03/24/2014 08:25 am ET Updated May 24, 2014

Destination Certification: All This Studying Is Making Me a More Mindful Exerciser

I am a firm believer in the stress-reducing powers of exercise. For me, running is my sacred space. Like many runners, I've been known to say that running helps me clear my head. Running has always been time I am off the clock. There are no emails or phone calls. There are no deadlines, only finish lines. Running is my meditation.

But now that I'm working toward a personal training certification, my fitness world has become increasingly more analytical. Of course, I expected some new understandings of the way things work -- I'm learning, after all. I knew there would be many more technical names of muscles to memorize. I knew there be advanced variations on my favorite moves to try. I hoped to maybe get a little fitter in the process (maybe?). But I didn't expect to totally reevaluate the way I work out.

I came back from a run this morning feeling triumphant, and not only because of the particular high that comes with unloading my thoughts through sweat. Rather than think about what song to listen to next or what I would eat for breakfast, I had spent the entire run thinking with intent about what I was actually doing.

This week, I've been studying training concepts of speed, agility and quickness. I've been reviewing the benefits of the footwork drills I remember doing as a high school soccer player. I've been dissecting the lower-body mechanics that allow me to sprint run mildly fast.

Today, while running, I thought about how my feet struck the ground with every step, and how my ankles and knees were positioned above them. I just about mumbled "triple flexion, triple extension!" as my right leg swung in front of my left. With my synergistic dominance flash card from last week fresh in my mind, I thought about powering myself forward from my glutes to avoid overloading a nagging right hip flexor. I noticed, maybe for the first time, the slight angle at which my upper body leans forward and where my shoulders hang out.

It's not that focusing on form itself is new to me. I've long been a stickler for good form when it comes to strength-training exercises, and I've written about it to boot. But I've been a zoned-out runner for as long as I can remember. Now, I'm learning more about what exactly to think about, and the consequences of not doing so. As a dear running friend put it, "What makes the difference between the chronically injured runner and the one who miraculously can get by without anything too bad happening to them is just mindfulness and thoughtful adjustments." And she didn't even need a textbook to teach her that!

In my running, in the way I sit at my desk chair at work, in the way I climb the stairs, I see muscular compensations that can lead to incorrect form that could in turn cause injuries -- something I would like to avoid at all costs, thank you. I even went as far as practicing stepping on my kitchen stool just to see if my knees and toes were in alignment. I don't think my roommates noticed.

I can't quite say I'm ready to meditate while running -- although if you can swing it, more power to you. But paying a little bit more attention, giving my body a little extra care -- is that what exercise is about in the first place?