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The Zen of Warm-Ups and Cool Downs
Page 2: Making Mindful Transitions, in Fitness and in Life

Appreciating warm ups and cool downs - and making the most of them - is really a lesson in awareness and living in the now. All life is a transition and everything that has a beginning and an end has some form of warm up and cool down (what do you think childhood and old age are?). When the warm ups and cool downs of life are not honored, it causes a shock to your system. What happens when someone dies suddenly? It's an extremely traumatic situation for the person's loved ones, who don't have time to adjust. There are many less dramatic ways in which we don't warm up or cool down, too. Say you've got a big project to accomplish at work. You do all the preparation - the warm up - and make the presentation, but then it's over. A lot of times people get depressed when they finish big projects. Why? Because they forgot the "cool down" - they need to gradually adjust their consciousness into a different mindset. They need to make a transition. If you relax your busy mind with something else, preferably something playful, after a period of working long and hard, you won't feel such a big drop in mood and energy.

(Article continued below.)

The lack of warming up is the main reason a lot of people never stick to exercise or diet programs. We're not talking about physically warming up before each session, but the overall warming up. Many people try to leap feet first into a new work out or a new diet and go at it full force from day one. What happens? They burn out right away. The key to making an exercise program or a new way of eating work for you is to ease into it gradually - "warm up" to it. And you should also "cool down" gradually with most of your bad habits. The exception to this is when some form of addiction is involved - smoking, for example, or drugs, or compulsive overeating. In instances such as these, then a dramatic, cold turkey approach is more appropriate. But even here, the transition must be honored, and a mindful approach must be taken.

To truly appreciate warming up and cooling down, you must learn an appreciation of life's subtleties. Warm ups and cool downs involve the smaller aspects of life. Physically, it's a time to notice your breathing, feel your muscles getting warm or cooling off, feel the changes in your body as it adjusts to a different reality. If your warm up and cool down involve walking outside, it's a nice time to look at the scenery around you - the trees, the sky, the people on your path. The warm ups and cool downs of a Yoga session are often wonderfully relaxing. When you're in the midst of a work out or exercise routine, you're often too busy to notice the world around you. When you warm up and cool down, you can take the time to appreciate just being alive.

If you take this attitude into all aspects of your life, it can add an extra dimension to any activity. Take meditation - yes, there's a warm up and cool down. First you have to adjust your posture so you're comfortable and then get into the proper mental space. Then, when you're done, you don't just leap up into your everyday consciousness, do you? No, you gradually become aware of your body and sit quietly for a few moments - you adjust your consciousness and get it ready for a change. Think about eating - first you cook the food, doing whatever it takes to make the recipe as delicious as possible. Then, after you eat, you digest. The subtle changes in your body tell you how the food is affecting you. When you pay attention to this, you are much less likely to gorge yourself in the future or eat food that is bad for you. Getting ready for work and coming home are warming up/ cooling down transitions. Think about the way these transitions can affect the rest of your day. Makes you want to be a little more mindful, doesn't it?

As you can see, the quality of your warm up and cool down affects the overall quality of not only your exercise routine, but your whole life. Think about that the next time you're in a rush to get moving and you're tempted to skip them. That's when you really need to slow down and be aware. Always be conscious of life's warm ups and cool downs and you'll never miss a thing.

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