Meditation offers a slew of mental and physical health benefits. Whether you’re using it as a means to collect your thoughts or improve your workout, the possibilities are practically endless. Your initial impression of the practice may include long periods of silence and stillness. That doesn’t have to be the case, though. Simple meditating can even take place right after your workout. In fact, adding meditation to your cooldown comes with a lot of advantages. To explore those benefits, we spoke with Aaptiv trainers Ceasar F. Barajas and Jason Olson, and Olga Palladino, a yoga teacher and the co-founder of Five Pillars Yoga.
Why Adding Meditation to Your Cooldown is Beneficial
You may be wary of the idea of post-workout meditation. Or maybe you already meditate in the morning or dedicate some time to it before a workout. While that’s nothing to scoff at, you’re missing out on some benefits unique to adding meditation to your cooldown. “Meditation is incredibly beneficial for the mind and body during your post-workout routine,” Palladino notes. “After moving the body and breath with yoga asana, and even dynamic workouts like indoor cycling or running, the body is strong and ready to sit in meditation. The mind is clear and steady and capable of sustained concentration and focus.” Many of us use exercise as a means of releasing stress and working through our emotions, making it a natural progression into meditation.
We’re not advising you to set aside an hour after your workout to meditate (but props if you choose to do so). Adding meditation to your cooldown can be as simple as focused, steady breathing. “Note that it is impossible to meditate and not receive any benefits,” Barajas tells us. “Meditation does not have to be sitting in stillness for 45 minutes. You can simply be taking several deep, conscious breaths in and out of the body pre- and post-workout. This will help to improve your body’s overall physical health and mental wellness.”
How to Add It In
Unsure of how to go from a high-energy workout to a calm meditative state? Take it from Olson: “What I would recommend is that rather than go straight from working out to meditation, you start the transition with a mindful physical cooldown. Maybe take one of the shorter Aaptiv yoga classes and then sit for a bit of meditation. Or pick three yoga poses or stretches to do, and give yourself three to five breaths through your nose with each pose. Rather than planning the rest of your day or thinking too much about anything, really just focus on feeling your breath and your body within the context of the stretches. This kind of focus and quieting of the mind is your transition to meditation. Then you can sit comfortably and meditate.”
Released Tension in the Mind and Body
Essentially, meditation consists of sitting still and taking slow, controlled breaths. It may not look like much, but these actions alone ease both your mind and body almost instantaneously. Mentally, you are present and free from worry, which smoothly takes you from a high-intensity workout to a neutral state of mind. This is an important and effective way to complete your workout and leave the gym. “Meditation will help you harness the energy of the workout and blend it perfectly into the rest of your day,” Olson explains. “It may also help you avoid an energy slump or being too aggressive after crushing it on the bike or the treadmill.”
Palladino agrees, noting, “There are innumerable health benefits to meditation, but for me the most important is to release the tensions in the body and the mind. When we stay focused on the present moment, not trying to change the past or navigate the future, we are much less likely to worry. Yes, meditation helps you to relax, but it also energizes you in a grounded, calm way.”
All of this may sound psychological, but it’s physiological as well. The act of sitting and breathing works to decrease blood pressure, leading to less tension throughout the body. Barajas informs us that it also cools the body down, decompresses your systems, and has an overall physically calming effect. “Perfect for post workout when the body’s systems are high on endorphins,” he notes.
Improved Heart Health
Unbeknownst to most, meditation has a positive impact on heart health. This makes adding meditation to your cooldown after a heart-pumping workout all the more perfect. (“Breathless to Britney,” anyone?) Over time, high blood pressure becomes more difficult to manage, causing the heart to work harder to pump blood. This contributes to a poorly functioning heart and narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks. This is especially paramount to athletes and those who exercise regularly because they’re constantly pushing their heart rates. Luckily, meditation has a reverse effect.
“Meditation has been proven to calm anxieties and lower the heart rate,” Palladino says. This happens when, with the help of meditating, you target parts of the brain that allow you to reach a deep state of relaxation. Here your heart pumps slower, and blood circulation improves. When you’re scared, stressed, or working out, your heart works at top speed to deliver blood to your body and brain. Conversely, meditation causes your body and mind—and therefore circulation—to slow, improving efficiency.
“Studies have shown that meditation can also stabilize high blood pressure,” Palladino adds. Simply put, this is because relaxation leads to the production of nitric oxide, which opens up the blood vessels (this is called vasodilation). Even ten minutes of meditation a day has shown to produce these heart-healthy results. That’s not much to ask for when it comes to a high-functioning heart.
Aches and pains are all too common for those who exercise often. To better manage workout-induced or chronic pain, try recovery meditation. In short, your perception of pain is connected to your state of mind. This is why it becomes more evident or elevated in high-stress situations (both physical and emotional). For example, complaining about the heat makes you feel hotter. Because of this mind-body connection, it is possible to reduce and manage pain through meditation.
“Studies have been done on a few different types of meditation, and what they demonstrate is that meditation helps with any kind of pain management and fatigue,” Olson explains. “In one test, meditators experienced 40-50 percent less discomfort in certain tasks than the non-meditating subjects.” He also notes that meditation assists athletes with muscle recovery and maintaining energy post training, making it a must if you often experience soreness after a workout.
Ready to add meditation to your cooldown? Start off with “Breath and Body,” “Meditation for Pain Management,” or “Into the Deep.”