How To Get More Out Of Your Exercise With Mindfulness
From left: Messrs Max Vallot and Tom Daly, New York, 2018. Photograph by Mr Chadwick Tyler courtesy of District Vision
“It was towards the end of my time working at a big fashion house,” Mr Max Vallot says of discovering his need for meditation. “Things weren’t going smoothly. I was having real disagreements with my boss, the creative director at the time, and I was just a nervous wreck. I knew something had to change – not just an escape. If your nervous system is off, all other organs follow suit pretty quick, and you end up as a walking cockroach. I was 26. I knew how to meditate. I had some experience in Ayurveda. So there was an openness towards the esoteric and the metaphysical. Then, one day I walked past the David Lynch Foundation – and, you know, I’m a David Lynch fan, I knew what he was doing, so the marketing worked for me. I went in and signed up for an introduction. And the first time I did it, I had an incredible experience, something I’d never felt before. Like losing a sense of space and time completely. Instantaneously I knew that’s what I would be doing for the rest of my life. And it just sort of evolved from there.”
Since then, what Mr Vallot has been doing alongside – or really in concert with – his meditation practice, is growing the activewear line District Vision, which he co-founded with his university classmate Mr Tom Daly to outfit a new generation of athletes in what they call “the silent sports” – that is running, cycling, et al. District Vision, which they founded as a consultancy and sportswear line makes great runners’ tees and shorts – constructed of an ingenious mesh that stretches apart like a Spidey suit to promote airflow. The collection also features shoes and sunglasses in collaboration with brands such as Salomon and Satisfy.
But apart from making clothes for athletes, Messrs Vallot and Daly have constructed a mindfulness programme to help train them – for marathons and casual runs alike. “Most of us would agree that running is at least as much mental practice as physical pursuit,” Mr Vallot says. “A harmonious dialogue between mind and body naturally leads to improvements in athletic performance. But can running become a form of meditation, a path towards self-knowledge? Is there a way to prepare for this state? For the past three years, we have been working with leading teachers in the fields of yoga and mindfulness to investigate.”
Here, Messrs Vallot and Daly share with us their keys for incorporating a little more mindfulness into our everyday fitness regimen.
As you start your workout, close your eyes for a minute, either standing up or sitting in a comfortable position. Consider why you have chosen to commit yourself to this activity today. How did you get here? Why is this important to you? What are your objectives?
Open your eyes and get a feel for your environment, whether you’re in a gym, at home or an open space. Notice the smell of the room, the weather, the light conditions and any sounds. Are your feet touching the ground? Everything that is appearing in your consciousness right now. Rather than anticipating how this may affect your workout, can you simply be aware of it all without judgement?
Start gently. We have the best chance of building mindfulness during simple, repetitive movements. Feel the body, be aware that you have a body. What does it feel like today? It is slightly different every time you pay attention. How does the movement affect the feet, the knees, the hips and shoulders? Take one body part at a time and just watch. What does the body feel like as a whole? If there is pain or discomfort, be mindful of it. Become intimate with the sensations as they unfold. If there is persistent pain, make adjustments as needed.
Let it be. The breath is always a good anchor for mindfulness, you can come back to it at any time. How does it feel during warm-up? Try not to control it, just let it happen. As you pick up the pace, stay with it. Witness the progression inside. The breath is a great barometer for your mental and physical state at any point during the workout.
When we push ourselves physically we tend to go through a roller-coaster ride of thoughts and emotions. The trick with mindfulness is breaking the habitual pattern of identifying with your mental state. Don’t be a slave to your thoughts. Instead, try to become aware as the chatter unfolds. Can you sense any form of anticipation, boredom or anxiety? Try not to analyse it during the activity, just let it come and go. It’s literally mind blowing to recognise how repetitive and predictable our discursive thinking tends to be.
The state of flow is commonly confused with having a meditative experience. Being deeply immersed in your workout and exposed to some degree of risk has been shown to boost physical performance. What differentiates it from mindfulness is the lack of awareness of the mental state itself. The reality for most of us is that sometimes you’ll find yourself in flow, but mostly you’re not. It can’t be forced. The trick here is to notice the state as it arises and be mindful of it, especially the transition. Just enjoy it while it lasts. And don’t judge yourself if you can’t get that high today.
Always take a few moments to cool down after training. Lie on the ground or sit in meditation posture for a few minutes with your eyes closed. How does the body feel now? What is my breath doing? Settle back and surrender all efforts. The meditation master Ajahn Sumedho sums up all his teachings as follows: let go, let go, let go.
The Mindful Athlete by Mr George Mumford
“George is a close collaborator of DV and arguably the most experienced coach at the intersection of sports and mindfulness. He started training some of the biggest athletes back in the 1990s, including Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.”
The Rise Of Superman by Mr Steven Kotler
“Even though everyone talks about sports as a meditative experience, the psychology of the various states of peak performance is not very well understood. Steven sheds some light on the mechanics behind the state of flow and how it differs from other experiences.”
Mindfulness by Mr Joseph Goldstein
“Joseph is one of a small group of people credited with bringing the teachings of mindfulness to the West in the 1960s and 1970s and is a master of his craft. I have been lucky to study with him frequently on retreat over the last year and this is the perfect introduction to anyone interested in the field.”