Article Written by Jessica Thiefels
“Mindfulness” is a buzzword we can’t seem to ignore any longer because it’s more than just a passing trend. In fact, this concept is rooted in ancient Eastern customs and culture and, when practiced regularly, can have a wide variety of holistic benefits that strengthen the mind, body and spirit.
Greater Good Magazine defines this term as “moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.” This mental exercise grounds us in the present, enables us to observe our inner selves without judgment, and keeps our focus off the “white noise” of this distracted, hyper-frenetic world.
I know what you’re thinking: “But I can’t just sit still for 20 minutes; I’ve tried meditation, I just can’t do it.” The good news is you don’t have to sit still to reap the benefits of mindfulness. If you want to experience more balance and peace in your own life, these sports are ideal for practicing mindfulness and getting a workout at the same time.
Cycling engages the mind-body connection in several capacities, from the physical act of steering and pedaling to the mental drill of pushing through challenges, finding your pace and anticipating the route ahead.
“Every aspect of cycling can become a meditation,” suggests Nick Moore, author of Mindful Thoughts for Cyclists. He explains that preparing for a ride “has its own rituals that switch us unconsciously from civilian to cyclist—a mental shift of gears in which we transition from one energy state to another, from the potential to the kinetic.” And after, “giving the bike a rub-down, re-lube and once-over is a chance to decompress and gather our thoughts.”
Take your cycling outside for even greater mental health benefits. If you can only cycle in a gym or your home, stay in tune with your body and your breathing to maintain mindfulness.
The elements of competition and self-awareness that are prevalent in tennis work to keep your attention engaged in the action and energy of the court rather than your mind. According to a discipline known as Mindfulness-Based Tennis Psychology, this practice “enhances overall performance by increasing an athlete’s ability to function ‘in the zone,’ by sharpening concentration” to hone both “accuracy and precision.”
The Huffington Post also reports that tennis champion Novak Djokovic uses mindfulness in this tennis to release self-doubt, anger and worry, a skill he deems “just as important as physical training.”
You can play tennis alone against a wall, or with a partner; in either case, you may not have to try very hard to maintain mindfulness in this game. The game will keep you naturally focused on breath and movement.
Running has a way of giving you clarity and focus as you move to the rhythm of your footfalls and feel the deepness of your breath. That may be why 22 percent of runners said they started running as a natural form of stress-relief, according to a 2017 runners poll by Fit2Run.
This type of movement leaves room for “reflection and exploration,” suggests Runner’s World, making it the perfect way to practice active mindfulness. Tune into the repetitive motion that engages both the upper- and lower-body and listen to your feet as they strike the ground. Take note of how that feels, as your foot flows from heel to toe and back into the air again.
This less popular sport is rooted in the “kyudo” tradition of samurai warriors and has been described as a “moving meditation” to synchronize and bring about a sense of equilibrium to a person’s inner world. “Kyudo [which means ‘way of the bow’] is infused with philosophical influences…making it a ritualistic practice,” explains Archery360.
This unique form of archery eliminates all outside diversions to “symbolize leaving your worries at the door.” Instead, you enter the practice range, uninhibited from stressors with a clarity of “pure heart and mind.” The precision needed to align your stance, engage your isometric muscles, then fixate on the target is both an intuitive and immersive experience.
To enjoy this active meditation, look for a local archery school or class, which you may be able to find at a local college or recreation center.
The breathing sequence of “inhale, exhale, lift, hold, pause and repeat” is a powerful way to activate active meditation during your workout. Tuning into yourself in the weight room, finding stillness in the sound of barbells making contact with a metal rack or the feel of your biceps protruding under a heavy mass, boosts strength, both mental and physical.
Ayurveda expert Larissa Carlson suggests that by noticing the “sensation of muscles contracting and releasing, the roughness of your skin against the weight or the sweat trickling down your back,” it’s possible to achieve a posture she calls “meditation in motion.”
Start Moving Mindfully
Find time for these activities in your regular fitness routine—but don’t expect mindfulness to come naturally. Tune into your breath, make note of how your muscles are feeling, and connect breath with movement as much as possible. Soon, this mindful active state will come naturally, and you’ll leave very workout feeling that familiar post-yoga bliss that comes with focusing on breath and our bodies.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than ten years and is currently a full-time writer, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition specialist. She’s also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Honest Body Fitness, an online health magazine for women who are fed up with being told how to look and how to get there, yet still don’t feel like enough. She’s written for Shape, Reader’s Digest, AARP, Snap Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and more. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for health articles, workouts tips and more.