It is estimated that between 200 and 500 million people around the world meditate.
Meditation practices are more discussed and explored than ever before, especially in the US. It is becoming increasingly popular, with many people introducing some form of meditation into their daily lives.
But did you know that combining meditation and exercise can totally transform your health and wellbeing?
You can choose to meditate before or after a workout. But which is best for you and your lifestyle?
What is meditation?
Meditation has been taught and passed down by many ancient cultures for centuries worldwide. It is a tool to look inwards and offer clarity to life’s unending questions.
Meditation is a skill that teaches you to observe your thoughts without judgment or labels. Meditation lets the mind become quiet, peaceful, and calm.
This relaxed state allows the practitioner to be present in the moment, also called mindfulness. Learning to be mindful helps enrich everyday experiences and relationships.
Practicing meditation additionally develops new beneficial mental disciplines such as patience and understanding. These reduce stress and become commonplace in many aspects of your daily life.
Meditation can be extremely powerful and transformative over time. Studies have shown that regular practice can create positive changes in the brain that last even when you aren’t meditating similar to regular exercise.
Meditation offers calming and healing physical benefits in addition to the mental advantages which we’ll look into.
Different types of meditation
There are many different types of meditation. Here are a few of the most common:
- Guided meditation is great for beginners, as you listen to a voice that guides you through the meditation from beginning to end.
- Walking meditation allows you to focus on the sensation of walking and moving in appreciation of your immediate environment.
- Mindfulness meditation asks you to be practice being fully present in your current environment.
- Silent meditation involves sitting in stillness and silence, by simply observing your breath.
- Mantra meditation is a proactive form of distraction for the mind, which invites you to repeat a sound or word to reach a calm and relaxed state.
These are only a few options of the many available types of meditation. Which is the right one for you?
Find out which style of meditation you like best by trying them one at a time. You may want to try each for a week or at least a few days before deciding. Sometimes it takes a few sessions to see if you connect with the method.
Remember to have fun with this process. Enjoy the journey. Give yourself credit for making the time to sit still and clear your mind. You’re already winning just by trying.
How meditation and exercise complement each other
Research has shown that meditation is good for your mind, just like exercise is good for your body. Mental and physical conditioning both support and enhance our mental and physical wellbeing. Our bodies listen to our minds. The clearer our mind, the better results regardless of the task. The brain is plastic and can change with consistent practice, just like our bodies can change shape with focused exercises. Before we see a physical transformation, we first must make a mental decision that we want to change. It follows that the body listens to the brain.
Focused exercises produce desired outcomes. For example, if you want to grow your biceps, then you’ll do pull-ups and curls. If you want to grow your booty, then you’ll incorporate hip thrusts into your workout routine. If you want to improve your memory, then you can play memory games. Check out Luminoisty.
Watch The Woman Who Changed her Brain: Barbara Arrowsmith-Young at TEDxToronto
Regarding meditation, which is simply focused mental training we can use this tool to improve our mental and physical performances. Neuroscience has found that the brain cannot differentiate between an imagined and real event—one study of non-musicians learning to play a five-note-scale on the piano. One group practiced physically on the piano while the other group practiced mentally – no piano – no moving their fingers. After five days of practice, both groups played the piano at equivalent competency levels. When they scanned their brains using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and found that the region of the brain related to the fingers grew over the five days for both the actual physical practitioners and the mental practitioners. (1)
This shows us that mental training can affect the brain; it can create new connections. Meditation has positive effects on the mind by calming the stress circuits on the body, which then allows the body to be calmer and healthier, resulting in more positive results.
Just for fun, here are a few famous names that you may recognize who consistenly practiced their skill mentally as well as physically (2):
- Kobe Bryant
- Michael Jordan
- Shaquille O’Neal
- Tom Brady
- Aaron Judge
- Nick Faldo
Why Should I Meditate before a Workout?
There are many benefits to meditating before you begin your workout such as incorporating healthy habits, enhancing clarity, and improved focus. We will discuss in further detail below.
