Weightlifting strengthens the muscles, but it also makes you more resistant to pain. And when I carry heavy loads, I feel as if I can endure heavy loads.
When you practice Tai Chi, you practice letting go. Physically. And so over time you become more peaceful. And more adaptable.
Training the body is training the mind.
It always seems odd to me, when you look at a gym timetable, there’s like regular fitness classes, then the yoga and Pilates classes are grouped into this “mind-body” schedule. So what are the regular classes? Mindless fitness? Where you try to pretend you don’t have feelings or an intellect? Where you ignore your body and hope that it goes away? Actually I think the answer is yes. If the thrust of your training is a compensation for your own sense of worthlessness, nobody wants to spend more time in that headspace than they need to. We’ll switch right off. It’s mindless movement.
And yet, all training occurs in the mind.
If you’ve ever had even a small experience of coaching people you’ll notice this too – the same training methods for different people, they will not all have the same experience. Muscles are simple, if you expose a muscle to a strength stimulus, the muscle will grow stronger as it recovers. But people are not muscles, and we are different from each other. We respond differently to the same events.
And when you ignore that, when you pretend that we are all alike, that’s when it becomes a propaganda. My weightlifting practice makes me feel like I can carry more, in my life, emotionally. You might not get that from your training, and it comes with risks too – when the load becomes too great, will the injury be more severe for it?
So I can recognise – this thing has benefit for me, but for you it might be different, you might not value what I value. You will not experience what I experience. You are unique.
But when you practice punishing yourself, you become more skilled at punishing yourself.
This is very important.
I keep returning to this point, because we get better at what we practice, so: as the Buddhists and the Taoists say, do nothing that harms your body or mind.
I have done so much that harms me, and these days, how do you even know? Who do you trust, when it comes to the complicated topic of how to look after yourself? What foods are safe? What exercises are going to hurt you? How do you learn to trust yourself?
I saw a clip with a Shaolin Monk recently, and this is certainly my experience of discipline, he said with self-discipline rises self-responsibility. This leads to self-care, which leads to self-love.
Discipline is a two-edged sword. You can use it to protect yourself, to ensure that your boundaries are respected, or you can use it to harm yourself. To oppress yourself. When we hurt ourselves in the name of health – how do you recover from that? How do you fortify your boundaries, in a world where we are constantly bombarded with propaganda that threatens our self-worth?
Thirteen years a Personal Trainer, and I have more questions than answers.
We can’t always look inwards. You can practice being with your body, you can practice rejecting the hatred and you can refuse to participate. But if everyone turns inwards we cannot end systemic oppression. Trying to feel better about ourselves helps ourselves, but it does not stop with us. And if you seek to change culture, if you value the concept that people shouldn’t need to try to feel better about themselves all the damn time? You can’t do all things at all times, and I think this is the key behind “be the change you want to see in the world”: it starts from within but it does not finish there.
Do not engage in hateful self-talk, and do not throw fuel on the fire when your friends complain they are too fat, that they’re ugly, that they’re lazy. Do not agree with them. Remind them of their accomplishments, of their character. Remind them why you are friends. Remind them of their strengths. And speak to yourself as you would to them, were you trying to achieve this.
Use your self-discipline to reject the lie that your fatness is laziness, apply discipline instead to the task of protecting yourself. When you feel inspired to abuse yourself, use your discipline. You are not allowed to beat yourself down anymore. It doesn’t matter if worthlessness feels true, it is not true. Negative criticism carries weight because it exploits your fears and insecurities, not because of truth. And when the words exploit your fears, the little hateful voice inside you confirms them, it believes the worst of you, it says you knew it all along. And so it feels true, but this is not truth. This is fear. It carries weight, but as they say, when you feed the fear it grows stronger. Starve the fear, do not feed it, and it will weaken.
And that’s the truth. Diets, deprivation, the mantra “eat less and exercise more”, these things are designed to make you weak.
The desire to be free from suffering is what diet culture exploits. It is a very powerful desire, and a very raw button. And then they sell you suffering.
Please don’t misunderstand. Many individuals have the best intentions at heart. But this shit is systemic. It has it’s own momentum too, and too often we are told that the thing that hurts us is what we need more of in order to heal.
And then what?
Train your mind. Train to be strong and you will become strong. Eat plentifully so you can grow stronger. Practice both standing up and letting go and in time, you can find peace.
But believing in yourself? It’s harder work than believing the lie that you’re broken. What can you do? Refuse to feed the fears.
We grow stronger because of two things: one, we train. This stimulates the body to grow strong. And two, we recover. In between training sessions we rest, we eat, we sleep, and we care for ourselves. When we train for strength, in the moment, we train until we are weak. And then we recover, and we can only grow stronger when we are both stimulated, and given space. Without space we are overwhelmed, and without a stimulus, nothing can change. So we stimulate and nourish, stimulate and nourish.
So to for our minds. You must be challenged, and you must give yourself space. Think and rest. Challenge and nurture. When you are overstimulated, overwhelmed, rest is what you need in order to grow stronger. Do not take too much on all at once. Temper your training with understanding. And then when you hit it again, you’ll be ready. You’ll be stronger.
At the heart of strength is softness. That is your self-compassion; our vulnerabilities are what unite us. Resilience is born of self-understanding. You wish things were better because fundamentally, you care for yourself. And the fact that you care is the foundation of your endurance. It is the source of your strength. Nothing is possible without heart.