The embodiment of curiosity. Or maybe an excuse for a photo of a cat.
It’s awareness and curiosity, more than discipline, more than dedication, which will help you to develop your body and athleticism. I don't think I've ever trained anyone who made real progress without investing in their awareness. If you don't care about your training, why would anyone else?
But if you do invest in developing your awareness through training – whether at the gym, in a class or by yourself – sooner or later, you’re going to come up against things you don’t like. That’s the price you pay for giving yourself the opportunity to grow.
You’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. You know it, you can’t un-know it. To wax mythological – you’ve eaten the apple from the tree of forbidden knowledge, and you can’t reclaim your innocence. You can’t pretend you don’t know the truth that there’s a world out there. It’s big, it’s scary, and full of all kinds of crazy.
That’s what growth’s like.
You can continue to feed the lie, run on the treadmill in front of the television and try to distract yourself from the fact that this is your body, it’s alive and doing stuff, it’s worthy of love and respect and it’s trying to make itself heard.
If you’re exercising at intensity, you’ll be experiencing some level of distress. Which is already half the reason to train intensely, so that you can’t hide from the experience of training any more. Don’t worry, that’s normal. Be sure to check in with yourself.
Is it a degree of distress that’s good for you, that will make you grow? Or does it make you want to hide? Ask yourself – am I safe? Because you probably are, and if you’re safe, you’re free to exceed your potential.
Be curious. Don’t assume anything. Check in, and investigate. Are you confident? Confident that you can stop when you want, and do as much as you want? Are you in pain? If so, why? Is it acute? An ache? Should you stop? Can you run for another 30 seconds? Can you complete one more good, strong repetition? Be truthful with yourself, without judgement. Stop if you need to. Rest. Are you satisfied? Do you think you should be doing more? Let that question go. Do you want to do more? Can I do more? Am I satisfied?
As much as I like the sound of my own voice, or the look of my own words, I believe experience teaches you about yourself better than anyone else ever can. Pursue what interests you, what you find engaging. Some things can’t be taught, but they most certainly can be experienced, especially when you’re in charge of what you’re doing. Don’t confuse being ‘in charge’ with being ‘in control’ – you don’t have control over when your muscles fail, you don’t have control over how fast you can run, you don’t have control over whether or not you get nauseated. But you do have control over your intention, and you are in charge, so you get to call all the shots. You get to say when it’s enough, and you get to say when to push on.
And when you’re in charge you’re safe, and if you choose to put yourself in an intense and physically stressful situation, this can stimulate you to grow stronger.
However, if you don’t feel safe, if you aren’t in charge, and if you bite off more than you can chew, that might only hurt you, it might make you weaker, and it might do you damage. So be curious and adventurous, but also wise and exercise as much discretion as you want.
Focus on what’s safe, what’s healthy and what’s enjoyable. And if you like, every now and then, try something a little uncomfortable, try something really hard, really intense, and see how that makes you feel? Does it help you to feel stronger? Do you feel more satisfied? Or afraid?
The essence of balance.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how terribly unpleasant places gyms can be. They take our money and then make us feel unwelcome. The reason gyms are full of mirrors isn’t to help you with technique – if that were true there’d be mirrors on the ceiling to help you bench press. Gyms have mirrors to make you feel bad about yourself. Depending on you, that might motivate you to come to the gym more, or it might keep you away. If you’re squatting, you can’t use a mirror. If you look at yourself when you have a heavy barbell on your back, it’ll distract you. You’re more likely to round out your upper back, you might fall forward, it’ll be harder to maintain your lower back arch. You should be squeezing your shoulder blades and looking slightly up, that bunches the trapezius and gives you a good, solid platform to rest the bar on. The mirror can’t help you with heavy squatting, but your body awareness sure can.
When you play your sport, there are no mirrors to help you.
If you’re doing a biceps curl with a barbell, you know if it’s uneven, because you’ll feel the weight slipping, leaning to one side. That’s what your awareness is for – to notice when you’re off balance – to know where your body is in space.
Some people train blindfolded and barefooted, to increase their proprioception, awareness, coordination and balance. It’s great. You learn a lot, which is what you’re training for. Education through experience. It's not possible to develop your strength, power or speed without also developing your awareness.