Mindfulness techniques to enliven your exercise experience
Asics has just launched the Mind Uplifter™ inviting you and the world to experience the uplifting power of sport and the impact of movement. For the first time, you can capture the impact of movement on how you think and feel across 10 emotional and cognitive metrics – including confidence, positivity, calm and focus.
In my role as a sport psychologist, I teach elite athletes and weekend warriors, as well as recreational runners mindfulness techniques to uplift their experience with sport and exercise. In this article, I will share simple but powerful mindfulness techniques to boost your next run or workout. And now with the fantastic Mind Uplifter app, you can also track the ways you are elevating your mind and spirit!
The Runner’s High
Psychologists have attempted to determine several mechanisms for the effect of running on mood states. Possible factors include relaxation, location, scenery, time, and distance of run. Technological advances in research have proven that there is a real biochemical effect of running on the brain. Brain imaging studies have demonstrated an increased release of chemicals in certain areas of an athletes’ brain during a two-hour jogging session. Researchers have concluded that running does elicit a flood of endorphins, the brain’s naturally occurring opiates, which are responsible for making a person more energetic, more awake and, yes, happier. Interestingly, further investigations have highlighted that the affected brain areas are preferentially located in prefrontal and limbic brain regions which are known to play a key role in emotional processing.
Harnessing the Power of Perception can lead to Runners Bliss
So, if the runners high phenomenon is in fact a natural biological process, then why do we not experience this phenomenon more often or at first instance when starting out or getting back on track? It is important to note that there are distinct differences in the experience of the “runners high” between the casual runner and the elite or experienced athlete. Neurologists have explained this in terms of an athlete’s ability to tolerate higher levels of pain not simply because of superior physical conditioning but because of an altered perception of pain when running. Instead of interpreting exertion pain as a signal for panic and aversion, experienced runners interpret the sensation as a sign they are working toward improvement, and therefore they are more readily able to accept it and prevail.
Overtime, this alternative perception creates a feedback loop from your brain to your body linking the experience of exertion pain with positive emotions about your-self, and your performance, generating elevated mood and exhilaration. Working on your perceptions of exertion pain can be enhanced by engaging in one challenging or vigorous running session a week, where you feel like you are testing your limits. In doing this, you release yourself from the expectations of performing perfectly or making great time, and simply focus on accepting and embracing the challenge of completing the session. An occasional vigorous running session with a positive mind-set can make you feel empowered and better able to handle challenges that come your way.
Goal-Directed Action Enhances Self-Fulfilment
Exercise has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of depression. “Motion changes emotion.” Movement acts as a diversion from negative thoughts and working toward a goal and mastery of a new skill may enhance feelings of self-worth. The act of setting a goal and actively working towards it is what seems to trigger happiness. Reaching the goal, of course, is wonderful, but it is the journey towards the goal that leads to the most happiness.
In shaping your own sense of happiness through your exercise endeavors, set goals around your daily actions, not solely goals that focus on making a time or distance. For example, set a goal around finishing strong in your running sessions over one-week, and starting out hard another. Set goals that help you improve your technique and the progress in times will follow. Set small goals that act as stepping stones toward reaching your target in this year’s priority event and you will find happiness through your running journey.
As your body becomes more conditioned and accustomed to your exercise program through regular training, you are better able to calm your breathing and your mind. Running can simulate traditional meditation and self-hypnosis practices. Lots of runners report entering into a “zen-like” state during marathons.
Engaging in rhythmic breathing with a natural running cadence can establish a calm mind, allowing for moments of clarity and resolution. Exercise can enliven brain activity and speed up information processing. So, in many ways, exercise simulates the effects of caffeine, allowing your creative juices to flow as well as planning and brainstorming to take shape. So, before your next high stakes meeting – Go for a quick run, or try 10-minutes of mindful movement, and you’ll be ready for peak performance.
Follow these Tips to help you Uplift your Mind and Movement
- Change your self-talk when pounding the pavement. Employ the mantra “just breathe”, “one step at a time” or “stay in the present.”
- Let your speed find you. In order to experience a clear mind and focus whilst running, you need to able to breathe deeply and rhythmically. If you are running at a pace that is difficult to hold for longer periods, your breathing will be erratic and uncomfortable. Don’t force the pace, let your speed naturally take form and build slowly.
- Use positive visualization while running. Visualize yourself being drawn to the nearest landmark ahead of you, imagining that a rope is pulling you forward. This will help you feel like you are being propelled forward instead of running forcibly or pushing yourself forward. This type of visualization can help you to experience more joy whilst running and a feeling of strength and mastery.
- Move to the beat. A great way to help you achieve a calm, “Zen-like” state of mind is using music whilst exercising. Asics released a fantastic playlist on Spotify earlier this year and it is curated perfectly to achieve the exhilaration of the runner’s high more often.
- Set your-self up for success. Set small goals that act as stepping stones toward reaching your target. When you can see yourself progressing each week and every month you will feel accomplished and motivated. Remember movement is a gift.
Dr Jay-Lee Nair PhD | Psychologist MAPS
Book an appointment with Dr Jay-Lee at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre to master your own pre-performance routine, with or without fans.