Meditation, in theory and in practice, can seem like a bunch of mumbo jumbo B.S. Most guys hear an instructor talk about "the art of mindfulness" and react with an instant eye roll.
But let's be honest, dude: Between this weekend's fantasy football lineup, your phone contract, and the permanent challenge of getting to the gym on time, stress is real. And even if you don't want to acknowledge it, you probably have more than enough shit going on.
So do famous jacked dudes like Matt Bomer, Norman Reedus, Hugh Jackman, and Joe Manganiello—who also happen to be devotees to transcendental meditation.
"Mindfulness means you're present in the moment at hand, aware of your surroundings, and acknowledge how it all makes you feel," says Aino Siren, a yoga instructor who specializes in ISHTA practice, which combines vinyasa flows with meditation. "It can affect your life in many positive ways: You gain more focus, which improves your health and fitness, which then improves your overall well-being and life."
Think of mindfulness as a workout for your brain that benefits your body, enhances your workout, and helps chill you out. It won't necessarily dump all that stress, but it will help you let go of it.
Here are five ways to make your workouts more mindful—without all the fluffy, hippy-dippy nonsense.
1. Set the foundation for a mindful routine
"Put your electronic devices away, and decide how you'd like to feel after the workout," Siren says. "Take a minute to become present, let go of what happened right before, and let go of what will happen later." The goal is to focus on your workout without distraction.
How do you do this? Think about "creating intention". Set a goal to beat your personal best if you find your motivation tends to falter mid-workout. On the flipside, if your regimen is extreme, put your ego aside and do what feels right that day. Athletes at the highest echelons of sports know to listen to their bodies. For example: Give yourself some rest if you're showing signs of overtraining. It can reset your mind, muscles, and motivation.
2. Focus on your breathing
Before you start your workout, take three minutes to close your eyes and breathe. Sit or lie down so you're completely comfortable, and belly breathe: Fill your toso up with air, from the bottom to the top, so the space between your ribs feels as if it's expanding like a balloon. Use this time to reiterate your intention from step 1 and think about your goals for today alone. This will clear your mind, and help you begin your workout totally focused. The emphasis on proper breathing can also boost your lifts and make runs more efficient.
Obviously, breathing is essential to workouts, since, y'know, it's essential. But you have to breathe differently during cardio than you would during lifts. For runs, you want controlled, even breaths that keep your heart rate regulated. Breathing during heavy lifts is more like controlled breath-holding. By using your breath as the grounding point in workouts, you can push yourself harder.
3. Recognize when your mind drifts
"Practicing mindfulness is about honoring the moment with full focus and commitment," Siren says. So if you're in the middle of a monstrous lifting session, but your mind keeps gravitating toward an impending work deadline, learn to recognize that and pull your attention back to the task at hand.
"Take a few breaths and visualize what you're about to do, then do it," Siren says. "Everything is connected: your breathing, the muscles you're putting to work, the movement. If you picture everything in your head first, then go for it, you'll have better chances of executing with more power, strength, and technique." Not only can this help you hit a new squat, deadlift, or bench press PR, but you'll lower your risk for injury. "Finish what you started, then move onto other things with new energy," Siren suggests.
4. Know when to pump the brakes
"Every day you experience different things in life that affect your emotions and the way you feel, which affects your workout," Siren says. "When you're mindful of the way you feel and allow yourself to take it slower or give 110% when you feel strong some days, it'll result in better-quality workouts every day."
5. Enlist some help
If you find you're actually digging the mindful approach, but still need some help getting your mind into the appropriate headspace, take advantage of available classes, apps, and wellness initiatives in your city. NYC & Company, New York City's marketing and tourism board, for example, has started encouraging travelers and locals to weave meditation into sight-seeing opportunities, like the Empire State Building Sunrise Viewing Experience. Follow suit, and find a hike, park, or landmark that inspires you to slow down and clear your mind.
Want to add some tech to your sessions? MUSE is a headset that guides you through meditation exercises—perfect if you tend to lose focus. You can also download apps on your smartphone to get mindful on your commute or in the office. These are our three favorite meditation apps.