When it comes to exercise, stop trying so hard

Have you ever tried to fly a kite? Trying to get it up in the air can be a lot of work. You just cannot control the wind. When you allow the wind to take it, though, the kite effortlessly sails upward. It’s like that with Recharge mode. The more you try to get there, the more you stay in Alarm mode.  

Several years ago I attended a talk by Dr. Jud Brewer. He did a meditation called Noting Practice, where he invited us to just notice different areas of our body. When it was done, he asked, “How do you feel?” Everyone said, “Relaxed” and you could feel it in the room. He said, “Isn’t that amazing, I never told you to relax”. That moment stuck with me because it was so simple yet so powerful.  

Recharge mode is your natural state. Your body and mind want to be there, because that is where it functions best. When you allow the moment to take hold of your attention, without trying to control it, you sail effortlessly into greater calm.  

When exercise is used to control the body—trying to burn calories, trying to push through pain and discomfort, trying to get enough steps—the body stays in Alarm mode. In Alarm mode, the body holds on to excess fat in case of an emergency, keeps pain signals higher to let you know there is a problem, and puts less energy into defending against illness.1, 2.  Isn’t that ironic?  All that trying to get the healthy results you want from exercise actually makes it harder for your body to give them to you. 

Studies show that mindfulness reduces food cravings, lowers pain levels, and improves health.3, 4, 5 It does this by training the brain to not control, but just notice, with an open mind and kind mindset. However, when you are carrying extra weight, or in pain, or are worried about your health, ignoring your body or using your mind to overcome your body seems like the way out. Distraction and mental toughness are two tools commonly used to get through exercise in order to get results, be healthier, and feel better. This takes a lot of effort, however, and perpetuates Alarm mode. Eventually, putting off exercise becomes the way to feel better. 

Because Alarm mode is your body preparing for movement, to fight or flee the threat to your “safety”, moving with presence provides a complete shift for your mind and body to get back to Recharge. When exercise is done without a mindset of trying to control, but simply noticing, with openness and kindness, it restores Recharge. Just like letting the wind take your kite up into the air, putting less effort into trying to get enough exercise and stay motivated puts you into Recharge mode, where you are more likely to get what you want.  

This is simple, but not easy. It takes practice, especially if you are used to ignoring your body or you think of exercise as a way to control your body. Our Recharge Pause today helps your mind and body learn to work together again. It’s called Active Noting, adding movement to Noting practice. On the outside, it may not seem like you are doing much, and most people would think it is not worth the time because you are not burning calories or challenging your body. The magic is what is happening on the inside:

  • Movement helps your lymphatic system fight infections
  • Mindfulness restores calm, the state where healing happens
  • Mindset helps restore the ability of your mind and body to work together

All together, this simple movement break brings you back to the state where you are most likely to get what you want from exercise.

Bottom Line:  When you combine the power of mindfulness with the power of movement, you raise the quality of your exercise time, increase your ability to get the healthy results you want, and stay motivated with much less effort. Give Active Noting a try this week at the first sign of stress build-up and share what you notice in comments.

Stay WELL,

Janet

Sources:

  1. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057–1072. Published 2017 Jul 21. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480
  2. van der Valk ES, Savas M, van Rossum EFC. Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals?. Curr Obes Rep. 2018;7(2):193–203. doi:10.1007/s13679-018-0306-y
  3. Peter la Cour, PhD, Marian Petersen, PhD, Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Chronic Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Pain Medicine, Volume 16, Issue 4, April 2015, Pages 641–652,
  4. Dunn, C., Haubenreiser, M., Johnson, M. et al. Mindfulness Approaches and Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Weight Regain. Curr Obes Rep 7, 37–49 (2018).
  5. Merkes Monika (2010) Mindfulness-based stress reduction for people with chronic diseases. Australian Journal of Primary Health16, 200-210.

One thought on “When it comes to exercise, stop trying so hard

  1. Pingback: Exercise is Medicine, but Mindset Matters | Exercising WELL

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