Meditation is one of the most important pieces of our daily lives because it keeps us grounded, stress-free, and energized. But the unfortunate truth is that it’s often completely ignored and not performed, because people never try it in the first place to truly understand and become a believer.
Most of us think of meditation as silent reflection in a cross-legged, seated position, or with movement and breath by practicing yoga. But meditation can come in many forms, some less conventional and obvious than others.
One of those less obvious styles of meditation, and my personal favorite, comes in the form of lifting weights.
Lifting weights can have an extremely meditative quality, so long as you “practice” correctly. And by doing so, it can help you become stronger with each and every set.
So if you’re stressed, things are chaotic, or you just feel out of it, here’s how to create a sense of peace and calmness during your next workout that will translate into better focus and strength for the duration of your training session.
Slow down and breathe.
Before you even touch a weight in the gym, you need to slow things down and prepare your body for intense physiological stress. So much of our day is comprised of mental stress and busyness that when we get into the gym, we often don’t stop this momentum and instead rush right into things, never taking the time to slow down and switch gears.
So sit down or stand up somewhere, you can even have your headphones in with soft music if you want, and clear your mind while breathing as deep as you can. All the way in and all the way out. Do this for a good minute or two.
This alone will help you calm you down and create focus for your workout. We so often don’t take the time to take deep, energetic breaths, which means less oxygen for our muscles. This can also create fatigue before you’ve finished your workout. If you breathe energetically before your workout (and carry that through your entire workout in between sets) you’ll recover more quickly and feel stronger and more focused.
Stretch your whole body before and after.
The next thing to do after you breathe and focus up is to stretch your entire body. There’s a lot of talk now-a-days about how you shouldn’t stretch before exercise, but the real truth is that you should absolutely warm up before exercising, which may or may not come in the form of static stretching, depending on your level of tightness.
Warming up for lifting could mean riding the bike for a few minutes before squatting, but it can also mean warming up with the actual movement itself. So instead of getting right into your heavy sets, do 4 or 5 sets with very light weights to prepare your body for the lift and to warm your muscles up.
If you’re like myself, though, you may also want to perform a few static stretches to get you loosened up. And if you’re doing a leg day, don’t just stretch your legs. Stretch your whole body. This will help increase flexibility and improve your form for every movement. For example, did you know that shoulder tightness is linked to lower back pain and poor form while squatting?
What this does is prepare your body for what is about to come. Listen to what feels tight and what needs to be stretched, and become more mindful of the signs and signals your body is sending you. This will allow you to focus on what your body wants and needs once you truly begin lifting. Stretching (like yoga) is a form of meditation in and of itself, so starting your training session with mindful warm ups creates a mind and body connection that will carry throughout the rest of your workout, and will help you cool down and reflect once you’re done.
Listen to music.
Music is one of the best ways to get yourself in the zone and ensure that your mind is clear. Putting on a great gym playlist lets your mind know that you’re ready to lift and helps energize your body. It’s also best when you create a playlist specifically for the gym and not one that you already use elsewhere. When you go into your phone and see “Workout Playlist”, you are telling yourself that there is a direct purpose for your music, which is to get you energized and excited for your lift. Music will also help you concentrate and keep stressful thoughts out of your mind from your day before or your day ahead, allowing for your workout to be much more meditative.
Reflect on each and every set.
The final tip I have is to really take the time to reflect on each and every rep and set you perform in the gym. Going through the motions of exercising and mindlessly moving weights and changing up exercises prevents you from quality strength gains and increases your risk of injury, it also allows you to think about other aspects of your day or life that’s not meant for the gym.
When you go to the gym, you’re there to put in work – to become a stronger and healthier individual. With that in mind, you must take the time in between each set to analyze and think about how you could improve each and every set to follow. Was the weight too heavy? Could you have had better range of motion? Etc.
Being focused and driven in the gym is necessary to live a healthier life – going through the motions will prevent you from growing.
Reflecting also means resting, breathing, and listening to your body. Taking mindful deep breaths, feeling what might be aching or fatiguing, and paying attention to all of the signs and signals your body sends between sets (both good and bad). Doing this connects yourself to your body, linking your mind and your physical presence. This connection creates an extremely meditative experience that allows you to focus on what your body wants and needs in an effort to become a stronger and healthier individual.
Take these steps and incorporate them into your gym session when you are feeling particularly hazy and unfocused. Clarity and calmness in your mind throughout your workout session can allow you to channel energy in new and previously untapped ways, and will also give you a much-needed form of meditation.
You don’t have to chant “om” in complete darkness to meditate. Listening to your body and clearing your mind are aspects of any style and form of meditation, and lifting is no exception.
I wish you all clear and focused minds for your next lifting session, and a strong, healthy, and happy life thereafter.