As a regular gym goer, as well as long-term meditator, I am often struck by the similarities between mind training and physical training. The same rules that apply to an exercise regime – be that the gym, yoga, bike riding or running – also generally apply to meditation and mindfulness.
Here are a few of them:
1. Results are not instant. You don’t expect to build a body like The Terminator a week after joining the gym. In the same way, you are unlikely to experience Zen-like tranquillity a week after taking up meditation practice. At the gym I go to, there’s a sign along the lines ‘8 weeks for you to notice. 12 weeks for your friends. 16 weeks for everyone else.’ Much the same could be said for taking up meditation.
2. The benefit of a teacher/coach. Few people think of embarking on yoga or a gym routine without taking classes or having a personal trainer. The same should go for meditation. An experienced instructor can assist you with technique, keep you motivated, and ensure you avoid unhelpful habits. They can answer the many questions you may have in the early stages. A teacher can’t do the work for you, but they can help you get the best out of your sessions.
3. Group sessions can be useful. This point doesn’t apply to everyone, but many people find it helpful to be part of a wider group of people on the same mission. This helps normalise our practice when it’s new to us and we usually learn a lot over the water cooler from people a bit further down the track from ourselves.
4. We’re more likely to stick at it if we make it part of our regular routine. As soon as we make a session a question of ‘Shall I or shan’t I?’ we find reasons not to. Especially when starting out, it’s useful to give yourself a period, like six weeks, when you are committed to regular sessions, come hell or high water (see http://davidmichie.com/blog/2014/06/14/take-the-six-week-meditation-challenge/).
5. The ripple effect. When you realise how much effort it takes to burn off a chocolate bar, you’ll think twice about over-indulgence. So, even though you signed up to work on cardio-vascular fitness, you may find a shift occurs in your diet and other activities. The same goes for meditation. You may sign up to work on stress management, but find your enhanced mental clarity helps you see opportunities, conversations and other people in a different light.
6. It’s the means to an end – at least initially. You may focus on your workout session, or time on the meditation cushion, but initially, at least, the reason you’re doing it is mainly for the other 23 hours of the day when you’re not at the gym or meditating. Just as physical training makes you more physically robust, resilient and better able to manage whatever life throws your way physically, mental training makes more mentally robust, resilient and better able to manage whatever life throws your way mentally.
7. The more you do it, the better you get. Whether it’s yoga, resistance training or meditation, the dosage effect means that this is a journey which brings enhanced results the more you practice.
8. Improved body and mind. Just as physical training enhances your state of mind, so too mindfulness training has significant physical benefits including boosted immune systems, reduced inflammation and high blood pressure – if you suffer from these – improved longevity and holistic well-being.
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If you can think of other parallels between mind training and physical training, please share these in the comment box below – I’ve no doubt there are plenty more!
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(Image of yoga on a beach courtesy of Pine Grove Beach Yoga, San Juan).