In the last couple of columns I have been discussing Release as a line of defense against stress. Remember, when you are under stress and your body has mobilized the fight-or-flight response, you are prepared for action. You are in a state that calls for physical release. You have the energy, your muscles are tense and ready, and your mind is alert and willing. Release strategies lead with the body to get rid of the by-products of your stress response (blood sugars, hormones, muscle tension, and high blood pressure) in healthy ways.
In the last column I discussed a mild Release technique called Systematic Muscle Relaxation. Sometimes mild Release activities are just not enough. You have so much tension and nervous energy that you need to increase the intensity a bit. This is where moderate Release activities come in. They increase the intensity of the activity slightly to use up the by-products of your stress response. There are many moderate intensity physical activities that accomplish this. One of my favorites is Fitness Walking Meditation, a form of moving meditation.
Fitness walking meditation is a form of moving meditation. Unlike traditional meditation, which is practiced while sitting quietly, moving meditation uses the movements that accompany any repetitive continuous physical activity as the focal point. Walking, running, swimming, bicycling, and cross-country skiing are examples of repetitive, continuous physical activity that typically is sustained for at least twenty minutes and can provide an aerobic training effect as well as a meditative benefit.
Walking is an excellent activity to use to learn moving meditation because it is safe, can be practiced by almost anyone, and can be done both indoors on a treadmill and outdoors. It also is an excellent starting point if you ultimately want to begin a running program. During fitness walking meditation you focus on the individual components of each step (lifting your leg, bending your knee, stepping forward, heel touching, toe touching, etc.), the process of walking (feelings in your feet, legs, back, etc., your balance and sensation of movement), and your breathing. Regular practice of fitness walking meditation will not only help you relax through meditation, it will help increase your fitness level.
In this combination of moving meditation and fitness walking you walk at a pace and for a sufficient duration of time to obtain an aerobic training effect. You focus your attention on each footfall, extension, bend of the knee, and redirect your thoughts back your walking when they stray. You can use your cadence of footfalls and your breathing pattern to help you minimize distracting thoughts while you focus on what is going on in your legs, feet, and hips as you walk. You can count “one, two, three, four” in synchrony with the beat, time, and rhythm of your steps. You can also determine how many steps you take with each inhalation and exhalation and synchronize them.
For example, I take six steps with each inhalation and six steps with each exhalation when I am walking. When I am running I take three steps with every inhalation and three with every exhalation. This helps me keep my thoughts on my breathing and my footfalls rather than the thousand and one other things running around my brain when I walk or run.
To achieve an aerobic fitness training effect when performing fitness walking moving meditation you must keep your heart rate between 60 percent to 85 percent of your maximum attainable rate for at least twenty minutes of continuous walking activity.
Turn any Fitness Activity to Moving Meditation
If walking isn’t your thing, cheer up, there are many forms of moderate physical activity such as running and swimming that employ continuous activity that you can combine with meditation to form moving meditation. The following is a set of simple instructions for doing this.
1. Warm up by doing the activity at a slow-moderate pace for 5 minutes. (walk , swim, bike slowly etc.).
2. Increase your pace and get into your Aerobic Training Zone.*
3. Pay attention to your breathing (inhalation and exhalation) for a couple of minutes.
4. Count the number of steps (if walking), strokes (if swimming) pedal rotations (if biking) it takes to fully inflate your lungs.
5. Count the number of steps (if walking), strokes (if swimming) pedal rotations (if biking) it takes to fully deflate your lungs.
6. Focus your self-talk on counting your steps, strokes, etc. as you breathe in and out.
7. Whenever your mind strays to the future (to plan) or the past (to rehash) say to yourself, “there goes my mind again taking me out of the present moment”, and refocus on your counting.
8. Notice (not judge, evaluate or worry about) the sensations in your arms, legs, and other body parts as you engage in your activity.
9. Notice (not judge, evaluate or worry about) the sights, sounds, smells, and climate changes in your environment as you exercise.
10. Keep going for at least 20 minutes.
11. Cool down for five minutes by doing the activity at a slow-moderate pace for 5 minutes. (walk slowly etc.).
* Your Aerobic Training Zone is between 65% – 85% of your Maximum Attainable Heart Rate (MHR). To find this zone subtract your age from 220 and multiply that number by .65 and .85. The resulting numbers give you the low and high end of your training zone. As long as you keep your heart rate in that zone for 20 minutes you will get an aerobic workout.
It is very easy to change any moderate level physical activity to a vigorous level by increasing the intensity. You can convert all of the moving meditation activities into vigorous physical activities and still get the meditative benefit by increasing their intensity. The simplest way to do this is to increase your pace, speed, or duration. For example, you could convert your moderate running to vigorous running by running the same distance at a faster pace. This increases your speed and puts a greater demand on your muscles, heart, and lungs. You could also increase the intensity by running at the same pace and speed but for a longer duration. This will also increase the distance covered.
In my next column I’ll talk about the highest level of intensity, cathartic release . Stay tuned to this column, you won’t want to miss it. Until then, remember to stress less and live more.
P.S. My Release Video Home Study Program covers all of my Release techniques. Check it out at: www.drrichblonna.com/courses/courses-for-everyone/the-5-steps-to-conquering-your-stress-home-study-program-release-course/.
Dr. Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in New Jersey. For over 25 years he has devoted himself to helping people just like you stress less and live more. www.drrichblonna.com.