After a long day of coaching clients towards self-transformation, I need to take some time for me. Part of my self-care routine includes a breath-based exercise workout. Admittedly, it's a love-hate relationship, but as soon as I begin to enter the body, all that unnecessary mind-chatter disappears.
On the drive home from work, my mind begins the usual tug-of-war game — a battle to ditch my workout or not. And if there is traffic you can bet my mind will try to take advantage of that too, as further attempt to justify my excuses.
But despite all the back and forth, my highest self laces up my sneakers and the next thing I know, I'm sitting on the exercise machine. As I grab the handle, I begin to slow down my breath and prepare for glorious mind/body union. I can tell my ego is still trying to control the moment, as my mind is now tempted to tell me how long we're going to row, how hard I need to pull, and of course to set the timer so I can monitor my speed.
My entire day until that moment has been dictated by schedules and time constraints, and I'm fighting with my ego to enter a place that fosters a stronger sense of self for my overall health and well-being.
I've been here before. I know what to do. I come back to my breath.
This is my therapy. My yoga practice deeply influences my exercise as I row for my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
So I come back to my breath and stay focused on my breath alone, throughout the entire workout. As I weave various yogic breathing techniques into my workout, I can feel myself introverting. I'm moving into that space that allows me to move within the symphony of my body, not my mind. I allow my body to dictate the pace and duration, instead of my ego.
I'm here now. I'm in the space where my mind is calm. I can feel my body and direct my breath to support the movement. It's effortless and I'm free to connect with the deeper aspects of myself.
The practice of Pranayama (conscious breathing) has taught me that all movement is yoga. Linking breath with movement yokes the body to the mind. The same is true with traditional exercise. Exercise is supposed to create health for us, however, if we're exercising with TVs, cell phones and other forms of external media, we're not connecting the body with the mind.
Here's a simple breath routine to bring mindfulness into any cardiovascular workout:
- Seated or standing, warm up with alternate nostril breathing. Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Begin your activity and engage in Ujjayi breath ("ocean sounding breath"), increasing intensity. Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Inhale through the nose for five counts, retain breath for 10 counts, exhale through the nose for five counts. Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes. Build up to lengthening the exhale to 10 full counts.
- Now inhale for six, hold for 12, exhale for six. Build to counts of 7-14-7 and then 8-16-8, if you can. Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Cool down and continue with your activity at the pace your breath (not your ego!) is suggesting. Pay close attention to your heart rate.
Free yourself from the constraints of the mind during your workouts and other fitness training. Use mantra, chanting and breath work to focus the mind away from traditional Western mindsets based on time, distance, and ego judgment. Give the heart what it wants first. Peace and personal growth will follow. Don't forget to cool down and unwind with Yoga Nidra after any physical movement. Enjoy a spiritual workout!
Ed Harrold will be speaking at Aspen Sports Performance for Performance Breathing For Athletes on November 7th, and at The Peaks Resort & Spa on December 6th & 7th.
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