THE POWER OF MINDFULNESS: 4 ESSENTIAL HABITS AND PRACTICES

April 28, 2016 3:59 pm

– Jonathan Arevalo

I recently became a CrossFit Coach because of the enduring lessons that CrossFit has taught me about fitness—and life. I want to introduce fitness to those that have been sedentary and are interested in leading healthier lives (and especially those who don’t know how to start). I also want to help others move better and become stronger athletes, whether it’s through CrossFit, rock climbing, or any other sport they are passionate about.

I also recently started studying meditation and mindfulness because of how the benefits have touched every aspect of my life. It’s connected my mind with my body, and it’s linked my appreciation (for people and their kindness) with my intentions and motivations. I’m learning more and more about myself and how to be kinder to myself, which in turn leads to being kinder to others. I want to share this with the world.

My CrossFit journey started four years ago. It changed my lifestyle: CrossFit took me away from the recurring binge drinking and ‘blackout’ weekends, the terrible eating habits, and the daily lazy living. It took me away from my inconsistent gym habits and inspired an active, fit lifestyle.

My mindful and meditation journey started one year ago. This too has changed my life in drastic and measurable ways: mindfulness and meditation has released me from the constant anger and stress, the passive aggressiveness, and the judgment I held for others and myself. I’ve become more empathetic.

However, it’s only recently – I’d say the beginning of this year – that I’ve started to explore the connection between mindfulness and fitness. Back in January, I visited Thailand for a yoga retreat. During my yoga practice, I felt a balance when I moved and was deliberately mindful. There was synchrony. I felt a connection between my mind, body, breath, and movement (Yogi’s are probably reading this and thinking “well, duh.”).

That’s when I thought: “What if athletes and CrossFitters were deliberately mindful, before and after training? Wouldn’t it improve performance? Wouldn’t it make for a better athlete?”

There are many articles and studies that speak on the benefits of implementing mindfulness in fitness activity and training. It’s not the latest and greatest discovery. Mindfulness involves living in the present moment. A very basic definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is  “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”. Being a top athlete and the best “fitness-you” is utilizing your strengths and skills while you live “in the zone”, which leads to outperforming yourself and others. There’s a strong correlation between mindfulness and achievements in fitness.

I recently read the book “The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance” by George Mumford. In addition to reminding me why mindfulness is so important, the book has taught me more about the synergy between mind and body and the incredible benefits and values that synergy brings to athletes.

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“There’s no denying that strength and skill are key factors in performance. But many players have extraordinary strength and skill. The real key to high performance and tapping into flow is the ability to channel these strengths and skills fully in the present moment. That starts in your mind.” – George Mumford in “The Mindful Athlete…”

Have you ever left a workout angry and upset (usually at yourself) for missing a rep, taking forever to complete a workout, or not performing like you think you should have? Maybe you took your frustration out on your coach or your friends, during and after the workout, who were simply there trying to help you out?

We’ve all been there. We’re humans. But really, chances are there was also a lack of mindfulness at play.

Cultivating mindfulness isn’t easy, especially in a big city. It’s as easy as going to the gym for the first time and leaving your first training session with a set of six-pack abs. Mindfulness and fitness require patience, persistence, and practice.

As I continue to deepen my mindful practices and as I begin to pursue meditation teacher training, I’ve developed daily habits and routines that enable the synergy between mind and body that George Mumford describes. These habits and routines continue to help me be kinder to myself, focus more acutely, attack workouts more effectively, and make me a better athlete everyday. Small steps and simple practices go a very long way.

The following are 4 simple, yet beneficial mindful habits and practices that have made me a better athlete and a better person:

1.  Meditation

Meditation stems back many years in Buddhist traditions. However, secular meditation practice gained popularity and went mainstream in American culture not very long ago.

In its simplest definition: meditation is practicing mindfulness. I’ve also learned that meditation can dig deeper than just learning how to be more mindful. You discover how to be kinder to yourself and others, and you begin to tap into answers for questions such as “Who am I?” and “How can I better serve others?”. Meditation is a powerful way to cultivate mindfulness.

Meditation can be an involved journey. However, meditation does not have to be spiritual. It’s now becoming easier to practice meditation through more practical mediums. And what busy New Yorker doesn’t love practical?

A couple of great mediums for practicing meditation are mobile apps and meditation studios, such as the following:

 Mobile Apps – such as Headspace (headspace.com)

I started learning about meditation through the “Headspace” app (headspace.com). You can try it for free for 10 days. Just 10 minutes a day for 10 days. Do it first thing in the morning, or at lunch time. The app allows you to set reminders and notifications, so it can help you remain on top of it.

