Tried a new approach on the StairMaster today at the gym. I'm usually bombarded with the 12 giant flatscreen monitors playing different stations and competing for my attention, or, yes, looking at other people working out -- some of whom I observe for longer periods than others!
Today I practiced a moving meditation. I took the machine closest to the window (like the lady in the pic). I set up my 30 minute workout and then closed my eyes as the stairs began to move. At first I simply followed my breathing, and then, as I began to get into a rhythm, I remembered a friend talking about the Jesus Prayer, in which you simply meditate on a specific phrase over and over. This prayer, also knows as the Prayer of the Heart, has been practiced in monasteries since ancient times, and has constantly been prayed in the monastic community of Mount Athos for hundreds of years.
I found that I was much more in tune with my breathing, my heart rate, and what individual muscle groups were doing. I was less distracted by my thoughts, and more "in my body." I practiced saying one word of the prayer as I took each step, and then experimented with slowing it down and seeing if I could stay present. It really changed the nature of my workout, and it didn't seem like mindless drudgery.
You certainly don't have to say a prayer to get the same benefit of mindful exercise. Repeating a favorite saying, a holy word, or an affirmation would work. Even the simple practice of being aware of the rhythm of the breath, or counting to 4 or 8 or 12, would create a more conscious experience.
As I wrote about hypermiling over the weekend, I realized that as our world changes, we are being more forcefully invited to practice mindfulness across a spectrum of daily activities. Changing habits takes time, but I've noticed that driving more consciously is actually much more relaxing than driving like an A-hole (of which I have plenty of practice!). Breaking the plastic bag habit at the store has been a challenge -- we keep forgetting the bags -- but we're getting used to it, and seeing more and more people doing the same.