When I need to solve a problem, I go for a walk in the woods. Living alongside a national park in Pennsylvania makes this easy to do. The open fields and quiet dirt paths offer me mental space to clean out the cobwebs, shift my perspective and return home with an answer. There’s science behind it. Moving my body stirs stuff up and shakes things out in a way that nothing else can. When I move in rhythm for a prolonged period of time, I shift from frazzled to focused. A well-paced run steam-cleans my mind and body.
What physical activity clears your brain? Think about it, name it and keep reading.
When you move your body rhythmically (walking, cycling, swimming, etc.), you naturally settle down, let go of tension and see more clearly. While this isn’t new information, it’s important to remember. Even if you do this briefly, you can shift your perspective from tightly wound to available to new possibilities. Try this during a stressful work day, even if you don’t live near nature. A brand new study even found that urban walking is more impactful for some people.
As a mental strength coach, I’ve trained university football and basketball teams to experience how this practice helps them stay composed in the fire of competition. This improved their performance on the field, court and in life in general. By connecting yoga poses with steady repetitive breathing, these elite student athletes experienced what it feels like to be awake, alert and available. They quickly recognize that their decision making abilities and gut senses are heightened. Some call this sense of presence a runner’s high, the flow state or being in the zone. You can also call it being mindful.
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to train your mind this way. Professionals can achieve this as well. In fact, you can turn any rhythmic activity into an effective mindfulness practice.
Check it out.
Instead of simply working out to burn calories or chisel your abs, try this. Move in a way that not only gets your blood pumping and invigorates each of your cells, but also shifts your mind and nervous system from frazzled to focused. Apply these six steps to any activity or workout that gets you moving in sync. Each step is integral to the process and brings a specific purpose to the overall practice. So don’t cheat and skip steps!
- Set an intention: As you tie up your laces or strap on your helmet, bring purpose to your workout by setting an intention. For e.g. “I want to feel energized” or “I want to sleep better.”
- Warm up (5 - 10 mins): Next, focus on matching the rhythm of your breath with a simple warm up. By moving rhythmically, your brain activity, heart rate and nervous system begin to steady and harmonize.
- Move in rhythm (10 - 15 mins): Intensify but continue to coordinate your breath and movement. If you have trouble doing this, then simply focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Eventually you'll find a rhythm.
- Challenge yourself (10 - 15 mins): To build strength, challenge your muscles and heart. Push the boundaries of what you think you're capable of, and notice how alive you feel.
- Cool down (5 mins): Steadily slow down your movement until you come to a standstill. Notice the way your body is buzzing. Check out your surroundings and landscape.
- Rest (5 mins): Take a few minutes to rest. Recognize the sensations flowing in and around you. Label what you experience. For example, "My heart is racing," "The sky is blue," "I hear birds chirping" or "I feel energized."
Moving and breathing in rhythm will turn your walks or workouts into a powerful, game-changing mindfulness practice. When we move with the intention of synchronizing mind and body through movement and breath, we get the best of both worlds. We release tension from places we didn’t even realize were tight from sitting at our desks all day. We reboot our systems, readjust our focus and are ready to work. We burn through the mental junk that’s no longer necessary.
In a perfect world, I would walk in the woods every day. But, as we know, our schedules change on a dime, stuff happens and well, life just gets in the way. But when I do take that stroll amongst the pines, throw on my skates for a whirl down the bike path, or do a half hour yoga practice, my busy mind melts away as the rest of me unfolds into a world of innovative possibilities.
You know that physical activity you thought of that settles your mind, earlier? Try it out today with a conscious breathing practice. See if you can make the shift.