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Participants in the Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease often ask me if they can combine yoga with exercise? Some go so far as to ask if they can practice meditation on the treadmill?

 A dose of mindfulness while exercising can make all the difference in the way we feel at any level of exercise.

Overloading yourself with too many tasks can contribute to the stress that leads to heart disease, but there is some value to bringing a meditative mindset to your exercise program. Many of the yogic techniques serve to enhance the effects of exercise. The stretching postures are a wonderful way to warm up before exercise because they provide more flexibility and protect from injuries. Breathing practices expand the capacity of the lungs and allow the breath to become more adaptable. Imagery can help with setting goals and creating a positive attitude, which can improve exercise outcomes. Perhaps most important is the use of mindfulness, or focused attention during exercise. This quality is one that separates the highest level of athletes from the pack. At that level it’s hard to tell the difference in the physical capabilities of each athlete. The difference appears through the refinement of their own ability to concentrate and stay calm under pressure. While the exercise prescription in the Ornish program is quite different from those of athletes who are competing, a dose of mindfulness while exercising can make all the difference in the way we feel at any level of exercise. There is a quality of calmness and clarity that comes when we focus our conscious attention on something. We feel more integrated and less scattered.

Try A Walking Meditation

One yogic practice that helps us start to integrate the practice of mindfulness with movement is the practice of walking meditation. It can be done in a small space or outside in nature. It can serve as an alternative to seated meditation for those who have difficulty sitting still in meditation. To practice, you can follow these simple steps (no pun intended): 1. Let your knees soften, as you stand comfortably with arms alongside the body. You can also grab a wrist behind the back to let the shoulders rest back and down. This may serve to loosen tension in the shoulders and chest. 2. Let the gaze of the eyes soften downward without lowering the chin. Take a few slow deep breaths. 3. Shift the weight to one side and pick up the other foot and place it an easy distance in front of you. Then commit the weight. As you step into the forward foot the back heel will start to come up. Take a moment to pause before lifting it to take the next step. 4. Start the practice slowly but not so slow that it is hard to stay balanced. Remembering that each step is anchored with awareness. 5. Each time you step, let your attention be with the connection of the foot to the earth. Have a sense of stepping into this moment and only this moment. Letting go of all other moments. 6. Allowing your breath to find a rhythm that is just right for you. You can experiment with moving slower as the mind becomes quieter and the body feels more balanced. In time, the practice of walking meditation will inform your other exercise practices by infusing them with a healthy dose of awareness and grace. How has a meditative mindset improved your fitness routine?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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