Monday, June 8, 2015

Stress? Go for a Run but Meditate Too

Recently, a colleague with whom I was discussing mindfulness mediation made the statement that he thought he could get the same benefits from his exercise program as he might get from a mindfulness practice. 

This is not true. Mindfulness and exercise are not the same.

Exercise is a great thing. It does relieve that physical stress we hold in our bodies. It does improve your health. It’s good for you on a host of levels. It may even be better at alleviating depression than pills according to some studies, although that truism is beginning to be challenged. A recent study by the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry published in the British Medical Journal found that, contrary to the “new” conventional wisdom, “exercise doesn’t help alleviate depression”.  

In any case, exercise does nothing for the true source of your stress – your thinking, your thoughts, your incessant storytelling.  You might get lost in your exercise and even get into the Zone but when you finish, those thoughts that muddle your life will still be there, still nagging at you and still stressing you out. Exercise does not fundamentally change the way we perceive ourselves or the world. Mindfulness meditation does.

We are not our thoughts - a key insight for each of us practicing meditation (whether mindfulness based or otherwise) does not arise in the Zone or after the Zone. Exercise teaches us nothing about ourselves, our mind, does not make it more emotionally resilient, less distractible, improve memory, improve relationship satisfaction or overall life satisfaction. Nor does it help us see ourselves more clearly.

Mindfulness meditation results in four areas of improvement: body awareness, self-awareness, regulation of attention and regulation of emotions.  Of those four, only body awareness is arguably helped by exercise.  So, exercise leaves ¾ of the benefits of mindfulness on the table.

Even the U.S. Marines, a bunch of exercisers if ever there was, are trying out mindfulness in a variety of studies to determine if and how it might benefit troops.

No doubt exercise and mindfulness complement each other, but neither can replace the other.

So go for a run but meditate after!

Thanks for reading.