Mindful exercise is defined as physical exercise executed with a profound inwardly directed mental focus.
This focus allows postures to be performed with a meditative, proprioceptive, sensory awareness component.
The term mindful may be best described in several ways as: Self inquiry to gain knowledge to answer questions on self- control and understanding, or maintaining moment-to-moment awareness.
The inwardly directed attention in mindful exercise is performed with specific attention to breathing and proprioception. Clearly, any form of physical activity can integrate this inner-attentiveness or a cognitive component, however this is the key feature and process in mindful exercise. The central objective of mindful exercise is to combine muscular activity with a sensory awareness of the physical movement or posture itself, i.e., a self-monitoring of perceived effort.
Classical mindful exercise such as yoga is attentive to the present moment and is process-oriented. This process contrasts with most conventional forms of exercise where there is a relative disconnect between mind and the kinesthesis of the physical activity, ie. the mind may be disassociated from the present moment. This “disconnect” does not necessarily disadvantage conventional aerobic exercise but may be a distraction from life stress or the physical exertion itself. Mindful exercise characteristically does not involve cueing entirely on an exercise leader as is most often experienced in conventional group exercise classes.
Mindful programs can be readily executed at low to moderate exercise intensities and adaptable to a wide-range of functional capacities. For example, a contemporary adaptation of Iyengar yoga, restorative yoga, with skillful instruction can be easily customized for nearly any age, level of fitness, body type, or chronic disease state.
From the viewpoint of someone who is unfamiliar with hatha yoga, the popular triangle pose may appear to be nothing more than a lateral side stretch exercise. However, internally - the yogi’s cognition is deeply entrained on the simple kinesthesis of the pose and breath-centering.
Many will find these attributes beneficial in managing specific musculoskeletal health concerns, reduction of anxiety and stress-related symptoms, but perhaps most importantly improved self-awareness and peace of mind.
La Forge, R. (2005). Aligning mind and body: Exploring the disciplines of mindful exercise. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 9(5), 7-14.