I started training Qigong when I was sixteen. The year was 1996, and Melbourne had just become home to the Grand Prix. Unbeknownst to me, the first classes I was ever to attend started across the road on one fine Saturday morning, and the dulcet tones of race cars preparing for their event shepherded me into my first experience of training.
It went very well. It was a self-healing method, the classes were run by an acupuncturist who later treated me for a variety of injuries. If you’re unfamiliar, you can think of qigong as a kind of Chinese yoga: breath work, or energy exercise would be more literal translations. Sometimes training requires challenging postures and movements, sometimes simple stillness, sitting with the breath, and sometimes anything in between.
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.
We should exercise, not because we feel bad about ourselves and our bodies, but instead simply because it’s good for us. Surely that’s reasonable? How did it all get this bad?
What I value the most is this: exercise teaches you about your body and mind. It brings relief from pain and makes moving easier. It encourages self-knowledge and reflection. It can grow your critical mind and give you perspective without feeding your judgmental impulses. It creates peace, when it’s done well, it improves confidence and subtle awareness. It is challenging to describe.
Stretching is to flexibility training, what doing a workout is to strength training. Which is to say, any one session may feel good, you can lift a weight and do a stretch and it will feel satisfying, but any single training session in isolation is kind of meaningless. I don’t mean to be a hard-ass about it or overly pessimistic. When you’re calorie-obsessed, yeah a workout that burns a lot of calories will feel useful, but if you want to progress in some way, if you want to change the condition of your muscles or body, of course it’s the accumulated benefit of your training that has meaning.
But we’ve all been told before that a workout here or there means nothing, we’ve all been told consistency is key, and then we’re usually shamed in an attempt to inspire our sense of commitment. What’s the endgame to that, really?
The only way to commit to something without burning your soul in the process is if it’s something that’s meaningful to you. If you both care about the endgame, and you enjoy the process, then you’re on a winner. You may work hard, but it won’t be hard work turning up. And often the progress that is meaningful to us is meaningless to others. They will ask why do you dedicate your efforts to this thing? Why do you stretch if it won’t make you thin?
People often want to squat deep, or they want to squat properly, and we usually think of great depth as being equivalent to full range of motion. The reason to train at a complete range of motion is to preserve mobility, strengthen weak points, and maintain or improve posture and joint harmony. So it can be pretty cool.
But when it comes to squats, what is most important is not depth, but the more subtle range of motion at the hip joint.
We tend to think about movement and exercise in very much a sports-centric way. But we don’t have to. We talk about healthy competition, and ignore what seems to me to be the much more prevalent issue of unhealthy competition, we talk about athletic progression and developing the human body or machine even. But movement doesn’t have to exist only in this context. We can think of movement in terms of artistic expression.
I had a chat with a dude in the gym the other day and he expressed that the beauty standard is harder for men than it is for women now, because you have to be big and muscular, but also ripped, and how that's tough because building mass while shredding are like, contradictory goals. So he basically just outlined why the whole "strong is the new skinny" thing is so hard, without touching on the real reasons that it's such bullshit. Hate the system? Don't ask more people to buy in, tear it the fuck down.
It doesn't matter if you're on your phone. Even if you train with 100% focus and clarity of intent, it doesn't matter if you're texting during your rest periods. They're rest periods. When you're on your phone you don't need to be thinking about weightlifting and when you're lifting, you don't need to be thinking about your phone.
You don’t need to shame or encourage people to exercise. It’s not really your job, even if you’re a trainer. If you are a trainer, it’s your job to teach people how to exercise. In a broad sense, motivation may come into it, but it doesn’t have to be dogmatic or cruel. I like helping people to get strong and become better at looking after themselves, in a certain context. And that context is fitness. The shape of your body is your business, what you eat is your business. Getting you stronger, helping you to become better at moving, that’s mine.
I saw a headline the other day: If I want to lose weight, does it mean I have internalized weight stigma? What they mean I imagine, is: I want to be thin, am I broken in some way? Is this yet another fucking thing I need to worry about?
What belongs to you, and what belongs to culture? We live in a weird, obsessive, toxic yet health-conscious culture. We’re constantly told we need to be thinner and there’s nothing in particular that’s wrong with believing what you’re told all the time. It can be somewhat overwhelming. It’s just that it’s pretty one-dimensional.