How Meditation Can Revolutionize Your Workouts

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How yoga benefits military members
Soldiers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, conduct yoga during one of the weekly classes offered by Joined Forces Yoga. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sierra A. Fown, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Public Affairs)

Meditation can be done just about anywhere, and you can even do it with your eyes open. It is not all humming and sitting in an uncomfortable lotus position. After reading this, you may realize that you have done some form of meditation without knowing it. These are great ways to de-stress by focusing on what's going on inside you.

I remember meditating a few times the traditional way, and I realized that I actually do this in other non-traditional forms -- which made me more open to the traditional options. So, before you tune this out, check out the different ways to help yourself unwind, de-stress and enjoy the benefits of meditation.

Traditional forms of meditation

Focused meditation -- Using the five senses to focus on one thing. Push any distractions aside and deal with them later. Just focus. Do a body scan from head to toe. What hurts? What aches? What's going on in your brain and body? What recurring thoughts are you having? Then try to turn them off. A great way for me to turn them off is to focus on my breathing. You can go from an anxious, sympathetic state to a calmer parasympathetic state just by controlling your breathing. Research box breathing and focus on “seeing” your breath in and out of your mouth to the lungs.

Mindfulness meditation -- Observe the thoughts that come into your head while doing this form of meditation. What recurring thoughts are you having? Don’t worry about them; just notice what they are. If they are obtrusive, see whether you can categorize them in your brain by giving them a name and letting the brain find a place for them so they will be less obtrusive. See more by researching the Name it and Tame It meditation skill.

Guided meditation -- See Ten-Minute Guide Imagery Meditation Video and learn how to use this form of meditation. This can be done with your eyes open, watching a series of relaxing photos or a single object, and your guide or teacher can help you focus on smell, sound or touch, for instance.

Yoga meditation -- Some yoga classes offer the opportunity to do meditation while in various poses and will walk you through the process. Staying in the moment with breathing exercises and pure focus on the poses is a way to practice meditation during yoga.

There are many other forms of meditation going back more than 2,500 years ago in India. See the many types of meditation.

Non-traditional forms of meditation and focus

Hate to sit still? Me, too. You either can try meditation prior to bedtime, or you can use meditation during yard work, while working out or listening to music and relaxing.

Think happy thoughts. Meditation is a great tool to get comfortable while being uncomfortable while enduring pain, discomfort or boredom, for example. When in the cold surf zone or on a long ruck, realize that this will end eventually, then think about the things you will do when it is over. Think about that warm shower, what you will eat or drink and how dry, warm clothes and your bed will feel, and the next thing you know, you are done.

During runs. When at SEAL training, there was one rule when running -- Stay in the pack. Do not fall behind. If you did, you got a lot of extra exercise to motivate you never to fall out again. I would focus on the heels in front of me and step in their footprints during runs, and when in soft sand, that was important to do. Before I knew it, 4-5 miles had gone by and we were almost back at the barracks. Getting in the zone by focused meditation is a great way to endure painful events.

Practicing the ability to focus on other “happy-place thoughts” when you are experiencing uncomfortable activities is possible. Repetitive workouts, watching television, reading a book or performing mindless activities like yard work require a strong inward focus. If you have found yourself so focused that you lost track of time, you have the ability to meditate for real.

Many benefits of meditation are critical to the job performance and personal well-being of the military member. Most people who thought meditation was not for them find that it is one of the most important parts of their day after learning how to meditate because it:

  • reduces depression, stress and anxiety levels
  • improves your ability to regulate emotions
  • improves focus on productivity at work
  • calmness and peace
  • better situational awareness
  • allows for more internal awareness 
  • improves memory and creative thinking
  • takes time for yourself, even if for only 10-15 minutes

All day long, you are bombarded with stimuli, and as part of the “warrior class,” we tend to stay engaged with external or situational awareness. It is easy to be more worried about everything that's going on around you. For instance, when you go to a restaurant or other public places, you scan everything and everybody. You observe where the exits are and potential places for cover and concealment.

Then there are little thoughts that go in and out of our head. It's nice to turn that off for a little bit and have some internal awareness when you can. 

If you never have tried meditation, try it. Or if you have found that maybe you do some form of meditation and didn’t know it, keep doing it with greater focus on breathing, body-scan internal focus and just relaxing. Below is a list of places to learn more about meditation and the different ways to practice:

Psychology Today Article – 20 Reasons Why You Should Start Meditating Today

Stew Smith and Jeff Nichols Do Meditation (Video Podcast)

Ten-Minute Guide Imagery Meditation Video

Types of Meditation – Which One is Right For You?

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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