How to get mindfully fit
“Mindfulness relieves you from unnecessary pain, anxiousness, it improves your ability to fall asleep at night, it calms your nervous system, it reverses the effects of stress in the body and when you start reversing that you start feeling good and you feel like you have more energy,”
Whether you’re a mindful novice or master, being more present has health benefits for both your mental and physical health. We chat to Aquanation yoga instructor Natja Wunch and BODYBALANCE and Meditation instructor Kathy Jerin about how you can become mindfully fit.
What does it mean to be mindful?
If you’re new to the world of mindfulness and it seems a little out of your comfort zone don’t stress, it’s super simple.
“Mindfulness is a simple pacing of yourself where you’re not trying to change anything, you’re trying to capture awareness of what’s present,” explains Jerin.
In more practical terms, Jerin says essentially, you’re tapping into the framework of your senses: “what your eyes are seeing, what your ears are hearing, what your tongue is tasting, what your nose is smelling, what your body is feeling or touching and what thoughts are present at the time.”
And although you might feel like having your imagination take you on a wild adventure, both Wunch and Jerin say mindfulness is less about escapism and more about bringing your brain back into the present and forgetting about all the distractions (because let’s face it, life keeps our brains busy). Wunch also describes mindfulness as the perfect opportunity to do a little self-study and learn about yourself.
Do you need to block out time to be mindful?
Although not opposed to a lunchtime zen sesh (and neither are we frankly), Wunch and Jerin say being mindful is actually pretty simple and you don’t have to allocate time to do it.
Wunch acknowledges that there are some ideal times (first thing in the morning or just before you hit the hay) but really “any practice is good at any time of the day.”
And if you’ve heard on the grapevine that practicing mindfulness on an empty stomach is best, which Wunch says is probably due to the stomach drawing a lot of energy away from your brain, any quiet moment is the perfect mindfulness moment.
“If your first quiet moment is after you’ve had breakfast, take the time to cease that opportunity,” Wunch says encouragingly.
If you’re a new kid on the mindfulness block here’s how to fit in with the crew:
Mindfulness novice? Don’t worry, Wunch and Jerin have some super easy tips to follow. For Jerin, it’s all about finding a purpose.
“If you’re a beginner bring some structure to it, you don’t need to separate yourself from your daily tasks, incorporate it into your daily routine like when you’re having a cup of tea or having breakfast.”
Jerin says that by practicing it while doing something you’re already doing, mindfulness will easily become habitual. She uses the example of everyone’s favourite task (not), doing the dishes.
“When you’re doing the dishes think about the sound of the water running through the tap, how the dishwashing liquid suds feel when you brush your hands through them, the temperature of the water, how your feet feel while you’re standing up.”
Can you be mindful while you exercise?
Absolutely! Yoga is a great way to learn how to incorporate mindfulness into fitness.
“One of the aspects of yoga is to pause and reflect while you’re doing a movement. You acknowledge the way you’re feeling, you engage in your muscle groups and lengthen them,” explains Wunch.
She adds that this practice can be brought into any type of workout and Jerin agrees.
“Practicing mindfulness while exercising is ideal, it’s like exercising your mind while you’re doing physical exercise.”
The mindfulness guru uses the example of a BODYPUMP class and you’re up to track six (yep, we feel your pain) and you’re not sure if it’s your body or your mind that wants to stop.
“You might be pushing yourself and your thoughts are saying I’m giving up, I can’t go on, it’s in that moment with a mindful practice you can say to yourself: okay how does my body feel right now?” says Jerin.
She advises that in that moment, “you can take a mindful breath, calm your thoughts for a moment so you can push through and have a little more endurance by shifting your thinking.”
Or if you’re a bit of a cardio junkie and looking for that runners high, Jerin uses the example of reaching that point on your run where you feel like your body is giving up. Here she recommends taking a full breath in to “give your body more oxygen, more fuel, more physical power and you’ll build your resilience that way.
There’s an additional benefit that Wunch points out too.
“Not only does it help you push yourself further, it can also indicate to you when you actually do need to stop, so it can act as injury prevention potentially as well.”
How does it benefit your wellbeing?
How does it benefit your wellbeing you ask? How much time have you got? Practicing mindfulness has like a gazillion benefits.
“It relieves you from unnecessary pain, anxiousness, it improves your ability to fall asleep at night, it calms your nervous system, it reverses the effects of stress in the body and when you start reversing that you start feeling good and you feel like you have more energy,” Jerin cheers.
Also, there’s no expiry date on the pros either. As Jerin points out, “this practice keeps evolving and it doesn’t stop, your self-esteem can improve, your ways of communicating with others is improved because you’re actively listening and become more empathetic because you’re more sensitive to the needs of others, it opens you up to passion, it opens you up to empathy and it opens up to conflict resolution.”
Let’s put this into practice
If you’re keen to give it a go, Jerin recommends starting with 25-minutes and breaking down what’s in front of you into minor details and asking yourself:
- What are you hearing?
- What smells can you smell?
- What can you see?
- What can your body feel or what is it touching?
- What can you taste?
Jerin suggests you “start engaging different parts of your brain and you begin to get distinct engagement of the mind through all five senses and that’s where it becomes an exercise.”
She adds there’s no real right way to be mindful and it’s very individual and can be as simple as one deep breath.
Also, if you don’t get the hang of it straight away don’t worry. Jerin says it’s totally fine if you struggle. “
“It’s okay if you struggle, you’re learning a new skill and conditioning your thinking, but remember your perception that you’re struggling might be what’s stopping you, so be okay with that initial struggle cause accepting it will help you move past it and develop your mindfulness further.”
Don’t be afraid to either. Wunch recommends getting a teacher, asking a friend or even using an app if you’re having trouble.