What Exercise Teaches Us

TrailRunning

When we are forced to focus, we actually clear and calm our minds, which is the fundamental discipline of meditation. So, when this ‘focus’ happens during exercise, whether you realize it or not, you are actually experiencing moments of meditation. And, as documented by hundreds of books, experts and web sources, meditation is VERY healthy (link to one of the many documented meditation benefits given below).   Many sports including cycling, trail running, mountain biking, water skiing, snow skiing, snowboarding, surfing (and others) are ways that we calm our minds without even trying. Here’s why… The intensity of these sports and our desire to keep ourselves safe during these sports forces us to focus on exactly what we’re doing in that moment. It’s actually invigorating and very similar to meditating. Consider generally uncomfortable and exerting sports like running (trail or long distance) and cycling (mountain or road). Even though these exercises can be painful and difficult, people continue to do them and many would do them more often if they had the time. In fact, the more people do these exercises, the more they want to do them, despite many of the exercises being really physically uncomfortable and exerting. So, why do people continue to do these types of exercises so habitually? What is the allure? In addition to the health benefit of the exercise (and things like “runners’ high” and pretty surroundings), these exercises force us to calm our minds and be totally in the present. In doing this, we are actually gaining the benefits of meditation. The concept and understanding of being present is definitely a Smarter Sooner strategy. Exercise shows us how to calm our minds and we can learn a lot from this.

Exercises that require total focus creates a Zen mind experience, much like meditation, which is very energizing and healthy. This Zen / calm / focused mental state during intense exercise is, among other things, something that encourages the repetitive nature of specific sports or exercises. It makes them oddly addictive. It’s like an ingredient in something you eat or drink that you can’t really taste but is one of the main things that makes you want more of that food/drink (perhaps like caffeine in coffee). Consider trail running or even hiking. As you run/ walk on a mountain trail up and down hills, stepping in between roots, rocks and uneven ground, you are forced to look at the ground a few feet ahead of you the entire time. If you get distracted and let your mind wonder, you risk twisting an ankle, falling, etc. Because of this, you stay focused and whether you realize it or not, you are 100% “in the NOW” (as author Eckhart Tolle calls it). This is a calm, meditative state and is very healthy, rejuvenating and energizing. The same applies to other focused activities and exercises.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of the focus that I’m forced to have during exercise and how good that feels. Exercise literally clears my head and I am acutely aware of how this calms me. And, as I’ve experienced the benefits of this focused state during exercise, I’ve tried to extend that same focus and calm mind at other times (having nothing to do with exercise) at other times during the day. Focusing and calming my mind, even for minutes at a time during the day, when driving, before sleeping or when waking up in the morning has been uplifting and invigorating. This focus is a form of meditation and I am getting the benefit of this more often than ever. Had I been a bit Smarter Sooner (earlier in life), I would have been doing this exact thing a lot longer (and gotten better at it). Try it for yourself. It’s so simple and provides such healthy calming benefits. It’s one of those things that is small and easy to do, but has a disproportionately large impact (which makes it very efficient!).

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(One of the many links to the Benefits of Meditation: LiveAndDare.com/benefits-of-meditation/)

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