by Kevin Duong
I recently had the privilege of visiting Plum Village, a monastery located near Bordeaux in southwest France. Considered to be Europe’s largest Buddhist monastery, Plum Village encourages visitors to experience the art of mindful communal living by offering retreats as short as one day or as long as three months. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, mindfulness can be thought of as paying attention to the present with intention, while letting go of judgment. Although this may seem like a simple concept, experiencing it over a 10-day visit to my brother (who is now a practicing Buddhist monk at the community) a few months ago quickly turned me into a believer.
So, you might be wondering, how does mindfulness relate to exercise? When working out, I emphasize being present. I listen to my body. I focus on my technique. Before moving on to the next progression, I concentrate on making my form pristine to avoid hurting myself. Yet, in the process, I don’t judge if I fall short; rather, I appreciate the good my training does for my body and mind. Overall, for me, this thought process reduces stress – a key component of a healthy lifestyle – while fortifying my body. Most importantly, being mindful allows me to recognize when by body needs recovery and when it is ready to work hard, and as a result, optimize my training.
I now try to take this same approach to every aspect of my life. I carefully consider what I eat, focus on tasting my food, and enjoy the experience. I prepare myself for sleep, minimize surrounding distractions like my phone, and focus on achieving deeper, sounder rest.
One thing that enables me to do this successfully is creating a schedule. This type of structure allows me to avoid wasting time recalling and then prioritizing everything I feel needs to be done on a daily basis. It also gives me a framework for my day- setting guidelines for what time I wake up, eat breakfast, exercise and begin to wind down. Studies have shown that following a strict morning routine each day decreases stress levels and helps to promote a healthy lifestyle. I firmly believe that if you control your morning, you conquer the chaos of your afternoon and are able to concentrate on what really matters in the evenings.
Identify what causes stress in your life. Most likely, the things that come to mind are related to past events or potential future situations that have not happened yet. It’s easy to get lost in your own thoughts – spending time and energy stressing about things you cannot control. Remember that you and you alone are responsible for exactly where you are in life. The easiest way to accomplish your goals is to take deep breath (or five), appreciate where you are in the process, and practice mindfulness.