I love swinging kettlebells and lifting weights and have for over twenty years. It’s made my body strong and taught me how to patiently plot and train for a goal. I’ve learned through injury the consequences of rushing and overreaching. I’ve also learned through injury the consequences of habits formed by insecurity.
I began working out in part to counter a bit of darkness in my heart from being bullied. A job that my mind willingly took over from the unconscious perpetrators...creating the belief that I wasn’t tough enough, strong enough, big enough and if I wanted to be respected I need to become bigger, tougher, stronger.
So I began to train. I learned from bodybuilders. I read all the magazines, learned all the tips. What I didn’t realize at the time was the amount of drugs these guys were taking to sustain the volume of training they were practicing and promoting. Most didn’t openly admit to it back then. Now with social media and online forums you can’t hide the truth.
I tortured my body trying to sustain this same level of programming. Luckily a few bodybuilders at the gym where I trained took me under their wing and help me learn how to program more safely. However, I was still dealing with an insecurity that ruled my life, forging a habit of overtraining like a disease. The more I trained the worse it seemed. I could never achieve the status of these heroic figures, ‘true’ men, in these magazines.
By the time I was in my late teens I had already suffered several overuse injuries and was even recommended for surgery on my rotator cuff. Luckily, I chose not to have the surgery and instead began practices like the Alexander Technique, yoga and tai chi.
These methods helped to relax my "pumped" and tense body. What's fascinating is that as my body began to relax so did my mind and as my mind began to relax I started becoming aware of the insecurities running my life. I began to see the insecurities that I unknowingly had begun forging around the age of twelve and that I continued to feed.
As my mind began to calm and I began to became aware of these insecurities they began to have less control over my life, my relationships and my actions. I also started becoming aware of more subtle attributes of my personality that I had shut out, deeming them as “unmanly”, and therefore wrong or at least not beneficial; traits like compassion, empathy, intuition.
I still struggle with my willingness to accept these attributes as they often come up against my perception of what it means to be a man in this world. So, I turn back to yoga, tai chi, meditation to help me find truth. Truth not based on someone else’s opinion, as people seem to have an opinion on any topic, but based on my experience... What does it mean to be strong, to stand tall. What is a healthy, strong body and mind? Forget what it looks like, what does it feel like?
Yoga, tai chi and meditation have helped and continue to help me discover this in myself. These practices foster awareness of your body and mind, which can provide you a look into your emotional and psychological states and what drives them. This awareness can be brought into your training as well as your everyday life; making you a little more conscientious about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
The practices aren’t for everyone. I realize that. But, I do believe having a practice or practices that slow you down and allow you to witness the monkey mind, the mindless chatter that criticizes what you do and how you do it, is crucial in living a truly happy and healthy life.
Here is a simple yoga pranayama (breathing practice) that can help you relax and cultivate mind / body awareness.
Sit, lie or stand in a comfortable position. Let the body weight ground down through the floor. Then exhale all of the air out of your lungs, every last drop. You can also add a slight noise like a “SSS” sound to help keep your attention on your breath. Let the exhalation linger. Then allow the inhalation to gently fill the body.
As you get comfortable with this you can begin to balance your exhalations and inhalations. First count the duration of the exhalation then see if you can match your inhale with your exhalation. Focus on the quality of the breath, make it as smooth as possible. Make it a game!
Do you have any habits that you know have been forged by insecurity and fear?
What is your practice?
How do you manage the “monkey mind”?