Everywhere you look these days, it seems like health pros are telling you to meditate because of its mind-body benefits (it helps you deal with stress better and can prevent overeating, for starters). But there’s one problem: Who’s got the time? Most of us are only able to carve out an hour—sometimes less—to work out, much less sit in a room quietly doing nothing.
So we usually take a pass. That’s about to change, now that the pros have figured out new ways to incorporate the practice into your daily fitness routine. Read on for five reasons to get started, and say hello to a better sweat session.
It Can Keep You Focused on Your Workout
Ever find yourself halfway through a routine, only to realize you have no idea what moves you’ve been pulling for the last five minutes? Incorporating meditation into your actual workout—like Holly Rilinger, master trainer for Nike and Flywheel, does in her HIIT-style class, LIFTED—can keep you in the moment, instead of thinking about that big work presentation. “When you go into any workout, you have a lot of work and family things going on, and it’s tough to leave that at the door,” she says.
But rather than taking the time to meditate before your routine, Rilinger blends it between tough exercise segments, and bookends the class with dedicated, five-minute guided meditations. The class is set to music that’s curated to keep you in tune with how your mind and body are feeling (rather than the traditional “go, go, go” vibe you find in most HIIT classes with pumped-up club music).
Rilinger alternates between tough strength training moves—think Russian twists, pulsing lunges, and planks—and more yoga-centric exercises, like a wild thing, to bring you back to your center. “It’s OK if your mind starts to wander, that’s normal no matter when or how you meditate, but bringing you back to the present, to the room you’re in and how you’re feeling with each movement, helps you move with an intention for every part of the high-intensity training. It makes the most of your time and gives you a great workout.”
It Teaches You When to Push Harder…and When to Back Off
Whenever you hear athletes talk about being “in the zone,” that’s meditation, says Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight. “[It’s] the place you reach where you’re focused and present,” she says. “And it’s an important component of any workout, because it makes you aware of when you’re able to push harder and when you need to back off.
” It’s that latter part that’s especially intriguing, says Cruikshank, because exhaustion can often be misinterpreted as laziness or a lack of willpower. But being in tune with your body—or feeling in the zone, with various outside factors blocked out—helps you recognize the difference. “Meditation allows us to be an unbiased observer to see things more clearly, so you can work toward a healthy body and push to reach your athletic goals.”
It Can Help Prevent Injury
Rilinger’s class is all about mindful movement, which, when it’s boiled down to the basics, is essentially what meditation is—a focus on being present and living in the moment, she says. Rather than blazing through move after move, trying to squeeze in as many reps as possible, Rilinger says moving with that mindfulness helps slow things down so you can perform the exercise with proper form throughout—thus preventing injury.
“I’d rather see you complete 10 reps of an exercise properly than race through 20 with bad form,” she says. It’s a tough habit to break though, so Rilinger uses music to guide people. “People inherently want to move to the rhythm of the beat in a workout class, so I’ll choose songs that bring the pace down a bit so they can really dig deep into the move I’m prescribing.
It Helps You Focus on Your Breathing
You’d think breathing would come naturally, especially during a workout when your muscles are being deprived of oxygen. But it’s surprising how many people breathe incorrectly–or forget to breathe, period—as a routine progresses, says Cruikshank. Becoming aware of your breath (noticing when you’re inhaling and when you’re exhaling, and how deep or shallow you’re breathing) can get you through a tough set.
Take overhead presses, for example. Holding your breath as the reps start to feel tougher is a typical default maneuver for someone who isn’t, well, meditating, and many don’t even realize they’re doing it until the instructor points it out, she explains. But focusing on a steady, rhythmic inhale and exhale as you perform the exercise helps keep your pace up because you’re continuously providing oxygen to the muscles, she explains.
It Can Get You Through the Tough Stuff
When you’re struggling to push through the last painful miles of a marathon, it can be tough to keep your head in the game. But that’s exactly where it needs to be to achieve your goal, and both Rilinger and Cruikshank say common meditation techniques can get you there. Rilinger suggests turning to mantras—”What I want overall is more important than what I want right now” and “Trade comfort in for change” are two of her faves. Cruikshank, on the other hand, suggests a counting exercise.
“Try to sink into a steady rhythm by simply counting your breath until you get to 10, and then start over,” she suggests. “Keep repeating it as much as you need to—it’s an exercise often used in meditation as a way to keep the mind present.” And if counting your breath isn’t working, try counting something else—light posts, mailboxes, number of signs that reference Ryan Gosling—it all works as long as it helps keep your brain game on point, instead of letting it go to a dark place that wants to give up.