Integrating Mind Fitness in Pursuit of Performance, Health and Happiness

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By Richard Goerling

Awareness and compassion are the gateway to peak performance.

This is the foundation from which we bring mindfulness to the StrengthFarm community. This series of articles over the next several months are intended to explore how we can weave mind fitness into the rhythms of life and our pursuit of personal and professional development. In short, mindfulness is a training tool that grounds us and merges the energies of our effort in the gym, our labor at work, and the flow of our social lives. To achieve fitness in all of these dimensions, we train the mind.

Let’s begin our journey with a look at what we mean by this term mind. Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the co-founder of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, writes:

“Some use the term mind to mean intellect and logic, thought and reasoning, contrasting mind to heart, or mind to emotion. This is not how I use the broad term mind here…By mind, I mean all that relates to our subjective felt experience of being alive, from feelings to thoughts, from intellectual ideas to inner sensory immersions before and beneath words, to our felt connections to other people and our planet. And mind also refers to our consciousness, the experience we have of being aware of this felt sense of life, the experience of knowing within awareness.”

With mindfulness skills training we will explore this subjective felt experience of being alive with intention. We will train to wake our senses and pay attention to the present moment experience; from sitting meditation focused on our breath, to the physical discomfort that we might feel deep within our body as we push ourselves toward one more rep, one more mile, one more accomplished metric.

We will train to notice the physical sensations and sometimes to focus our attention solely there. We will train to notice and focus on the environment around us, the sounds, the temperature, the airflow, the movement of people and things. We will train to notice and regulate the thought stream in our heads- the self judgement, the desire to continue, the desire to quit, the worry about history or future. Finally, we will train to notice and regulate the emotions that arise in the gym, at home, at work. We will normalize these experiences and learn to appreciate, work with and even befriend them as we train to bring our attention to a particular focus.

As a beginning step into mindfulness training, take a look at the diagram titled Mindful Awareness Attention Cycle. The cycle of mindfulness (being present) begins with some object of our attention (this could be anything- a thought, a sound, an actual object, this article, etc.). We then move toward the tendency for our attention to drift to some other place than where we are (we worry about the past, the future, what we are going to say next in a conversation, etc.). When we practice mindful awareness, we notice this Autopilot/Attention Drift and bring our attention back to where we’d like to be focused (on listening to another, on a task at hand, on the music we are listening to, etc.). Naturally, our attention will drift again. This is normal. We simply notice this drift and redirect our attention back to where we’d like it to be…over, and over, and over. Like any skill, this is hard work. Over time, we gain competency and become more skillful and managing this Awareness Attention Cycle.

Integrating mindfulness skills into your training rhythm will take your fitness journey to a new level of possibility. Training awareness through mindfulness won’t make us superhuman, we’ll still have to work hard to make our body strong. What it will do for us is to cultivate our potential for a stronger mind, heart and body- leading to new possibilities in our journey of life.

We begin with this blog article and we’ll bring online training resources each quarter that culminate in a half-day workshop at StrengthFarm. There are many ways to explore mindfulness. We’ll use the app Insight Timer, among the highest rated and most versatile meditation apps available.

You can find a closed group within that free app called StrengthFarm MindFIT. You simply need to request to join and we’ll add you to the group. We’ll be adding some simple guided meditation practices this week that are designed specifically for this community. We can use this app as a virtual community to stay connected, offer encouragement to each other, and practice some simple awareness practices we call mindfulness.

As we progress with this part of the StrengthFarm training strategy, we’ll have other resources available to enhance our fitness journeys. In the next article in this series we’ll discuss neuroplasticity and what’s happening in the brain when we practice mindfulness.

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