Zone 1 Exercise List

Ever feel as if you have your best ideas while driving, or in the shower?

That’s because your body is performing repetitive movement that doesn’t require active thought. Your body is ‘busy’, but your mind is not. We call this Zone 1.

Zone 1 activities, often associated with a state of “Flow” in the mind, are low-intensity exercises where the heart rate is kept at 50-60% of its maximum or below.

In this state, physical activity is repetitive but ‘mindless’, requiring no conscious thought, and the mind can reach a state of clarity and meditative focus. The book “Thinking Body, Dancing Mind” by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch explores concepts that align with achieving this state through movement and mindfulness. Some might call this a “zen state”. Here’s a list of exercises that can help one achieve and maintain a Zone 1 flow state:

  1. Simple manual labor. Mowing the lawn, hauling things in a wheelbarrow, or even splitting wood can get you into Zone 1 – as long as it’s not too hard. While this barely counts as ‘exercise’ from a metabolic perspective, it does have some value on Flow State.
  2. Tai Chi, Qi Gong, gentle yoga or Pilates: with their emphasis on slow movements and staying in poses for longer periods, any of these can help in achieving a state of flow.
  3. Walking Meditation: Walking slowly and mindfully, focusing on each step and the breath, can be a simple yet effective way to reach a flow state. This is also true for active prayer, where any repetitive movement can help the mind get into a state of flow.
  4. Writing. Writers often start their day with “morning pages” – about 750 words, typed or written – to get into a state of flow. It’s easier if you can type well. 🙂
  5. Gardening: The repetitive nature of gardening tasks, combined with the connection to nature, can facilitate a meditative flow state.
  6. Light Swimming: Gentle, rhythmic swimming with focus on the movement and the sensation of water can help in achieving a relaxed state of mind. If you’re not a good swimmer, you won’t stay in Zone 1.
  7. Soft Martial Arts Practice: Practicing martial arts forms (kata) slowly and deliberately can be meditative and flow-inducing. Sparring is definitely not Zone 1.
  8. Mindful Rowing: Using a rowing machine or actual rowing with a focus on the rhythm and flow of the movement rather than intensity can be quite meditative.
  9. Slow Rollerblading: Gentle gliding on rollerblades, focusing on the rhythm and sensation of movement, can be both calming and immersive.
  10. Casual Biking: Leisurely cycling, especially in scenic areas, allows for a relaxed focus on the environment and the pleasure of movement without strain.
  11. Calm Kayaking or Canoeing: Paddling smoothly on tranquil waters, where the focus is on the rhythm of the stroke and the serene environment, can be deeply meditative.
  12. Archery: The focus, control, and repetitive nature of archery can induce a meditative state, as concentration is required for each shot.
  13. Fishing: The patience, stillness, and attention required for fishing can lead to a deeply relaxed state, especially when in a serene natural setting.
  14. Playing Catch: Tossing a ball back and forth, focusing on the rhythm and the act of catching, can be a simple yet effective way to achieve mindfulness.
  15. Juggling: The repetitive motion and concentration required for juggling can be surprisingly meditative, engaging the mind and body in a light, rhythmic activity.
  16. Ice Skating: Gliding on ice, particularly at a leisurely pace and in a less crowded setting, allows for a focus on movement and balance, leading to a serene state of mind.

Achieving a Zone 1 flow state involves engaging in activities that are not only low in intensity but also allow for a deep sense of immersion and mindfulness. You can’t get into Zone 1 if the activity is new, because you’ll have to focus on “doing it right”. You must have a basic level of proficiency. While some runners can achieve a “runner’s high”, this doesn’t happen with novices.

When engaging in these activities, the key is to maintain a gentle, focused awareness on the present moment and the movements involved, rather than striving for performance or outcomes. This approach helps in achieving a Zone 1 flow state, where there’s a harmonious connection between mind and body, leading to a sense of ease and deep engagement in the activity.