There is an old saying in body building when it comes to rest time: “don’t walk if you can stand, don’t stand if you can sit, don’t sit if you can lie down.” The idea behind that is in order to maximize the muscular gains from intense exercise you want to be resting as much as possible outside the gym.
This may be a good idea for building muscle, it is however a terrible idea for overall health and capacity. Our lives should not easily dichotomize into training/exercise and rest, we should be active even when not engaged in structured and high intensity training. Our ancestral condition involved a much greater variety of movement and movement intensities, and recent research indicates that body composition is strongly affected by our non exercise physical activity; in addition, movement, sunlight, and social interaction are all important for overall well being. Spending less time being sedentary even when we are not exercising is perhaps the most neglected part of the ancestral lifestyle equation. Moving frequently at low intensity requires a far greater amount of time than short periods at high intensity, and therefore more commitment and mindfulness.
Yesterday was what I would like my rest days to look like: gardening in the morning sun, working on the house, walking the dog, roughhousing with my daughter, climbing a few trees, swimming and flipping off the diving board. Nothing intense for me, nothing that will impact my recovery, but I was active all day, I moved through a broad variety of motor patterns, I was engaged in being alive.
While walking the dog I found myself alternating between three mindfulness exercises.
1. Choose your step: this one I picked up from Chris Rowat’s power is nothing without control blog years ago. As you walk down a side walk pick targets and aim to hit them with a specific foot. This trains your ability to make small graceful adjustments to your stride in order to jump off a preferred leg instead of large sudden changes resulting in big braking actions. This is a very important locomotive ability. In addition, this attention to what we are walking over mimics the mindfulness necessary when moving barefoot over rough terrain which was until recently a common cognitive demand.
2. Posture: while taking a quiet walk is the perfect time to work on your posture. Focus on feeling your head rise towards the sky and your sacrum sink towards the earth, producing a long and spring loaded feeling in your spine, at the same time trying to let your shoulders fill the space beside you and let the arms hang with as much relaxation as possible.
3. Breathing: simply working on breathing deeply through your nose all the way down into your diaphragm, as you walk, is great exercise to add a meditative quality to your walk and improve your breathing patterns. Adding this to both of the above exercises helps to learn to incorporate good breathing patterns into your movement.