away from the weight, redirect it towards thoughts to improve your skills, and get more results, that’s when the magic starts to happen. This is what I mean by “broadening the perspective”: leave what is troubling you aside and focus on something else.Become passionate about it, have fun learning, start paying attention to how your body feels and you will see that those extra pounds will magically start disappearing. And so, although at first it may seem contradictory to exercise and be more mindful at the same time, with one part implying movement and the other encouraging you to stop all movement, you will quickly realize that both are actually compatible. By learning to be more attentive to yourself as you exercise, you will surely learn a few things about yourself and will be growing on the inside and out.

Determined and Mindful Walking

When I walk, I don’t just walk, I concentrate on the whole walking process. What this means, is that I totally invest myself into itand over time I have learned to be aware of my posture, my breathing and my thoughts. It requires a little getting used to and a little practice, but the outcome is really worth it. The most important thing to do when you walk is to stand tall and believe in yourself. Pull your shoulders back, tuck your tummy in, lift your chin up and look ahead with determination. Avoid looking arrogant or superior. What we are looking for here is CONFIDENCE! At the beginning, when I started walking this way, I felt uncomfortable because it wasn’t like me to boast my torso up and act assuredly. It felt as though by walking this way, I was looking down on others and that really isn’t who I am. There is a solution to this problem however: Keep the shoulders back, walk with confidence but make sure you look at people with kindness in your eyes and smile whenever possible. When we think of confidence and determination, we tend to associate this with a hard and determined look but that really isn’t necessary. You can totally stand tall and have a compassionate look in your eyes. Try it! From afar people will see you walking tall and looking confident and as you come closer they will see kindness in your eyes. What a surprising combination! And they will think “Now that’s someone I want to meet!”. It might be challenging at first to combine the two. Try thinking about something that brings compassion to mind such as seeing a fluffy puppy, or simply remembering something that you saw, that brought compassion into your heart or made you happy. Normally just the thought of these images will change your facial expression. And if you struggle with presenting compassionate eyes, then just try smiling nicely as much as possible. You don’t have to smile at everyone. You can start by smiling when you see children or a dog, you can smile while you are talking over the phone, you can smile when you see a couple kissing or an old couple holding hands. Once you start looking around, you will see that there are thousands of good reasons to smilefor! So next time you go for a walk bring the two C’s with you: Compassion and Confidence. Believe me, you’ll feel the difference! When you get used to this during your walk, you will be surprised how you end up doing it every time you get up, whether to get a cup of coffee or just to go to the restroom. Remember one important thing: if you want people to believe in you, well you have to start by believing in yourself. Determined Mindful walking is a tool that can help you achieve just that!

Abdominal Training

But this is just the first part of my Determined Mindful Walking technique. The second part concerns your abs. There is an exercise that you can include while you are walking, that tones your abdominals. It’s a three-phase exercise. The first phase is very easy to do, the second requires a little training and getting used to. The third phase requires practice and is more challenging. You don’t have to do the 2ndor 3rdphase if you do not wish to. The most important aspect of this Determined Mindful walking is your overall posture and your attitude, so feel free to leave out phase 2 and 3 if you are not up to it. How to proceed: You might want to practice doing these exercises while standing up and facing a mirror first. Once you have grasped the technique, you can move on to doing it as you walk.

Phase 1:

CHANGE ~ by Barbara Ratkoff ~ 221Abdominal Training But this is just the first part of my Determined Mindful Walking technique. The second part concerns your abs. There is an exercise that you can include while you are walking, that tones your abdominals. It’s a three-phase exercise. The first phase is very easy to do, the second requires a little training and getting used to. The third phase requires practice and is more challenging. You don’t have to do the 2ndor 3rdphase if you do not wish to. The most important aspect of this Determined Mindful walking is your overall posture and your attitude, so feel free to leave out phase 2 and 3 if you are not up to it. How to proceed: You might want to practice doing these exercises while standing up and facing a mirror first. Once you have grasped the technique, you can move on to doing it as you walk. Phase 1: Stand nice and tall, feet shoulder-width apart. You must feel comfortable and stable. Keep your hands along your thighs or on hips. Keep your back straight, chest lifted and shoulders back. Start by inhaling slowly through the nose. Try to let the air go all the way filling up your lungs. Next, do a long exhale through the mouth while pulling your tummy inward. Try to imagine it touching your spine. Maintain this abdominal contraction through at least two entire breathing cycles of one inhalation + one exhalation. Make sure to keep your shoulders down throughout the exercise. Release and relax. Make sure to keep an upward posture the entire time. Repeat several times as well as regularly throughout the day

Phase 2:

Let’s try to go in a little deeper now. This time, inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth and, just as in phase 1, contract your abs by pulling your tummy inward. In addition, you also want to try bringing both sides of your stomach together, like a compression wall.You really want to feel both sides come together by squeezing them. This two-part stomach contraction engages all your muscles in that region and helps you consciously differentiate between the two phases. Make sure you keep your shoulders back and down. Keep breathing normally through one more entire breathing cycle: inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth while maintaining the contraction, tummy in, squeezed and compressed. You might release part of your abdominal contraction while inhaling. Just make sure to do the whole process again as you exhale. This second phase will require practice and some getting used to but keep trying and you will be amazed: you can actually work your abs just using your breath! Repeat several times and then relax.

Phase 3:

This part is more advanced and may seem too much for some of you. Feel free to leave this part out but, every once in a while, try to come back and begin working at an entire new level. Once again, inhale through the nose, lift your chest up, shoulders down. Exhale and simultaneously pull your abs upwardunder your rib cage. Next repeat phase 1 and phase 2. This is how it goes: you pull upward, then contract, and compress. Maintain this abdominal contraction through two breathing cycles. Release and relax. Repeat several times. A tip: Place both hands on your stomach to properly feel your muscles exercising.

Forceful exhale option:

Each time you are exhaling you can either use a long slow deep breath, or three equal force exhales. With this exercise you will reach a deeper layer of abdominals. All four of these exercises (3 phases + option) can be done lying down on your back, sitting down or kneeling. Have fun practicing them and remember, you can do them everywhere: while waiting in line, at the bus stop or doing the dishes.

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