I stumbled upon this technique after my weight ballooned to over 260lbs. I ignored the warning on my medication that listed weight gain as the main side effect. Instead I went to the gym. I didn’t really know what to do at the gym since I had been naturally athletic my whole life before I started taking meds. I knew walking was a good form of exercise so I started with the treadmill. That is where I accidentally found my kind of mindfulness meditation. My therapist had been trying to get me into mindfulness but I couldn’t grasp the concept. My brain was too chaotic.
Here is how it happened. I set the treadmill at a faster than normal walking speed with a slight incline and doing that caused me to exert myself to the point of sweating my balls off. Even though the gym had air conditioning. I also had to concentrate on walking fast enough so I wouldn’t slide off the end of the treadmill. While I was doing that I listened to my favorite playlist with earphones in at a pretty good volume. In front of me were 10 televisions suspended from the ceiling in a row. They were all muted with subtitles and I would pick a channel to read. Along with all this were the other people working out. I didn’t like that there was only one other fat guy there in the pretty large gym. A lot of people seemed to go there to socialize. They didn’t need to work out, they were in perfect shape. But it was good eye candy for during the television commercials.
With all the above happening at the same time, I would get into a zone. There was so much external noise it took away the noise in my head. It seems unorthodox but with the treadmill in the back of the room and all the action going on inside my body and directly in front of me, I could really focus. I would do the treadmill for about 45 minutes then switch to the weight machines. I did light weights but concentrated on the muscle movements and the music. It usually took me about 45 minutes to do all the machines I liked. Then it was back to the treadmill and another 45 minutes of pure distraction. I forgot to mention that during this gym phase I was manic so I never got tired. Lucky me.
After the gym I would drive home and I could enjoy about 3 hours of peace. I was calm enough to eat lunch and sit still on the couch. I didn’t know I was practicing mindfulness at the time (I did associate it with a kind of Zen) but it was the only time in my life that any form of meditation worked for me.
I enjoyed all this for about 6 months until I had to move and could no longer get to a gym. At least not the cheap one at $10 a month. I was still manic and still felt the urge to keep moving. Luckily I had a bicycle to burn off some excess energy. It wasn’t until I started doing long 2 hour bike trips that I discovered it was happening again. I would get a respite from the voices and be calm enough to take care of myself for a few hours.
Biking is different than the treadmill but I have a lot of the same methods; just different distractions. I have to concentrate on my leg muscles propelling me forward, keeping the bike upright and avoiding cars. I live near the seacoast so there is a lot of wind to struggle against. Because of all the traffic in my area I don’t dare to wear earphones but I have a constant earworm repeating in my head. This is all enough to give me the distraction I need.
I could never do the traditional forms of meditation where you focus inward. It caused intense anxiety and made everything in my brain worse. Now that I am no longer manic and slightly on the depressed side, I only ride about once a week to my daughter’s house. But that is a 2 hour round trip and I get the extra external stimulus of talking to people and the happiness of being around my daughter. These days are markedly different than my usual routine of just sitting around the house. After a day of riding I find I need less of my anxiety medication as my mood is naturally lifted.
Writing this with music or television in the background is another form of mindfulness I practice while I am stuck at home. It only works in the moment and doesn’t give me a lasting effect. I need a lot of external distractions to get me into the zone. It seems like it doesn’t make any sense. Everything I’ve been taught about meditation has been about being quiet and focusing inward. I don’t know why but I never get a better natural calm than I do after these exercises.
If this wasn’t long enough for you, I found another blog post from Amy with The Bridge that explains it better than I do.