Orange Theory and the Art of Zen?

Last time, I talked about how I used mindfulness to start getting comfortable with running at Orange Theory. Well, in the mysterious way of the universe, I recently had occasion to think about how the interval training used at Orange Theory and other fitness programs like Aaptiv can help with mindfulness.

This is not at all what I look like meditating.

I went to a meditation retreat last weekend with the Louisville Vipassana Community. During one of the afternoon sessions (which in my experience tend to be the toughest because that’s when sleepiness sets it), the teacher reminded us to rethink our strategies for meditation. He explained that, while we often designate a time period to meditate due to our busy schedules, we can play with the structure of our practices. In particular, he had us try a period of 4 minutes of meditation with alternating 1-minute stretch/movement breaks.

You’ve heard of high intensity interval training (“HIIT”), right? This means short bursts of high impact exercise followed by a lower impact, active recovery periods. Well, when I heard the teacher propose this “interval” meditation style, I thought, “This is low intensity interval training.” Pretty, LIIT, huh? Well, in fact, it was. After several long periods of meditation that day, it was a breath of fresh air just to try a new way.

Why does this matter? It matters because, as with fitness, meditation practice is destined to run into roadblocks if you do it long enough. You may have injuries. You may have mental resistance. You may just not feel like it. Sometimes it helps to keep going if you free yourself of the mental constructs you’ve created as to the “way” you are “supposed” to do it. As one example, I usually try to get 30 minutes of meditation a day. When I ran into a bad patch a while back where I just didn’t feel like it, I committed to 5 minutes. I often ended up sitting for longer because, by the end of the 5 minutes my resistance had passed, but more significantly: I still have a practice today.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? The point isn’t to have an ideal practice. It isn’t to have a practice that competes with anyone else’s. The point is to have a practice that serves your life. So, while discipline is certainly part of any good practice, don’t put your practice in a box. If there is one thing my practice has given me, it is an awareness of the dangers of all or nothing thinking. Sure, 4 minutes of meditation may not be as “good” as 5 minutes, but it is way better than 0.

So, if you are struggling to find the time to meditate or have a hard time sitting still for very long, perhaps you should consider adjusting the way you are doing it. Think about where you are in your life and with kindness and generosity towards yourself try a new way. That’s what the meditation teacher was saying when he told us to try intervals: don’t let your mind get in the way of your meditation practice. To do this, you have to factor in your body and heart along the way. Low intensity interval training for meditation is just one way that you could balance your practice to help your mind, while acknowledging the whims of your body and heart.

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