How to Benefit Clients with Mindfulness and Exercise
The mind is a powerful thing. In our fitness journeys, many of us have found that the old saying is true—most of our struggles are mental, not physical. Whether it's getting started with physical activity, trying to start a new habit, or anything like that, it always starts with getting your mind right.
There's a great tool that personal trainers can use both in their own lives and with clients to get noticeable improvement out of them. It's a practice called mindfulness meditation. There are many factors to mindfulness and many variations. There are dozens of free mindfulness apps that have been developed to help you practice it. But what is it? How does it help? And, more importantly, how can you use basic mindfulness to help coach your clients to the success you know they're capable of achieving?
The Secret Superpower: Being Mindful of Life
So much of what people try to do in their lives is to distract themselves from the boredom and monotony of life. This usually comes down to pulling out our phones or binge-watching TV while we eat. Somehow, we have it in our heads that paying attention to one singular activity will result in infinite boredom. But, in reality, it unlocks a secret superpower.
A common misconception is that focusing on how we're feeling and thinking will only add stress and anxiety to our lives. However, learning to embrace these thoughts and feelings is the key to getting through them. And we're not just talking about big events that might be on your mind, but also the little things that can keep us down, like simple chores, chopping vegetables, or making a bed. The goal with mindfulness and meditation is to simply experience the moment, to stay focused and in the present—raising our awareness of what we're doing and how we're feeling.
At its most basic, mindfulness is a form of meditation in which you use mindful breathing exercises to stay focused on the present. It could be sitting down, closing your eyes, and counting your breath, or it could be paying attention to the sensations while you're eating dinner without other distractions. Furthermore, it can have a huge impact on your sleep, an essential piece of proper recovery.
It's a great tool for everyone, especially those suffering from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, as these tend to be enormous barriers to training. But, in reality, mindfulness just helps those practicing it to really focus the mind. And, from there, the sky's the limit.
How It Works & The Beginner’s Mind
Ultimately, mindfulness is paying attention. The benefits, like stress reduction and better control of one’s emotions, come as you learn to identify and sit with the basic things that affect our lives, as well as learning to separate events, thoughts, and feelings from the narrative that we create to connect these points into stories we tell ourselves. For instance, a new client who is having trouble getting their workouts in might tell themselves that they’re just a failure. However, it’s more likely the case that they just haven’t found the habits to really make them succeed.
In this, we need to take a “beginner’s mind” approach. This means that you have to let go of your preconceptions about the nature of what you’re doing. If all you tell yourself is that mindfulness is just a bunch of nonsense, then that’s all it will be.
Instead, take the approach to start small. Let go of your baggage and sit with your mind and feelings. Start with a minute of deep breathing. Literally. Set a timer on your phone for 60 seconds and try it. Take deep breaths and try to focus on each one—all the way in and all the way out. And be kind to yourself. If you find yourself thinking about something or worrying about what you’re doing next, don’t worry, you’re doing it right! The key isn’t to stop these thoughts and feelings, but rather, just to simply notice that they’re there.
This might seem extremely simple—and you’re right, it is! Most people’s objections consist of being skeptical that a practice like this can actually work. It’s just like exercise, small bits of effort will add up over time. Once you’ve conquered the 60-second mindfulness practice, go for 3 minutes. And then 5 minutes. Then, when you’re ready, you can extend this to 10 minutes and more.
Techniques to Share with Clients
Making mindfulness a daily routine will do so much for your health and well-being, no differently than stretching and exercise helps your physical health. It all starts in the brain, and when you bring down the mental blocks that stand in front of you, you can really do anything.
Have you ever done heart rate training with a client? It doesn’t take expensive equipment, although if they have it, that’s great, too. Simply the act of taking your pulse and counting the number of beats per minute is a form of mindfulness. In those moments, you are singularly focused on one aspect of your body and counting. It might seem like something so small, and this has a practical function as well, but it also is a way to focus the mind on what the body is trying to do at the gym. There are few thoughts of the past or the future, just on counting the beats pulsing through the body.
If your clients are up for more of a challenge, aerobic exercise is a great way to practice mindfulness as well. Whereas it can be a waste of a trainer’s time to do cardio with a client when they can do that on their own and use your time for more specialized training, talk to your clients about how they do it on their own. Do they watch TV on their phone? Listen to music or a podcast? These are things we do to distract ourselves from the monotony of the motions. However, this is a great opportunity to practice a little mindfulness.
As with the 60-second challenge, that can be where it starts. Have your client take a couple of minutes to focus on how they’re breathing while running, or in the warmup, and then reward themselves with their normal activity after that. Steadily, have clients try to increase the amount of mindfulness time they spend exercising. It will improve not only their quality of exercise but also will give them insights into how their body is functioning. This can help them improve their form or notice possible injuries that they might have been avoiding.
It’s amazing what you can discover about yourself when you remove distractions. It isn’t easy, but the benefits are well worth it.
Taking the Art of Mindfulness Further
There are so many other aspects of life where mindfulness can be a game-changer. Once you’ve learned to focus on your breath, try it when you’re having a conversation with a client. Often times, we approach conversations not from a position of trying to hear and understand, but to simply get our thoughts out.
With a technique called mindful listening, which is basically practicing mindfulness while you’re talking to someone, you would be shocked at the attention to detail you get. What you’re doing is channeling your mind to focus on what the other person is saying. It might sound distracting, but it’s really the opposite. You are really opening yourself up to hearing in a way most people have never heard before.
Finding meditation or mindfulness groups is also helpful. They can be sources to help create new habits, to ask questions, and to really understand the depths of what else you can do with mindfulness, such as try a walking meditation or meditating with a partner.
Once you’ve conquered these challenges, you will have a better insight into what matters most—your life. It isn’t something where the benefits will simply end when you stop practicing, because before you know it, you’ll be practicing it all the time. You will likely have better vacations, better time with spouses and family, and better experiences overall.
So, why don’t you give it a shot? And, while you’re at it, start practicing with your clients during workouts. They will be better focused and will likely achieve better results. And that’s something you can take to the bank.
Would you like to know more about how mindfulness can help you achieve weight loss? Check out this article from ISSA on it here.
Then, if you're ready to learn more about coaching clients holistically, explore ISSA's Transformation Specialist course. You'll learn the skills and techniques needed to truly coach and influence behavioral patterns as they relate to your clients physical, mental and emotional well-being.