Fit Life Essentials for Real Life

Building Better Body Awareness (and Workouts) with Meditation

Gym and fitness room.

For the first few years I worked out, I rarely felt anything “working” in the gym.  My trainer would ask if I felt an exercise in my core, or whatever the target happened to be, and no, I didn’t.  Even as I became a more advanced lifter, I still didn’t feel my glutes when I squatted, my triceps during cable exercises, or my chest during a pushup.  And my lats (those really useful back muscles that some describe as your “wings”) might as well have been a figment of my imagination.  I never felt them in any way.

Other than trying to actively focus during workouts, I didn’t have much of a plan to connect with my seemingly silent muscles.  Then gradually, oh so slowly, I noticed my muscles seemingly waking up.  Not too long ago, I realized I routinely feel my target muscles.  Hey!  The other day, I felt my hamstrings and glutes firing beautifully during a deadlift.  Big smiles.  And sometimes I am even able to adjust my form when I feel the wrong muscle working too much.

What happened?  Some of it is surely just experience.  But ultimately I attribute my new body awareness to my meditation practice.  I recently started doing “body scan” meditations, where you focus systematically on different body parts, simply to notice what, if anything, is there.  At first, I felt nothing.  My toes?  Nothing.  My heels?  Nothing.  My ankles?  Are you kidding?  Soon, however, I noticed all kinds of things.  Little tingly sensations.  Warmth.  Chilly air.  Achy stuff.  The weight of wet hair after you shower.  The gentle support of whatever you are resting on.  And so on.

I can’t say for sure, but I believe the body awareness I’ve learned from meditation has helped me a lot, far beyond the few minutes my practice requires each day.  I started meditating to manage stress, but the enhanced muscle awareness has been especially sweet: it confirms I’m using good form, it’s rewarding that I know I’m hitting my target, and it better moves me towards my goals.  I love seeing a workout as being about effective, coordinated motion, and less about just moving weight around.

Suggested Action Steps:

  • Consider starting a meditation practice, if you don’t have one already.
  • Find a resource you like to give you ideas, but don’t make it too complicated.  Google “body scan meditation” and check out links that appeal to you.  Jon Kabat-Zinn is a respected authority.
  • Try it for just two or three minutes a day to start, then work your way up.


3 Responses to Building Better Body Awareness (and Workouts) with Meditation

  1. I recently got pain and soreness from lifting heavy objects. The pain was in my my spine, buttocks and upper legs. Would meditation help? How does meditation differ from prayer?

    • Such wonderful questions! We’ll start with the second one first. Prayer usually is viewed as a request–for example, asking for help in dealing with a problem. In contrast, meditation often focuses on observing what is, usually with complete acceptance, and without any kind of judgment. For example, a body scan meditation involves observing the sensations you have in different parts of your body–whether tingling, pain, or even nothing at all. Meditation also may involve “watching” your thoughts as they come and go, reinforcing that you are not your thoughts. Meditation over time can be very calming, and if you learn to observe pain without becoming part of it, you may feel less tension, and less discomfort.

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