I started meditating over a year ago, and I've been working out for much longer than that, but I've never known exactly how to pair meditation and workouts together. Should I meditate before my morning workout, when I'm sleepy and distracted? Or after, when I'm sweaty and sore? I usually opt for the latter, just to get the workout out of the way, but then I'd sit down to meditate with my muscles still shaking, my mind buzzing, sweat dripping down my face. I couldn't relax physically, so it was impossible to quiet my mind.
I've been reading more about incorporating mindfulness into workouts, which is what inspired me to flip the script. Since meditating after my workouts wasn't working, what would happen if I did it before I hit the mat or headed out the door for a run? I thought, too, about how athletes often meditate as part of their pre-competition rituals — a way to help them stay present, mindful, and focussed on their goals. That's what I wanted to feel when I worked out.
One quick note: I didn't include yoga in this experiment, because yoga, traditionally, is a way to prepare the body for meditation. If I did a yoga flow for my workout one day, I would meditate afterwards. (If you've never tried this, I highly recommend it. It feels completely natural to end a yoga sequence with ten minutes of meditation: like your body has found quiet, and now it's your mind's turn.)
What Meditating Before a Workout Is Like
I decided to meditate before my workouts for two weeks, and at the beginning, it definitely felt strange. Right when I was all ready to work out, I'd have to stop myself and do the exact opposite: sit down, breathe, focus on my mind instead of my body. All I wanted to do was move my body and shut off my mind, so I would start my meditation feeling twitchy and uncomfortable, tamping down my energy.
Once I gave myself a few minutes to settle in, though, those thoughts eventually drifted away, like they always do when I meditate. Like usual, by the end of the meditation I felt more present and grounded, less stressed and overwhelmed. I'd been worried that meditating before my workout (and just a few minutes after I woke up) would leave me feeling sleepy, but it was almost the opposite. It felt I was shaking the sleep out of my brain and getting focussed.
Another effect of meditation, for me, is that it makes the rest of my day seem a little more doable, a little less scary and overwhelming. That's how I felt when I went from meditating right into a workout: like I could do this, like I didn't have to procrastinate or dread this workout. It wasn't as big a challenge as my mind was making it seem; it was just the next thing on my to-do list for today. That mindset made it easier to get started, which is often the hardest part of working out.
As for how I felt during the workout itself, I did feel a bit more present, focussed, and — unexpectedly — grateful while exercising, like I could fully appreciate what my body was capable of. What it really seemed to do, though, was shift my priorities. Instead of squeezing in my meditation after a workout, or skipping it altogether, I planned my morning around it, and that felt surprisingly luxurious, like self-care. Sometimes I need a reminder that my mental health is just as important as my physical health, and pausing to meditate before I worked out forced me to put my mental health first in a very literal way.
At the end of the two weeks, I'm surprised to say that I love this new routine. It feels like I'm doing something every morning to promote the health of my body and my mind, putting myself in a good headspace for my workout and the rest of the day. If you struggle with procrastinating or find your mind wandering during a workout, I would definitely recommend setting aside a few minutes to meditate first. It might help you stay present and, if you're like me, remind you that it's just as important to take care of your brain as your body.