5 Simple Changes To Your Workout Routine That Will Make You Crave Exercise
There was a time, many years ago, when I saw exercise and mindfulness as two completely different things. My workouts were for my body, and mindfulness—on the rare occasions I practiced it—was for my mind.
Fast-forward to today, and mindfulness has become such an essential part of my exercise routine that it has transformed the way I feel about fitness. Instead of seeing workouts as a chore, I crave them. Instead of feeling like I'm only worthy if I burn a certain number of calories or achieve an "ideal" body, I have gratitude for what my body is capable of each day. I feel more connected, more present, and more empowered—not just when I exercise but in my everyday life.
And I have good news: incorporating mindfulness into your physical exercise is a lot more simple than it sounds. Here are some concrete, easy-to-use tips on how to get started.
1. Before exercising, assess how you're feeling.
Are you feeling depleted? Amped up? Is your mind racing? Are you craving a good muscle burn? Do you want to relax? Do you want to absorb the infectious energy of a group, or are you looking for solitude? Check in with yourself, and then choose to exercise in a way that honors your truth.
This simple step is about creating body wisdom and is foundational to building a positive relationship with exercise. When you exercise in a way that's congruent to what you need, it feels like a reward versus a chore. As a busy woman, I find it important to point out that this does not require a lengthy journal entry or hours of meditation. Simply check in. How am I feeling? What do I need right now?
2. Set an intention based on what you need in the moment.
Think of your time exercising as more than building muscle, improving heart health, and burning calories. Exercising while honoring your intention is also a practice of managing your energy based on what matters most to you. Have you ever been in your car and realized you arrived at your destination but you weren't fully aware of driving? It's like being on autopilot. Our thoughts can take over. When we exercise with an intention, we are practicing taking control of our awareness while directing it toward a meaningful purpose.
3. Practice "noting" as you move.
One of the most rewarding ways to exercise, in my experience, is by including what I call a "noting practice." As you're exercising, start noticing what's going on for you, and keep that conversation going. I particularly love doing this on trail runs or long walks. I turn off the music, which—fair warning—can make the exercise feel harder, and instead I focus on what I am noticing around me. The conversation in my mind goes something like this: "My legs feel heavy. My heart is beating. The wind feels fresh. My hat is itchy. I'm smelling pine. The bird is singing. The dirt is brown. The sky is gray. My legs feel strong…." You get the idea. In between noticing what's around me, my thoughts will take hold and take me out of my noting practice. But then I will notice, "I am thinking," and then I return to the practice.
This is a way to be present and practice observing how you feel and the world around you in the moment. In many group classes, you'll hear instructors guiding this process by giving cues that remind you to investigate how your body feels. You'll hear prompts like, "Notice the distribution of weight on your feet. Is one heavier than the other? Do you feel more weight in your heels or the balls of your feet?" These kinds of cues are a way to guide you into noticing what is going on for you. Even if your instructor doesn't give you this kind of support, you can incorporate it into your exercise class. Start to notice all the details of your experience.
4. Pay attention to your breath.
Focusing your awareness on your breath is a fast entry point into mindfulness. As you're exercising, observe how your breath feels. Does it feel shallow? Does it feel deep? Is your chest or belly rising and falling? Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth? Check in with how you're breathing, and then honor your breath and follow its natural rhythm. At barre3, our instructors help clients check in with how they're breathing through the entire cycle of the class. For example, when we get in isometric holds, which are incredibly challenging because we are taxing the muscle at the deepest point, we cue clients to breath big and relax into the struggle. When we're moving slowly and rhythmically, we often cue breath with the movement. Inhale as you lift the arms. Exhale as you lower the arms. At the end of class, we do focused and guided breathwork.
This attention to breath can be done on your own as well. Your breathwork can be as simple as counting three deep breaths when you need to relieve tension or draw your awareness from your thinking mind to your moving body. You will be instantly rewarded with feeling more grounded and connected.
5. Give yourself permission to do your own thing.
One of the bravest things you can do in a group exercise class is to choose a different exercise than what the rest of the group is doing, based on what your body needs. It's also one of the best mindful practices you can adopt. Modifications are a metaphor for honoring your truth and standing up for yourself. Even when this choice is counter to your teacher's instructions and the other people around you, it's a powerful way to show up in a group. By doing this, you give other people permission to do the same. Being self-aware can be incredibly empowering when we embody authenticity and show up in a real way. I've built our whole company around a practice of creating a safe space to modify, take your own shape, and be your own best teacher.
Most people come to an exercise class wanting a hard body, but with the right instruction, they can leave with something better: a wise body. The difference between the two is mindfulness. They both "work" in that you'll build muscle and sweat either way. But creating body wisdom and inner awareness is incredibly rewarding and empowering, not just while you're exercising but way beyond your workout, as well.