Meditation Studios – such as MNDFL

As for meditation studios, there are several great locations across the city. For instance, MNDFL (mndflmeditation.com) is one of the newest meditation studios in NYC, where expert teachers from a variety of traditions offer simple techniques.

Often times when I suggest meditation, I hear responses like “I don’t have time for that”. Meditating for as little as 5 minutes a day reaps benefits. Give it a try. After taking 5 minutes to like yourself versus taking 5 minutes scrolling photos Instagram, I’m sure your body will thank you.

2. Morning Ritual: 5 Breathes, 3 Gratitudes, 1 Smile, 1 Intention

Morning rituals are important.

You warm up and mobilize prior to a workout at the gym, right? So consider this: consider your 14 to 16-hour day is one long workout. It’s one long workout that consists of eating, maintaining motivation to get tasks done and goals completed, interacting with hundreds of people, completing long to-do lists, facing emotional and physical up’s and down’s, and getting to the gym to complete your training. Just to name a couple things in a typical day. It’s one LONG workout, huh?

So why wouldn’t you “warm-up and mobilize” mentally for your day, instead of rushing into the demanding workout ahead of you?

I love learning about morning rituals, and adjusting and readjusting my own. One simple practice that I learned from a meditation teacher at MNDFL, Ralph De La Rosa, is the following 4-step practice:

Before getting out of bed (you can do it laying down or while sitting up at the side of your bed), complete the following in sequential order:

1.     Completely exhale everything, then take 5 deep breathes (deep inhalations and deep exhalations).

2.     Express 3-5 gratitude’s. They can be as simple as being grateful for the alarm that woke you up.

3.     Smile. And if it’s difficult to smile, just smile anyway (smile at the fact that you can’t smile!)

4.     Set an intention. Your intention can be for the day, or it can be the intention you are setting for your morning meditation practice. Your intention can be simple, but make it deliberate.

This simple practice can take less than 5 minutes, and it properly “warms up and mobilizes” your mind and body for the dayahead.

3. Pre-workout of choice: 1 Deep Breath & “You Got This”

Who doesn’t like a good pre-workout ritual? Whether it’s a shot of ginger, some caffeine or a scoop of your favorite pre-workout supplement, it’s exciting to partake on this pre-workout ritual. You turn on your favorite workout tunes, such as Metallica, AC/DC, Tiesto, or Drake, to get you hyped. You see your friends and workout partners, and you chat about the workout ahead of you. You strategize. You talk about your goals. You’re preparing for your training session. You’re preparing for a killer workout.

A pretty typical scenario. You’re showing appreciation for your pre-workout ritual. After all, it’s helped you through some of the toughest training sessions. It’s prepared you for the worst workouts in the past.

But how often are “you” a part of your pre-workout ritual? As part of your pre-workout rituals, how often do you truly acknowledge that YOU have pushed YOURSELF through YOUR toughest workouts before, and that the workout ahead of you is something that you’re very capable of taking on?

Before you put yourself through physical fitness torment – before every workout, before a tough lift or heavy rep, or before continuing what you think is the longest AMRAP of your life – try the following:

1.     Close your eyes.

2.     Take one deep breathe: deep inhalation, pause, deep exhalation, pause.

3.     Tell yourself “You got this.”

Then get after it.

4. High-Fives

After you complete a workout, high-five as many people as possible. High-five your friends, the people you worked out with in your group class, your workout partner. High-five a stranger. If you’re alone at the gym, Snapchat a high-five to your friends! And if you prefer high-five alternatives: elbow bump or chest bumps perfectly fine.

Simply put: acknowledge your accomplishment and share it with the community around you. You accomplished something, whether you think you achieved a goal or not. Put an action to that accomplishment, such as the popular post-workout high-five. And share that action with your friends and family.

When you achieve something and you set an action to it, it resonates. When you share that action with your community, it becomes more meaningful. It’s easier to remember what you achieved and what you learned from it. It’s easier to be more mindful with your accomplishment. You always learn something from your achievements, and acknowledging them mindfully is what fosters growth and better performance.

Now that I’ve shared 4 of my favorite mindful habits and practices, I’d love to hear back from you: how do you practice mindfulness? And how has it helped you in fitness? Let me know your thoughts on Facebook and Instagram!

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Check me out on Instagram: @arevalojs

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