Creating a simple routine through exercise has the power to help us find balance and wellbeing, as well as fulfillment and energy in both mind and body. Right now however, we might find this difficult because everyday life has changed hugely due to a health pandemic that the majority of us never expected. We are constantly searching for a bit of control during this period, where a lot of control has been taken from us – we don’t know what’s next, the rules are constantly changing, and it’s out of our hands. But one thing that is in our hands, is our daily routine and incorporating exercise into it on a daily basis, proven to release feel good endorphins and relieve stress. And when it comes down to it, physical and mental wellbeing has never been so essential at such a testing time.
While we don’t know what is next with COVID-19, and there is little we can personally do about it, I’ve found mindfulness has really helped me accept that lack of control, and concentrate less on the uncertain future and more on enjoying the moment in front of me.
But, just like playing an instrument, or speaking a second language, it takes practice, and as someone who often finds it diccicult to sit still and meditate, I’ve found exercise is a fantastic tool for cultivating mindful awareness as an anchor to constantly bring yourself back to the present moment. So, could making exercise a staple part of your day not only help you get fitter and healthier, but also help you bring more awareness to the rest of your day, whether working from home, looking after your children or caring for an elderly relative, and help you deal with the difficulties we encounter there?
Exercise has always been my go-to tool when worrying about the past or the future; instead ensuring I’m right here, right now. Often yoga works. A yoga instructor (in-person or online) constantly brings us back to our breath. Awareness of breath means we are present – not worrying about future problems or past regrets. But the tool of our breath isn’t only available to us to use during yoga. I remind the people I coach to breath and count out loud or in their heads. If I am instructing a HIIT session I will ensure that the 1 minute rest is spent in deep relaxation, breathing deep into the belly, through the diaphragm. So, why not take this into your home routine? Practicing mindfulness around the breath during excercise, whether running, swimming, walking or yoga, can help us practice being in the moment with discomfort – the burn in our legs we feel when running up a hill, or the shake of our arms in downward dog. It is that awareness of and willingness to be with discomfort which helps us begin to accept things as they are, in the present moment, which is particulalry helpful right now! In life pre-coronavirus, I would sit on the tube every day or in traffic through central London, and use the same conscious breath to anchor myself into the present moment. Currently, it isn’t the tube or traffic that could be causing us discomfort and stress but maybe a living situation, a work or financial issue, or loved one that you are finding it hard to relate to at this time. A simple return to conscious/mindful breath can help.
So in this way, exercise doesn’t need to be just about fitness, but can be about creating a deeper connection to breath, connecting body with mind. Attention to breath can often escape the mind-chatter of discomfort during exercise. As we take our attention to our breath and away from the physical discomfort we feel during exercise, we move away from the limiting narrative in our mind that the discomfort creates. In this way, we can use exercise to practice how to accept and embrace discomfort, in a safe space. Connecting to the breath during exercise is a practical tool that we can then weave into our everyday life outside of training; the discomfort of a work situation where adrenaline and cortisol levels are high can be balanced, for example. Just like you have managed to balance the negative thoughts of “I can’t do this” during a workout, learning to accept, manage and ‘be with’ the physical discomfort during exercise allows us to, in turn, transfer the skills we learn there, to where it matters most – everyday life; tackling the discomfort we feel from our lack of control in our current situation.
Follow James on instagram at @JamesCFarrar.