What do you notice when you exercise?


Pick a movement—an exercise you feel competent with. It could be anything, from a push-up to a pirouette. Now, imagine executing it.

What is the first place your mind goes?

There is no guarantee, of course, that your mind goes to the exercise at all. Minds are funny like that. Even if the only distraction was this tiny paragraph, though, let’s go back to the movement.

Where do things begin? At the actual beginning of the movement? Somewhere in the middle? Somewhere else altogether?

What organizes your thoughts? An intention to perform a specific action? To avoid something—like pain or a technical problem? Is the language you’re using sensory? Verbal? Emotional? A delicious, multi-modal bouquet of all of the above?

Take a moment. Pick another movement. Start again. See what happens.

What is mindfulness, really, if not noticing? You notice what’s happening. You also go beyond saying, “I already know what it is—onto the next thing.” That’s the world of your default mode network.

It’s so easy to go into default mode. It’s functional. It’s necessary. For example, you can’t drive a car safely AND savour the nuances of every single colour or sound along the way. I mean, you can but it’s not necessarily a good idea. Here, you are more likely to experience the piquant sensory experience of an airbag deploying into your face.

3/10. Would not recommend.

There are places and times for mindfulness. Fortunately. Plenty of them. Here, you can go a layer deeper than just the defaults. You sense new things—or new layers. And, as that experience takes place, previously distant synapses fire at the same time and form new associations. With repetition, those associations create physical changes to your brain. Faster conduction of nerve impulses (myelnization) and added mass to your memory/association centres (hippocampus).

I’m describing the neurology of mindfulness here. But also of learning and neuroplasticity.

When you practice mindfulness, you are suspending time. Or, more accurately, dilating it. Your brain adapts. It incorporates more cognitive, sensory, and emotional information. Two seconds are still two seconds but—within them—things expand. Your brain changes and amplifies your ability to hold, process, and experience information. You notice more in a moment than you could before. That’s worth some practice friend.

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