People tend to be a bit lopsided when it comes to fitness – which is unfortunate.
For instance, they might be totally into strength training and ignore any sort of endurance work.
Or, more commonly, you may encounter (or be) the type who is really good about taking care of their strength and endurance but never stretches.
The point is that there are aspects of fitness and avenues of exercise that commonly go underused and under appreciated. Chief among these, especially in the United States, is mindfulness training or meditation.
In fact, many people aren’t sure how to begin meditating or even what exactly meditation is.
So, let’s take this topic apart a little bit and pinpoint the benefits of meditation – especially post-workout meditation, which has special importance when it comes to workout recovery.
What Is Meditation?
At its most basic form, meditation is a state of having a cleared mind. In essence, the goal (if there is one) is to allow your mind to be free of thought.
This can obviously be a difficult state for most of us to maintain for any length of time but it’s one of the best things you can do for your overall health.
Of course, it does get more complicated than that when you get deeper into the subject.
There are numerous types of meditation. You can do guided meditations, sit in silence, meditations that focuses on mantras or the breath, or even do movement-based meditation such as yoga.
What Type Of Meditation Should You Use?
With all these different styles – and with all of their accompanying different schools of thought – how do you know which type of meditation you should use?
You should do the type that works best for you.
That’s not a copout. It’s just that after investigating different forms of meditation, you might find that there are a few that you like and can incorporate into your life, depending on the situation.
For example, it might be easy for you to settle into a physical, active form of meditation like yoga while you’re at home or in the gym.
But what if you’re feeling overwhelmed while confined to your desk at work or sitting in traffic? Then you might prefer a more passive form of meditation, in which you simply relax and focus on your breathing for a few minutes.
Remember, the goal of meditation is to quiet your mind, which has a beneficial impact on calming your body as well. If you find a particular meditative practice too clunky or you get distracted by all of the rules, it’s probably not going to get you to a cleared-mind state very efficiently.
The Benefits of Post-Workout Meditation
The mental and neurological benefits of exercise – which are numerous – have been extremely well-documented.
But when it comes to meditation, some studies have found that a regular practice can help change the way that your brain is structured, creating changes that last even when you aren’t meditating (1).
Which is really cool.
But the benefits of meditation can also be used to improve your physical performance and influence the way your body responds to exercise. Pretty impressive, right?
Here are three important reasons why you should meditate after your workouts on a regular basis.
1. Reduced Cortisol
Even though we always think about exercise being good for your body, the truth is that it puts your system through an enormous amount of stress.
Generally, though, this stress is exactly what we want – sending signals to your brain that you need to adapt by getting stronger and faster so that your workout isn’t so challenging the next time.
The problem, however, is that whenever your body is stressed, it produces the hormone cortisol. At low levels, cortisol is an extremely useful hormone, improving your mood, protecting your cells against stress, and even assisting fat loss to some degree.
But when there’s too much cortisol in your system for too long, things start to change. Instead of burning fat, your body interprets the abnormally high cortisol levels as a sign that something is wrong with the outside world. Emergency measures go into place.
Here’s the thing about cortisol, though: Your body can’t tell the difference between various forms of stress. That means your cortisol reacts the same way whether somebody cuts you off in traffic or you’re dealing with a deadline at work or you’re pushing through a particularly difficult workout.
Taken as part of a big picture, then, it’s easy to see how your cortisol levels can quickly get out of control.
Meditation can help guard against that. Based on the long-accepted fact that meditation lowers feelings of stress, researchers in Thailand theorized that it might do that by controlling serum levels of cortisol. Fortunately, that’s a pretty easy thing to test.
So test they did. After just four days of meditation, all of the subjects saw a significant decrease the amount of cortisol kicking around their system (2).
That’s why engaging in some post-workout meditation can be a big part of your recovery.
2. Reduced Pain
Regardless of where exactly you feel it on your body, pain is a fairly complex sensation, with a powerful but all-too-often-ignored emotional component.
In theory, controlling your mind should give you greater control over any pain you might encounter. And, according to a fascinating 2015 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, it does this with incredible efficiency (3).
Using the somewhat sinister method of poking their volunteers (read: victims) with a heated probe while asking them to use a variety of pain-control methods, scientists compared meditation with other potential tools.
Specifically, the subjects were placed in four groups, each with different methods of dealing with pain: meditation plus the opioid-blocker naloxone; non-meditation control plus naloxone; meditation plus saline placebo; or non-meditation control plus saline placebo. The subjects rated their pain on a sliding scale.
Interestingly, both meditation groups saw a huge reduction in perceived pain – even those that were on the opioid blocker. This means that meditation reduces pain by somewhat nontraditional means, since opioids are common painkillers for the brain, whether they’re produced internally or come from an external source.
Post-workout meditation, then, can help to reduce feelings of pain your workout may leave you with.
3. Improved Recovery
With your cortisol levels under control and your pain naturally managed, your body can focus on what’s really important immediately after exercise: recovery.
Pain, inflammation and elevated feelings of stress can all get in the way of your body recovering from both the stresses of your work and those of daily life.
And remember: All of the positive effects of exercise happen from that recovery. Ensuring that your body is fully recovered, then, is one of the best ways possible to make your workouts more effective.
Post-Workout Meditation Made Easy
As I’ve already mentioned, the exact form of meditation that you use after your workout is completely up to you and your personal preference. To get you started, though, here’s a very (very) basic routine that you can easily tack to the end of your workouts:
- Set a timer for 10 minutes,
- Sit upright in a comfortable position, preferably with your legs crossed on the floor,
- Close your eyes,
- Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your diaphragm, for a count of 2,
- Hold your breath for another 2 counts,
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 counts, and
- Repeat the breathing pattern for the allotted period of time.
To progress, you can gradually increase the amount of time you devote to each of these breaths, keeping the same basic pattern.
As a general rule, your exhalation should take twice as long as the two other steps. So, if you inhale for 3 counts, hold for 3 and exhale for 6 counts.
Meditation is a wonderful practice at any time of the day and especially after your workouts because of how it calms your mind and body after a strenuous training session.
Give it a shot and see how you feel.
Give Your Body A Break
Feeling sore and stiff after your workouts? Looking to boost your recovery and your results?
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.