As a spinning instructor and meditator, I’m often asked how I reconcile the two. After all, meditation is all about stillness and silence, and if you’ve been to my spinning class, you know it’s all about moving and pushing yourself past your boundaries. Meditation is peaceful and exercise is…not.
Of course how accurate the statements above are depends on the type of exercise or meditation you do. But the type of meditation and exercise I do have more in common than you might think. To me, both of them are about taking a break from your normal daily activities to dedicate time to working on yourself. Both of them can touch on what has been dubbed the “zone” where it seems like the rest of the world doesn’t exist, or you’ve made a conscious decision to put it aside for a period of time. You set an intention to hit the pause button on all the planning, analyzing, and worrying that seem to occupy the backs of many of our minds in this speedy society.
The type of meditation I practice is called shamatha, or peaceful abiding. What we learn to do in this type of practice is to abide with whatever comes up when we turn off our entertainment and give ourselves the space to sit silently doing nothing. We don’t repress anything or try to push away thoughts, rather, we allow our minds to do their thing (i.e. think, feel, fantasize, plan, etc.) and the practice then lies in training our minds to come back to our breath and bodies when they do wander. Sometimes what our minds wander to can be an unpleasant thought or emotion. We treat that the same as all other thoughts or emotions, ie we let it go and come back to our breath and bodies. And actually, once we’ve been practicing a while, we might start to get familiar with some of those challenging emotions. Their repeated visits might even teach us a thing or two about the way our minds work.
In my spinning class, I like to give people a heads up when we’re about to climb a hill. That means grabbing some water, shaking things out, or taking some deep breaths. But I also ask them to flip around what is a pretty normal habitual response to things getting tough. Rather than running away from the challenge, or backing off on the resistance, I ask them to get ready lean in, to welcome the challenge, as painful as it might be as it’s happening. And that’s because underlying it all, they know that this resistance, this hill, is going to make them stronger and faster when we’re through with it. The same thing can be said of difficult situations in life. As painful and all-consuming as they may be as we’re going through them, the silver lining is that we will ALWAYS learn from them. I learned that through my meditation practice and the awareness it helped me to cultivate, of my mind and of my life.
Last year I wrote a piece for Livestrong.com on why you need meditation and exercise in your life. Here’s the link – I hope you enjoy and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!