Meditate First Thing in the Morning
Meditating before you begin your day can be hugely beneficial and effective. When you first wake up, your mind is clear, relaxed, and calm. You can set the tone for your day by meditating straight away, taking advantage of your mind’s natural tranquillity.
The lack of distraction from work, email, or social media makes it easier for you to access deeper states of meditation. Developing the habit of waking up and meditating can make your practice more powerful and effective by helping you to remember that you are not your thoughts. You have thoughts. You are not bound by your thoughts.
You have a choice of what you want to think about. How do you want to focus your mind? It’s your choice, every day, every morning and every moment. that you can notice, acknowledge and choose to act from a place of higher knowing.
This is a great way to begin your morning. This sense of calm, confidence, and composure is carried forward into the rest of your day.
Connect with Your Workout Goals
While you’re meditating, you have the opportunity to set your intention for your body and your workout. Simply imagine the feeling of your desired outcome, bigger biceps, a rounder perky booty, improved strength, or overall wellness.
Thank your body for being healthy enough to exercise. Thank yourself for taking the time to care for your body. The more you practice appreciation, the more your body will provide you with reasons to appreciate.
Meditation helps connect your mind to your body and motivate you to achieve better results with your workout.
Appreciate the Relationship between Your Mind and Body
Meditation can help your mind and body to relax as you stretch and warm-up before you begin exercising. You can be still and meditate, or you can meditate while you stretch, similar to yoga. Stretching can be a form of meditation in itself, which can significantly improve your flexibility, strength, and endurance. Appreciating the mind-body connection teaches you to tune-in to your body, listen and respond.
Many times when we are stretching, our body will tense up, and we tend to hold our breath. This is a great time to relax and send the breath to that part of your body. Don’t force the stretch. Allow your body to guide you into relaxation.
Meditation enables you to appreciate your workout goals as well as the process of achieving them. Remember it’s the journey that brings the transformation.
Improve Your Focus and Presence
Meditation brings clarity; it cleans up the mental clutter. It’s so easy to get distracted during a workout by being on our phones. Meditation teaches focus by returning to our breath. This skill can greatly benefit us when applied to physical training.
This increased awareness and connection can significantly impact how your body responds and performs during exercise. Paying attention to the exercise ensures you maintain proper form, improving performance, and prevents injury.
Meditating also teaches mindfulness, meaning that you are more present in the moment. Rather than thinking about the past or future, you can train your mind to appreciate what is happening right now.
Mindfulness makes your workout more effective, which means less time in the gym. If you fully focus your attention on your workout, performing to the best of your ability, optimizing your results.
Improve Your Performance
Meditation invites you to bring awareness to different parts of your body with your breath. Similarly, you can bring awareness to the muscles that you are using during your workout. This may help you to focus on training these muscles, increasing your strength and power.
All of this helps you to improve your performance and workout in the most effective way possible.
Watch Arnold talk about the muscle-mind connection.
Why Should I Meditate after a Workout?
It can also be especially effective to meditate after you have finished your workout. See the top reasons why below.
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, or feel good hormones. These endorphins produce a positive feeling in your mind and body resulting in an elevated mood. Many people talk about the runner’s high and how so many people get addicted to this incredible exhilarated state.
Any sort of intense exercise like lifting weights, dancing, or high intensity interval training (HIIT) can also allow you to experience this natural high. There is a release that happens, almost like you’re in an altered state. The benefits of the release of all of these neurochemicals continue to perform for your body and brain through out the day.
If you meditate after you have exercised, it’s easier to immerse yourself into the already positive state that you have created. Meditating after exercise is conducive to a more enjoyable meditation. Avoid trying to meditate if you’re feeling sad, depressed or down. Instead, move your body, sweat a little, and get your heart pumping to feel good. Then as you’re basking in the glory of the endorphin surge, allow your mind to relax and enjoy the meditation. It’s a win-win.
Reduce Cortisol Levels
Meditation can also help lower your body’s cortisol levels by reducing stress levels which can help maintain your physical and mental wellbeing.
When you exercise, your body experiences various levels of stress-dependent upon the intensity and duration. This controlled induced stress is desirable to improve your performance and overall fitness.
