Your brain is a muscle too.


When most people hear the word “workout,” they immediately think “body.” In truth, we should think “body and mind.” Working out should not only challenge your physical strength, endurance, and power, but it should also cause you to flex your “mindful muscles.” This allows you to become more in tune with your body, which inevitably produces greater results and allows you to enjoy the actual act of challenging yourself. The practice of minding your muscles, achieving body awareness, and developing a keen sense of your surroundings requires a refreshing focus during workouts that you will, in time, crave. Here are a few tips to help you embrace the mind/body connection:

Have a plan/set a goal. Each workout should have an agenda—be aware of what you are looking to achieve whether it be running a mile, completing 25 push-ups, holding a plank for 60 seconds, etc. Leave the guesswork out of the equation so you can be more efficient with your time and allow yourself to truly focus on the task at hand.

Perform a “pre-flex” of your muscles and mind. Prior to the start of your workout, take a few minutes to perform what I like to call a “Stoked Scan,” or contract/relax exercises on key muscle groups. For example, stand tall and engage your glutes for 5 seconds (squeeze your butt cheeks like you have a check for a million dollars between them and you have to hold it there), then relax them. Straighten your arms completely to contract your triceps for 5 seconds, then release. Bend your elbows to flex your biceps muscles and hold the contraction for 5 seconds, then relax. Lift up onto the balls of your feet to engage your calf muscles and balance for 5 seconds, then release. Draw your navel toward your spine to brace with your core for 5 seconds, then let it go. While performing this drill, you are totally and completely focusing your brain on what it feels like to contract specific muscle groups. I guarantee this exercise will make your workout more effective and put you in the right mindset to achieve a heightened sense of awareness.

Form first. Learning and implementing proper form is paramount to achieving your goals, and inevitably demands moving and working mindfully. If you are unsure of how to execute an exercise correctly, ask a fitness professional and do some research. It’s important to understand the how, why, do’s, and don’ts. Stay informed, stay stoked!

Unplug. You heard right—step away from technology during your workouts. I encourage my clients to leave their phone, iPad, etc. out of range when they are ready to get down to business in the gym or to head outside to sweat and become one with nature. Let your workout be a distraction-free zone. Turning off the tunes, especially during a run, walk, or any outdoor sweat fest allows you to take in the sights and sounds (even the sounds of your breath and feet hitting the ground). Hitting the gym or the road tech-free allows you to focus on the task at hand so you can push, pull, rotate, and move with intention.

Smile. Attitude is everything. Smiling through challenges makes you feel more positive, successful, powerful, and makes your movements more soulful. When the going gets tough, make your focus face a happy one.

 Reflect. The only workout you should ever regret is the one you didn’t do. Take a moment or two at the completion of each sweat session to appreciate the hard work you put in. Notice how different your body feels and embrace the good vibes coursing through your body (aka endorphins). At the end of each Stoked Series class, I have my Stoked Athletes close their eyes and I ask them to “take a moment to be grateful and thankful for the ability to move and challenge your body as you did today as it’s truly a gift. Take one final moment to think about anything that may be holding you back personally or professionally. Open your eyes, shake that thought out, and leave with an open mind filled with possibility, fully STOKED.”  

A prime example of taking a moment to take a step back and appreciate occurred a few weeks ago when I attended the Go-Pro Mountain Games. Lycored passed out postcards to individuals both attending and participating in the games, requesting everyone write a love note of sorts to themselves: what makes you feel beautiful, successful, or what makes you feel like your “best self.” Lycored would then send the postcards back at a random date as a personal awareness reminder. The best reactions to this exercise in self-appreciation occurred when athletes filled their card out immediately after completing an athletic event. Fully “endphinated” and STOKED, they (myself included) were pumped to document their feeling of accomplishment with the promise of being reminded of it at a later date. The idea of a personal love note is so simple yet so impactful.

It takes practice to make the mind/body connection second nature, just like it takes time to see the results of committing to a workout routine. If you are patient and persistent with the skill it takes to excel at both, positive change is inevitable. Get STOKED to achieve greatness as you become fully connected to your best self.

Kira Stokes is a fitness expert, certified personal trainer, and group fitness coach in NYC. For over 18 years, Kira been transforming bodies, awakening the senses, empowering individuals, and transforming lives. She has developed a signature training style, The Stoked Method, along with her popular Stoked Series group training classes which combine highly effective, results-driven functional and traditional methods of working the body.