Author: Amanda (Fox) Raynor
Co-owner and manager of Human 2.0/writer/health and wellness educator/furniture re-arranger
Fitness these days, it can get pretty crazy. Marathons, Ironmans, Crossfit, spinning, HIIT workouts, hot yoga, body building, Insanity, Asylum – wow! And don’t forget the diets, protein shakes, pre-workout drinks, cleanses, detoxes, etc. etc. It’s all very extreme and/or hyper vigilante. If you don’t W-O-R-K O-U-T and you haven’t banned bread from your diet altogether, what the heck ARE you doing?
But we need to behave this way, don’t we? How else are we going to get that [insert sarcastic tone] beach body and those buns of steel? Question is, how functional/sustainable/necessary is any of it? Sure, you can rip through thirty semi-decent burpees without dying, but if you fall on a patch of ice, are your wrists going to break? And yeah, you can run 10 km in less than an hour, but can you bend down and touch your toes or are your hamstrings too tight? Perhaps all you eat are vegetables and meat, but what happens on your birthday when your grandma makes you one of those “boxed” cakes? What are you going to do then, refuse it saying, “It has carbs for crying out loud,” and make her feel bad?
As much as we like to think that what we’re doing in the way of “working out” and “eating healthy” is helping us, is it really? So many of us willingly compromise our functionality, safety, and enjoyment in life for that self esteem boost, or for that illusive “body” we’re looking to get – something that doesn’t always happen anyway.
Wouldn’t it be smarter to train and eat in ways that we can maintain for the long haul? It’s easy to go all “gung ho” in the beginning stages of something, and when you are relatively young and capable, but what’s new turns old, you won’t be young forever, and you might not be “capable” for very long if you abuse your body and/or try to live according to a set of very strict rules. As consistency is really the key to healthy living, it’s important to set the foundation for how you will treat yourself over time, not just for right now. The habits you embed in the present will be your habits of the future, and by “habits” we mean behaviour you will do about 80% of the time. Indulgence is inevitable. Account for it, rather than deny it.
Granted, while we want to give those who make an attempt credit for trying, it should be recognized that there’s a difference between hyper vigilance (when it comes to fitness and health) and mindfulness. Also, there’s a BIG difference between doing something for looks and doing it for function. Think about it: what are the majority of people’s intentions in this regard? We work out like maniacs so we will get bigger, or smaller, or more muscular, or whatever. We worry, should we or shouldn’t we be eating those potatoes or that pie? We contemplate about going on a seven day cleanse because of a few “rough weeks around Christmas”. There is always something – some new way of eating, some new way of burning fat, or some new thing we should try in an effort to affect our appearance. There are so many things we SHOULD do that it’s mind boggling. Life should be simpler than that.
The point is, you’ll adopt a certain fitness fad and/or diet, and you’ll work at it like crazy for a few weeks, or months, or however long you can stand it, and sure, you might lose some weight, and you might even look “fitter” (whatever that means), but after… well, it’s what happens AFTER that matters. If it’s not something you can sustain, it’s useless.
But we want to live, and live well. We want to be healthy, and we DO want to look good. That’s not about to change anytime soon. With society the way it is – with all the sitting and bad food that’s available – it’s tough though, really tough. That’s the biggest problem.
So how do we find balance? This is where that idea of “mindfulness” could come in. And I know what you are thinking – images of quiet, incense-filled rooms, yogis and Buddist temples, wide-legged Aztec-patterned pants, and guys with ponytails flash in your brain.
“I’m not into that stuff,” you say. Athlete or not, some of us want more.
Hang on for a second. Mindfulness techniques can be applied to ANY kind of exercise plan, and they will make it more effective, safer, and better all around. What do we mean then when we talk about “mindfulness”? How can a person transfer over the techniques inherent in “mindful” practices like yoga and martial arts to regular fitness training and sports performance?
What does it mean to be mindful anyway?
First of all, take your time. Don’t rush through things. Better to go slow (and do less if necessary), making sure you have good form rather than risk hurting yourself. Yes, we are talking to YOU “guy who is trying to squat 405 lbs. but every rep looks like crap and/or you are not getting a full range of motion”, and we are talking to YOU “girl who is hurling herself at the rings in an attempt to do a muscle up but isn’t even close to getting one”. What are you achieving? Are you actually trying to make yourself better, or are you trying prove something to the people around you?
In the following example, Coach Kylie Jurchuk demonstrates mindfulness as she works through the lizard crawl, taking her time to place her hands where she wants them, trying to work through as great a range of motion as possible. Moving faster, she might lose out on the some of the form she is trying so hard to maintain.
Focus on the details of what you are doing. The details of movement patterns are what sets a regular person apart from an elite athlete. They’ve learned to master their bodies as best they can – in this case, that “extreme” or “intensity” translates into achieving greater results. And no, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to want to train this way. Who wouldn’t want greater results? Forget the “I’m working on doing 45 barbell thrusters, and I just might kill myself in the process”.
Here Coach Tyler Touchette works with Coach Joey Kwasniewski in our “Train the Trainer” Series going over the finer points – right down to the pointed toe – of the straddle press…
Be present in the moment. Stop the talking – not only the talking on the outside, but the talking in your head as well. Really pay attention to how your body feels working through a particular movement. Better body awareness will mean better overall performance, this being especially important if you are training to learn a specific skill. If you are just having fun – playing frisbee or road hockey with the kids, or dancing around the house – then by all means, let loose. Whoop it up! There’s a time for concentration, and a time to be free and enjoy yourself. Note: “enjoying yourself” with a hundred pounds over your head doesn’t make sense. It sounds more like a Jackass movie scene.
In the exercise below, Tess is working on her obliques. Thus, she focuses on working through a full range of motion, extending her arms and reaching out, keeping that planted arm fully locked at the elbow, really trying to make the most of this simple lateral raise.
Be aware of your breath, and try to match it as effectively as possible to your movement patterns. Again, when everything in the body works together as efficiently as possible, your ability to achieve more will be that much greater as well. One could take a lesson from ballet dancers here – part of their training involves matching movement and breath – and they are by no means slouches when it comes to fitness and health. See below…
Think of what you are doing as a “practice” or an “art form”. Exercise, fitness, movement – if you are actually trying to get better at doing something (as opposed to just having fun) – is not something to be done crudely, or carelessly. In instances when what you are doing has the potential for injury and/or is dangerous in any way at all, working through it mindfully is optimal. Looking after your body and your health should be of paramount importance to you, for without it, you don’t have much.
One more bonus: mindfulness in training could transfer to other things too – how you treat other people and the world around you, for instance. It’s about opening your eyes to the present moment and the details of it, about using all of your senses to really get the most out of your experiences and relationships. Would you rather run at life like a bull in a china shop – breaking and wrecking everything along the way – or weave through it like a ninja, leaving a peaceful existence for others, and stopping on a dime whenever there was something new or different to see and do?
“This ‘mindfulness’ business sounds a little hyper vigilante, just in the a reverse way,” you might say.
Last word: in an attempt to de-crazify our lives in general, there is absolutely nothing wrong with moving simply for the sake of doing so. We wholeheartedly encourage this – the less time slumped in front of a screen or at a desk, the better. As mentioned earlier however, if you are trying to do something specific – like if you are trying to learn a particular skill for a sport or otherwise, or you are trying to bullet-proof the body against injury (and who wouldn’t want to do that?) – then yes, you may need to “train”, and by “training”, we are suggesting doing away with the mindless slaughter of the body, and focusing more on the intricacies of the human anatomy and all of its movement patterns.
Interested in learning more about mindful movement and functional/sustainable fitness practices? Check out these awesome books!