When your body experiences mental, emotional or physical stress, it produces a steroid hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is able to affect almost all of your organ systems (4). Cortisol is a necessary and useful hormone that your body produces. Your cortisol levels are affected by numerous factors, such as your natural circadian rhythm. Proper cortisol levels can improve your mood, protect your cells against stress, and help to encourage fat loss (3).
However, chronic cortisol production for an extended period can be detrimental to your health. Your body recognizes these high cortisol levels as insult or injury. These elevated stress levels can cause your body to go into survival mode to protect itself.
Regular high exposure to cortisol can lead to many adverse symptoms and side effects. These could include inflammation and pain, confusion, low energy, high blood pressure, and unintended weight gain.
Meditation can help lower your cortisol levels, reduce or prevent these symptoms aiding in maintaining your mental and physical wellbeing, and continue exercising effectively.
Build muscle mass and strength
If your goal is to gain muscle mass in increase overall strength, then meditation can help you to achieve your physical goals.
As mentioned, elevated cortisol levels can cause your body to operate in survival mode. Stress is the silent killer. It is difficult for your body to add lean muscle mass when the person is constantly stressed. A side effect of high cortisol levels is the deterioration and breakdown of muscle tissue due to your body’s resources being reallocated in order to prepare the body for fight or flight.
However, meditation can reduce stress levels hence reducing cortisol levels, allowing your body to optimally recover. This does not mean that your muscles will not be damaged, as muscles grow from breakdown and repair. It does mean that your body will benefit from the correct stimulus. Meditation can optimize your strength training.
Reduce chronic pain
When it comes to your fitness, chronic pain can be discouraging and debilitating. It is possible that meditating after your work-out may help relieve any chronic pain, allowing for improved future exercise sessions and Life’s daily activities. Post-workout meditations also allow the person to acknowledge themselves for healthy behavior which releases more feel good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. Meditation contributes to the feed back system of pain reduction and stronger well-being.
One study found that mindfulness meditation can significantly reduce chronic pain, although not as neuroscientists expected. It was hypothesized that mindfulness meditation potentially used the body’s endogenous opioid system, the body’s pain relief system. These neurochemicals are produced by your brain, distributed throughout your body’s nervous system. The research did show that it is not due to the brain’s opioid receptors. The exact neural pathway of how mindfulness meditation provides pain relief still has yet to be discovered.
Improve recovery time
Meditating after your workout helps to reduce your cortisol levels, and naturally manage or reduce the intensity of pain you may experience. Specifically, mindfulness meditation incorporates focusing on the breath, noticing any thoughts that arise, acknowledging them, and returning to your breath. This simple practice produced better results in some cases than medicated pain relievers. Not only is it more affordable, the risk of addiction to opioids disappears but meditation has also been found to have long-lasting effects (5).
How do I meditate?
Meditation doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. It is simple to fit into your daily life. You can meditate for 1 minute or 1 hour, whatever feels right for you.
Whether you’re meditating before or after your workout, it’s best to sit down in a comfortable position in a quiet place where you’re not going to be disturbed.
- Sit with your eyes closed or looking downwards.
- Relax the muscles in your face and body.
- Take a deep inhale through your nose, expanding your diaphragm, for a count of 2.
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4.
- If thoughts come up and you are distracted, that’s okay; just come back to counting your breath.
That’s it, that’s meditation! When you’re ready to end your meditation, slowly open your eyes.
To progress, you can gradually increase the length of your inhalation and exhalation. You can then experiment with other breathing techniques or explore other types of meditation.
Should I workout before or after a work out?
Meditation can be hugely beneficial in so many ways. It is a way to train your mind, help you to find peace, comfort, and stillness in this busy world. Meditation can also provideclarity of your thoughts, emotions and yourself.
Meditation trains your brain like a workout trains your body. Combining the two can hugely improve your overall well-being.
But should you meditate before or after a workout? There is no right or wrong answer. Try both to learn when meditating feels best for you.
Meditating before you exercise will help you to focus, prepare and have a more effective workout. Meditating after you exercise will help your recovery, and maximize your workout benefits.
Start meditating now with these easy 1 minute meditations and tap into your full potential.