I love the idea of practicing meditation and mindfulness. I appreciate the physical and mental benefits of focusing the mind and breath to calm all of those hamster-wheel thoughts that wake me nightly at 3 am. Meditation shares many of the same health benefits as exercise. According to the National Institutes of Health, meditation increases calmness, helps you relax, provides psychological balance, and improves overall health and wellness. Meditation can help you cope with pain and even strengthen parts of the brain.
That said, I never meditate. I barely find enough time for exercise, and adding another 10-20 minutes for mediation seems a bridge too far. The few times I’ve tried it, my “monkey mind” gets the better of me, and I stop in frustration. Whatever the reason, I always find other ways to fill my time.
When I came across the concept of meditation during exercise, I was intrigued. Exercise plus meditation—two birds, one stone! After doing some research and giving it a try, here’s what I learned.
Basics of Meditation
Meditation generally consists of four elements:
- A quiet location
- A comfortable posture
- A focus of attention
- An open attitude
The quiet location is self-explanatory—a place that allows you to meditate with no distractions. You could go into a spare bedroom and close the door, or go into an empty office at work. I had a friend who used her sun-room to meditate early in the day before the kids woke up.
As for your posture, many people think of a cross legged pose with hands resting on the knees, or else palms up with the thumb and forefinger making a circle like the photo below. Sure, you can do it that way, but you have other options. We’ll talk about meditation while moving in this post, but if you prefer to lay down or take another comfortable position, have at it.
To focus your attention, many people use a mantra, which is a word or set of words repeated over and over. Your mantra should be positive and calming, like “I am not afraid to be wrong” or “I will fill my day with hope and joy.” Google “mantras” and you’ll find dozens of them to deal with all different kinds of feelings (e.g., loneliness, fear, empowerment, worry). Some people use the Hindu or Buddhist phrases or the Lord’s prayer. Others just make up a cacophony of sounds. Whatever makes you feel good is your best mantra. Another option is to focus on your breathing or a specific object.
Finally, an open attitude means accepting that thoughts will creep in despite your best efforts to focus. The key is to acknowledge those thoughts and let them go away, without judgment.
Meditating and Walking
While most meditation is done in stillness, meditation while moving is completely acceptable. Some experts suggest starting with non-moving meditation first, and then moving to moving meditation. I opted to go directly into walking and running meditation.
Traditionally, walking meditation involves moving at a very slow pace, taking small steps. Mindworks suggests you should start indoors in an area with no obstacles, where you can walk ten to fifteen steps. You can clasp your hands in front or behind you, or leave them hanging loose by your sides. You should “direct your attention to the movement of your feet and legs, and the motion of your body as it advances.” Pay attention to the stability of the ground beneath your feet, and to how your foot rolls from heel to toe.
I gave it a try in my apartment hallway, and I found that traditional walking meditation is a bit too monastic for me. Plus, it defeated the purpose of getting some exercise and meditating at the same time. So, I turned next to Gabby Bernstein’s 6-minute walking meditation. Gabby is a self-described “Spirit Junkie” who used spirituality and mindfulness to overcome addiction. She is the author of eight books and a New York Times bestselling author.
I tried Gabby’s 6-minute meditation a couple of times. I chose it because Gabby offers maximum flexibility in how and when to use it. “Where ever you walk is totally fine, whether it’s a busy sidewalk or a quiet meadow.” Given that I live in the center of Brussels, Belgium, I can find busy sidewalks much easier than quiet meadows.
I found Gabby’s voice and cadence pleasing, without being cloying. She uses positive affirmations like “I can bring peace with me wherever I am” and “happiness is a choice I make.” The music is contemporary and upbeat. Honestly, it sounds like a movie soundtrack. As I walked through my neighborhood streets, I felt like I was in my own personal coming-of-age film. About halfway through the meditation, I felt my spirits lift and my mood improve, acknowledging thoughts and letting them pass by. I was doing it! And then, one of those thoughts was “Kim, you forgot your mask and they’re mandatory outdoors.” That brought an immediate halt to my meditation, from which I never really recovered.
My second time out, I made sure I had a mask, keys, wallet, and my headphones to start my meditative walk. Once again, I felt happier and calmer by the end of the recording. If anything, I wished it was longer. Here’s a link to the audio recording. Give it a try on your next stroll.
Meditating and Running
Having given walking meditation a go, I moved on to meditation while running. Avid runners talk about how running relaxes and calms them, gives them their best ideas, and allows them to get into a “zone” where they lose track of time. Some say that running is itself a form of mediation. One of the key factors of effective meditation is repetition, and running is all about repetition. Dr. Ben Michaelis, a psychologist in Manhattan, says that meditative running works well for some patients. “I have found that meditation and prayer can be hard for some people, and so for my patients who have a hard time sitting still I often prescribe running and have seen amazing results.”
Like meditative walking, there are several approaches to meditative running. To get yourself in the frame of mind, you should sit still for 5-10 minutes, inhaling deeply and setting your intentions. Start running slowly to work into a rhythm and establish your breathing pattern.
Once you’re ready to start meditating, you can take one of many suggested approaches. The easiest is to count footfalls or breathes. Count 8-10 steps and then back again. Or, count two breaths in and two breaths out.
You can repeat your favorite mantra. Runners World suggests a simple phrase with one word per footfall, like “I am strong.”
If you find counting or repeating a mantra boring, you can describe the environment around you—everything you see, hear, smell, or a combination of all three. For example, you could note, “woman in a pink coat,” “smell of wet leaves,” or “a water sprinklers coming on.”
As with all meditation, if you have distracting thoughts, acknowledge them and then let them dissolve away. If you’re legs are tired or you have a stitch in your side, recognize the discomfort in a way that’s judgment free. Then go back to your meditative mantra, counting, or observing.
When I tried meditative running, I opted for counting footfalls. It was pretty easy to do for about 5-10 minutes. I found the footfall counting created a consistent rhythm in my stride, which made my overall run easier than normal. Next time, I may try describing things to myself, since I got a little bored with the counting after a while.
Overall, I am glad I tried meditative movement, and I plan to incorporate it into my walks and runs going forward. It takes no extra time, lifts my mood, and makes me feel like I’m doing something good for both my mental and physical health.
If you try meditative movement, let me know what you think in the comments below!
Till next time,