Ask Andrei: Meditating While Working Out
For those of you looking to incorporate more mindfulness into your life, improve your strength and overall fitness levels - all without a hefty additional time commitment, Mindful Strength Training (MST) may very well be the answer to your dreams.
As you know, if you’ve been following my journey at New Element Training, Andrei is an innovative leader in the space of both mindfulness and fitness, and designed his revolutionary gym to incorporate both elements seamlessly.
But what is “mindfulness” anyways, and how can it improve your workouts? Well, while I’m not only going to provide a quick and to-the-point overview of what “mindfulness” means to Andrei and I, I will also PROVE to you that a calm meditative state is possible to achieve DURING a workout. Actually, going further - if approached through MST, a calm meditative state is indeed EASIER to achieve.
This is what Andrei had first explained to me when I first met with him and he introduced the concept behind New Element Training. You can read a little more about his story here, or this one of NET’s past newsletters explains how it all came to be.
While working out can be a painless process requiring just 20 minutes once or twice a week, it does NOT (and should not) be a “get-it-over-with” experience. As nothing should be. Instead, approaching it with a moment-to-moment and curious mindset is key to success.
Not only will this result in a higher level of strength and muscle building, while also avoiding injury (as MST is actually for healing the body and to prevent future injury or pain) - it also doubles as a meditation and mindfulness session. Talk about a nice bonus.
I leave a session with Andrei shaky in my body (due to complete muscle exhaustion) but strong and clear in my mind. It’s a feeling of euphoria unlike any other - my guess is that it’s the cardio element (since the workout incorporates high-intensity), but is also due to the complete groundedness and connectedness one feels to and with their own body. Dare I say - one is [choice-fully] FORCED to feel - it’s just that intense.
Furthermore, meditation has shown to increase cognitive performance - check out Muse’s research page here and in particular see this study showing that regular meditation sessions results in improved attention as well as reduce somatic symptoms in adults.
Meditation for more efficient strength training and cognitive performance? It’s hard NOT to jump onboard.
With that said, before I could take Andrei too seriously (it all seemed too good to be true after all), I wanted to see some legitimate proof for myself.
Luckily, Andrei was already one step ahead of the curve, and since he had me wear and use the Muse meditation headband in one of our training sessions, I had a starting point for information.
Apparently I did quite well…
You receive 1 calm point for every second that your brain is in a natural state of rest (neutral), and 3 calm points for every second spent with deep restful focus on your breath (calm).
Birds are awarded when you find a deep, restful focus on your breath for an extended period of time.
Read more about how to read and understand a session report here.
But I still wasn’t convinced. Maybe I’m just fantastic at meditation, naturally. It’s not the MST I’m doing - it’s me!
So to clear up this possibility, next, we got on the phone with a dear friend of mine, Laura Sniderman, who is a Major Account Manager at Muse, and she wasn’t afraid to tell it to us straight: the calibration and the meditation session must be done in a similar state (i.e. eyes closed or not), and the exact same approach should be taken when using it to record the meditative workout.
As the folks at Muse explain; since your brain is different every day. To calibrate itself before each session, Muse will take a snapshot of your brain in a natural state. Muse uses this snapshot as a reference to understand your brain signals.
Laura made it clear that if, for example, I had my eyes open for the calibration but closed for the workout, that would alter the results - essentially, I would have made it “easier” to produce the calm state, and the birds, representative of a successful meditation in the app.
So, we got back to the gym and did things properly.
I had a regular, 20 minute meditation session prior, and then a 20 minute MST workout as led by Andrei - following Laura’s guidance on how to get the most accurate results while wearing and using the Muse headband.
The results were truly shocking...
My meditation session while performing MST:
My regular meditation session:
Andrei, although excited, was not surprised. He explains…
With the NET training method one has two choices:
Accept 'What Is' and keep moving the weights one inch at a time - without judging the experience. Or,
Judge the experience and have a negative relationship with it.
You have to be FULLY present and in the moment to holistically benefit from this training, both physically and mentally. When you do so, it takes you completely out of your ‘head’ and into your body.
The last few seconds of each set are so acute that you naturally activate your fight-and-flight response (i.e., your adrenaline goes really high, and you are ready to ‘fight or flight’ from situation - from an evolutionary standpoint). In that moment, you are fully present in your body; nothing matters and nothing can matter outside of surviving those last few seconds. You are fully inhibiting your body!
As our client, Philip Shepherd, who is a leading expert of embodied living says: “Your entire being comes alive with this training.” Essentially, the NET method significantly helps you to focus on one thing, your body.
What could be more freeing and more liberating than taking a break from your mental-made self (your work, home, personal issues etc.) even for a few short seconds at a time?
Before I conclude: I promised an overview of what “mindfulness" means, and while there is obviously no single definition, I believe it can be summarized simply as living in this very present moment. As cliche as it sounds, being completely aware of your body, environment, and everything within and around you - without judgement - it the simple beauty and power of mindfulness in my eyes. While I’ve spoken on mindful eating in the past, mindful movement and fitness is an exciting new concept for me that I look forward to exploring further via the NET method.
Questions about Mindful Strength Training and how you can start at home or on your own at a gym? Feel free to comment below and we’ll get back to you!