Written by Cameron Marr, Physiotherapist
By adding mindfulness to your physical exercise routine, you can multiply the benefits. Mindfulness just means 'exclusive attention'. So for example, to be mindful of your breath means that your attention would register only the breath, nothing else (exclusive). The mind is then 'full' of the single focus of your attention (the breath). To practice this, first choose an object to attend to. Breath is just one possibility; you could also use a body part that you're exercising, or the pain itself. Using your pain as the object of attention is quite difficult, but it also yields the most benefits.
Using pain as an example: As you exercise, attend to the physical sensation of pain in a small area. If the painful area is large, just narrow your focus to the most painful spot. Rest your attention very gently on the physical sensations (burning, aching, piercing, etc.). Your focus should be exclusive but not forced. Gentle, exclusive attention to the physical sensations. Refrain from labelling or judging the pain in any way. This is the most important skill to develop, and the most difficult. To assist in maintaining a non-judgemental attitude towards pain, decide that you will allow the painful sensation to be as strong as it needs to be without you trying to escape or control it. Just let it hurt - easy to say! If you use pain as the object of your mindfulness, start with a short burst - maybe 10 seconds at a time. If you use the breath or a non-painful body part, you will be able maintain your attention much longer before needing a rest.
Aim for quality over quantity. You will achieve greater results with 10 seconds of quality mindfulness than 10 minutes of poor quality mindfulness.
When your attention needs a rest, either let your mind drift for a while, or switch to a more pleasant sensation. You can keep exercising as you rest your attention.
At the completion of your exercise session, make a note of how you feel. If you found mindfulness helped ease your symptoms, make it a part of every session.
For specific advice on how to use these techniques with your exercise routine contact our Physiotherapists.