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Mindful Exercise


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Some days back, I was reading about cortisol, the stress hormone. The article described the effects of Corisol on body. While reading through the symptoms of elevated cortisol in the body, like tension in muscles, I realized that I may be experiencing some of those symptoms. According to the article, the chronic elevation of cortisol was not good.

I often go the the gym and when I go, I have some set goal, like I am going to run x miles in y minutes. On some days I come out feeling really good and refreshed. On some days I come out feeling more tense and stressed. The article had mentioned that sometimes streneous exercise increases cortisol in the body. I bet that was happening to me.

I decided to set a new goal, not to run a particular distance in particular time, or to life certain weight, or to burn certain number of calories. I was going to target reduction in cortisol. I was going to target that relaxed and energized feeling as a goal itself. Only restriction I would put on myself was that I would stay at the gym for an hour and I had to keep moving even if it meant gentle movement.

First thing I had to do was to be more aware of my body. I had to pay close attention on what feels good in the moment. The moment I noticed the wave of stressed feeling,  I would turn down the speed, or turn down the resistance level, or reduce the amount of weights.

As I focused, indeed I started relishing in that good feeling. There was often a wave of good feeling  when I pushed the weights.  Or liberating feeling when my legs automatically started to run fast at times. I found that making big muscles exercise was often more relaxing.

Result – In last few weeks, there were times I ran/walked only three and half miles in an hour. There were times when I lifted light weights. There were times I spent good amount of time stretching. There were few times when I worked out really hard because I had lot of energy. So all those goals were all over the place.

But my gym attendance record has phenomenally improved. I am making almost all seven days to the gym, unlike three or four days in the past. Most definitely I burned more calories or made more movements than I would if I were targeting calories or distance. My muscles remember the good feeling and as the evening nears, I look forward to making it to the gym. Exercise has become a great  de-stressing and unwinding activity for me. The restriction of making myself spend one hour there does not feel like a restriction at all.

Looks like paying attention to what the body is telling you pays off.

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3 Responses

  1. Wonderful perception.
    Im just back from the gym after a week long hiatus.
    And I was intuitively thinking that punishing oneself is not cool at all.
    You blog just reinforced my perception.

  2. They say that if you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life. I find that it is very applicable to working out. The trick is to find something you really like – be it a specific type of exercise, a goal based approach or a variety of activities you are free to choose from as you wish. If your gym offers group fitness classes, I would encourage you to try them as well, especially the ones you would not normally select – you never know what you’d find. Your post comes at an opportune time, as I am coming back to the gym after a (forced) 6 week hiatus. It’s not easy to start again but there is no doubt in my mind that I will get back to daily exercise. I just love it too much to stop 🙂

  3. […] my previous post on mindful exercise, I described how I shifted the goal of my exercise from a number of calories or distance to good […]

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