By Leo Babauta
As we move into the 2nd month of this year, I invite you to take the mindfulness you’ve learned and apply it to exercise and physical activity.
I’m calling this theÂ Mindful Fitness Challenge, because I want us to start applying our mindfulness skills to one new habit at a time, starting with exercise and fitness.
Why start here instead of eating, morning routines, productivity or other common habits? Those are all great, but there are some advantages of exercise as a 2nd habit:
- With exercise, you usually don’t have as much emotional baggage as many of us have with eating.
- It’s a simple habit that you can see happening â€” as opposed to mental habits you might want to change, like complaining. With exercise, you do it once a day and you know if you did it. Clear and simple.
- You don’t have to do a lot of it to get benefits within the first couple of weeks.
- You get benefits that will help you be more robust and resilient for all other changes you want to make.
- Plus you feel like a badass if you get fitter!
That said, I understand there are some drawbacks. Some of us have physical conditions or limitations or injuries that make this difficult. Others have fears or blocks around exercise. Others have shame around their bodies that can get in the way.
I am going to trust you to understand your body better than I can, and pick the challenges that are appropriate to you. Or to sit out this challenge and do another. I’m going to trust you to seek a medical consultation if you have any kind of condition that would make exercise difficult.
And I’m going to trust you to push into your discomfort, if it’s safe.
OK, so how does this challenge work? It’s simple:
- Pick the mini-challenge levelÂ just above where you’ve been at consistently â€” for example, if you don’t exercise at all right now, just pick the “start moving” challenge. If you regularly exercise a few times a week, try the “daily exercise” challenge. If you exercise regularly for 30-60 minutes most days a week, do an advanced challenge. Do each mini-challenge as mindfully as you can.
- If you do that consistently for a week, pick another mini-challenge the following week. Otherwise, stay at your current level and try to get more consistent. Feel free to drop back to the previous level at any time if you feel this new level is too much for you. There’s no shame or ego in dropping to a previous level or staying at your current level. It’s not about the level you’re on, but about practicing wholeheartedly and mindfully.
- Commit to this challenge & do a weekly check-in. Do a post committing to the challenge on the #mindful-fitness channel on Slack (you can do that today!). And then check in each week on Monday, telling us how it went and what you plan to do the next week.
That’s it. Practice each mini-challenge wholeheartedly, not rushing through it. Bring mindfulness to each activity.
Here are the mini-challenges â€” remember to pick the one that feelsÂ just a little aboveÂ where you are already at (or if you can easily choose among several mini-challenges, pick the one that sounds most like a stretch to you).
- Start moving. If you don’t exercise very much at all right now, your challenge is to just start moving. See if you can get moving just for a few minutes a day, in whatever way feels good. For example, go out for a walk for 10 minutes. Do a few pushups or yoga poses (check out Youtube for some ideas). Play 10-15 minutes of basketball or soccer. Go for a bike ride. Whatever feels good and fun. Again, focus on bringing mindfulness to the activity, and even gratitude for having a body and moving.
- Try new activities. If you’re used to moving on a regular basis, this challenge is about finding some new activities to try. Something that you haven’t done regularly. Some ideas: swimming, biking, climbing, rowing, a new sport, yoga, pilates, surfing, hiking, dancing, martial arts. You can do just one new activity several times a week (or every day!), or try out several new ones. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, do a new one each day. Pick your level and commit to it.
- Make up your own. If none of the challenges on this list work for you, make up your own challenge. You aren’t limited by my imagination. Maybe you like to snowboard or do parkour. Maybe you want to train for an Ironman. Maybe you want to do exercises in your chair, because you can’t walk very well. Make something up, commit to it, and let us know what you’re doing.
- Play every day.Â Get more consistent â€” if youâ€™re exercising 3-4 times a week, but some weeks itâ€™s less â€¦ try doing it every day. Even for just 5-10 minutes a day. If you are having fun and want to go longer, thatâ€™s totally fine. But aim for a minimum of 5 minutes a day, even on the days youâ€™re tired. Just do something fun and active. And try to be as consistent as you can.
- Add time. If you exercise most days but usually get 10-15 minutes (or 15-20), you might try going 25-30. Or longer if youâ€™re doing endurance exercise like running, biking or swimming. Just add a few minutes a week to 2-3 workouts.
- Do something tough. Want to step up the intensity? Try adding explosive exercises (plyometrics or Olympic barbell lifts), interval training, or a weighted backpack to your hikes or trail runs. Iâ€™m going to assume you know how to safely add all of these, youâ€™re in good health, and you can do some online research on how to do them properly (or ask a coach).
- Add short periods throughout the day. Instead of changing your existing routine, you might try to do 3-5 short sessions (of 5-10 minutes) during different times of you day. Just take a break from the computer and do a handful of lunges or sprints or go up and down the stairs in your building. Or do some yoga for a few minutes. Anything to add activity and fun to your usually lazy days. :)
- Pushup challenge. Follow the program of 100pushups.net, including the initial test, for a week. This will include three days of pushups. If you like this challenge, you can extend it for two or more weeks.
- Chinup challenge.Â Follow the program of 50pullups.com, including the initial test, for a week. This will include three days of pullups. If you like this challenge, you can extend it for two or more weeks.
- Running challenge. If you’d like to get in running shape, try the popular Couch to 5K plan, which is good for anyone who can jog a little. You can extend this challenge beyond a week. If you’re already an experienced runner, look for an intermediate plan where you’ll run more days and incorporate runs that are a bit faster (tempo runs, intervals, etc.).
- Yoga daily challenge. This is simple: do a home yoga practice every day. Or 6 days a week. It doesn’t have to be long â€” 10-15 minutes if you like, or 30 minutes. There are lots of free yoga videos on Youtube, for any length of time you’d like to practice. Remember that this is a mindfulness practice, not a rush-through-it practice.
- Kettlebell challenge. Swing a kettlebell (if you have one or can borrow one). Look up how to do basic kettlebell swings, and focus on getting the form right, using your hips to power the swings and keeping your spine straight. If you’re in reasonable shape, a few rounds of 20-25 swings is good. If you are in awesome shape, a couple rounds of 50 swings is good.
- Help someone else. If all of the above is pretty basic for you, help someone else become active. Take a friend to the gym with you, go for a walk with someone on a daily basis, take a class with someone, ride bikes with your kids every day. This will make someoneâ€™s life demonstrably better.
Please note that you do not need to do all of these challenges! Just one, if you like. Maybe up to four of them. These are not to be tackled all in one month.
Pick one for this week, and share it with us in the #mindful-fitness challenge channel on our Slack community (join the Sea Change Slack community here)!
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