Not enough time for yourself... Pulled in a million directions... Information Overload... I'm sure that sounds familiar to more than just me! With those feelings, it's often hard to really be present in the present. Training sessions for example, can be a perfect opportunity for us to unite body, mind and spirit when we do so intentionally. That's something I’m usually “pretty good” about, but when my schedule gets busier and I’m juggling more things, it’s easy to get distracted or enter into a training session with my mind elsewhere. Maybe I give in to the temptation to check my texts or emails on rest breaks, I start thinking about all the other things on my to-do list, or I get into an animated conversation that would be better served for after my training (especially since I normally train with my husband and business partner).
I started coaching strength training several years before I started practicing yoga, and ultimately decided to complete yoga teacher training. One of the things that really drew me to yoga was the ability of a good teacher and a well crafted class to help guide the students into letting go of outside distractions, and focusing completely on the present moment. Practices like starting each class with closing your eyes and consciously bringing yourself into the room, continual reminders to stay connected to the breath, keeping awareness on alignment of the body and engagement of muscles, and the idea of having a mindset to anchor you (an intention or sankalpa) are what yoga is really all about.
I know that when I step onto my mat, it means something. It’s my time that I am gifting to myself to focus only on what’s right in front of me, and improve my well being in mind, body and spirit. Guess what? This gift to yourself doesn’t have to happen only in Downward Dog. While there are some obvious differences to a strength training session and a yoga class, I believe you can absolutely get some similar mind, body and spirit benefits when you hit the gym with focus and a sense of purpose. And there is a lot to be gained from a yoga-like focus in your training.
Now, I know many people head to the gym to blow off steam from a long day at work, or because they just want to look and feel a little better than they do now, or because they know they “should” even if they don’t really want to. So why does all this mindfulness and "being present" matter so much? Here are some personal observations I’ve made about cultivating a better focus in my training:
1. I get better results, plain and simple. Obviously your training sessions will be more safe, with less risk of injury when you are focused. And when your mind is attuned to the task at hand, and you are concentrating on things like breathing, alignment, generating tension etc., your skills will be getting better with each training session. When your skills get better every training session, you get stronger, burn more fat, get more balance, gain flexibility or whatever your goals are.
2. I’m reinforcing to myself that taking care of me is important. Your training sessions are not just a necessary evil or another thing to cross off your to-do list. They are an opportunity to connect mind, body and spirit, and show yourself that you matter. A gift to self!
3. It’s more fun! It might seem like all this focus stuff would suck all the enjoyment out of your training, but it’s actually the opposite. When you are getting better results, doing things you couldn’t do before, and feeling your self confidence boost, how could that not be fun?!
Here are a few ideas to bring some greater focus into your training sessions:
Get centered and bring yourself into the room. One of the ways we like to encourage this at Breakthrough is by starting every training session with a “breathing reset”. This is not just a chance to connect to deep relaxed breathing – it’s also a time to get your mind focused on what you are about to do. Let go of whatever your day has been up to this point, or whatever will be happening once you leave the gym. You can use this moment to tap into your "why" for showing up for training, or have a "sankalpa" or "intention" for your practice.
Continue to connect with the breath throughout your training. Make sure you are using the proper breathing match and breathing techniques for whatever exercise you are doing.
Take time in your set up for each exercise, and be intentional in your approach to alignment and muscle activation. Make sure you know how much weight you are supposed to lift and how many reps you are supposed to do. Set your mind to the task at hand, and be ready for something awesome to happen!
Stay connected on your rest intervals. Check back in with deep relaxed breathing, perform “fast and loose” drills, mentally review any technical elements you are working to improve. Resist the temptation to check your texts, emails or social media. I use the Bridge Athletic App on my phone for my training plan (as do all of our Breakthrough members) and I will turn off notifications while I'm training if I find myself getting distracted by alerts popping up. If you think it doesn't matter that much, I dare you to try it for a few training sessions and see what a difference it makes.
Bringing a greater focus to your training should find you ending your training sessions better than you started in some way – either physically stronger, mentally more dialed in, or just feeling more energized and positive. Whether you are stepping up to a barbell, a kettlebell, a running trail or a yoga mat, make it mean something. It matters, because you matter!
Strength & Love,