Mindfulness and presence in exercise habits

In my work I interact with a large variety of people, presenting with a large variety of problems and a large variety of goals. 

All of them hurt, and most of them have goals that this hurt is interfering with. 

What will vary is the modes of activity they prefer, and the intentions associated with this. 

For some, they just want to get through their day and their first world demands without pain. 

For others they want to be able to not only do the above but also go for daily walks, runs, and regular exercise habits/classes from crossfit to zumba to yoga (yes I said all those in the same breath). 

For others still they may have very lofty goals varying from the bucket list marathoner, triathlete, to competative weight lifter and  collegiate/ professional athletes.

Almost constantly I find myself talking at length about the paradigm(s) that they hold around exercise. The term exercise itself holds many different meanings, depending on the person you ask. The great Pavel Tsatsouline has talked about the western notion of a “work out”, and how this differs from the eastern approach of “practice”. This difference is enormous, and often makes or breaks the success of the individual. The term exercise literally means:


1. Activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness. 

2. A task or activity done to practice or test a skill. 

3. A process or activity carried out for a specific purpose, especially one concerned with a specified area or skill. 

Often the folks that I end up rambling to on about the intent of exercise focus on the first aspect of the definition (fitness/goals) and neglect the practice aspects. Our modern lives are ground breakingly both cerebral and sedentary, and many feel the need to exercise in order to strike a balance. Whether the urge is weight loss, sanity or a lofty defined physical goal, one always needs to be mindful of what and how they are practicing their exercises. 

One of the more pervasive and dangerous sentiments I observe with the injury prone is the mindset of wanting “to just zone out and get some exercise”. This is easy to empathize with in light of the increasing phrenetic demands of our cultures workplace, but it is a straight shot recipie for injury. 

There will be movements, that in time, any individual can achieve enough conscious control of to allow it to be predominantly reflexive. These will often be moderate intensity at best, and typically saggital plane focused (walking, running, cycling, skiing, swimming, kettle bell swings are examples), but any dedicated/long term practitioner of these aforementioned movements will still tell you they never, ever, truly zone out. 

The higher the intensity of the movement, the greater the demand is for holding form. High intensity, explosive/reactive movements cannot be completely conscious, and this is where ones training comes to aide. Without proper training, you will lack proper reactions.

So one must learn, and regularly practice feeling their body and the movements they perform, even as they lose themselves in the rhythms of their choosing. 

So perhaps there needs to be a paradigm shift for our first world abused bodies. Our intent with exercise should not be “zone out and move“, but “get my head back into my body“. Exercise is practice; practice, despite the saying never achieves perfect, but always, always tries.

Aim to inhabit your body while you practice whatever exercise you are performing, with whatever goals you have. 


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