I’m a big fan of exercise. I don’t think that’ll come as a surprise to anyone who’s spent more than five seconds on my website. What might come as a surprise, though, is the fact that I’m also a big fan of meditation — and combining meditation with exercise.
There are a lot of reasons to combine meditation and exercise. You can meditate prior to your workout or after — or both. Whichever option you choose, there are benefits to be reaped. Listed below are five reasons why you ought to consider pairing the two practices:
1. Get Mentally Prepared for Your Workout
I’ve talked before about the importance of doing a pre-workout warm-up that helps you get in the right headspace before you actually start exercising.
In addition to doing a mobility-based warm-up, adding in a couple of minutes of meditation can make it even easier for you to get mentally prepared and motivated for a challenging workout.
Even if you just take a minute (yes, one minute of meditation counts, and Dan Harris agrees with me) to check in and see how you’re feeling, you may have an easier time tuning in and getting more out of your workout.
2. Improve Mind-Muscle Connection
Meditating before your workout might improve your mind-muscle connection while exercising, too. Getting in touch with your body and how you’re feeling before you start your workout will help you tune in during the actual exercises.
I know we all like to listen to music or podcasts during our workouts, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this. I certainly don’t have any plans to stop anytime soon. But, at the same time, it’s important not to get so into our music or podcasts that we don’t pay attention to how we feel and which muscles are firing while we’re working out.
This isn’t just about mind-muscle connection, although that’s definitely a big part of the equation.
If you’re so focused on your music or podcast that you become disconnected from your workout, you’re probably going to be less focused on your form, and you may increase your chances of getting injured.
3. Reduce Cortisol Levels Post-Workout
Working out is a stressor on the body. In many cases, it’s a beneficial stressor, but it’s a stressor nonetheless.
When we stress our bodies or minds, our levels of cortisol increase and we enter a sympathetic (also known as a fight-or-flight) state.
When we’re in this sympathetic state, our muscles can’t begin the recovery process. We also can’t absorb our post-workout protein shake and may be more prone to digestive issues.
Meditation after a workout helps to put us into a parasympathetic (also known as a rest-and-digest) state.
When we’re in a parasympathetic state, we’re at rest, so our muscles can begin recovering from the damage inflicted upon them during our workout.
When we’re in a parasympathetic state, it’s also easier for us to digest our post-workout meal.
4. Increase Muscle Growth
Meditating after a workout helps to improve post-workout recovery by putting our bodies into a parasympathetic state.
The better our post-workout recovery is, the more muscle we’ll be able to build.
Remember, we don’t actually build muscle while exercising. We build muscle when we’re resting.
I especially recommend post-workout meditation if you exercise later in the day. Late workouts can leave you feeling extra alert and can hinder your ability to fall asleep at night.
It’s when we’re asleep that we really start making muscle gains. When we’re sleeping deeply, our bodies produce the greatest amount of growth hormone.
5. Improve Mood (More than Exercise Alone)
Last, but certainly not least, combining meditation and exercise can help to improve your mood. Exercising already has mood-boosting benefits (hello, endorphins), but meditation can kick things up a notch.
A study that was published in Translational Psychiatry found that the combination of regular aerobic exercise and meditation reduced symptoms of depression in students more effectively than just exercise alone.
I’m definitely not saying (nor is Translational Psychiatry saying) that exercise and meditation will cure your depression, but they’re natural, free solutions that could be beneficial. Why not give them a try just to see?
There you have it — five reasons to add a meditation practice to your workout routine (or a workout routine to your meditation practice)!
Do you meditate? If not, what’s holding you back from starting a practice?