You learn that every breath is a source of power.
I must ask…how do you move? How do you hold up your body as you stand? As you walk? How about when you push and pull weights and objects? Where’s your mind when you move? Is it fully present with the microshifts of your muscles? In prompt as you exhale and inhale? What is the dance between your mind and body when you move? It is synchronized or out of tuned?
In the fitness community, the “no pain no gain” mantra has gained a grand audience. As fitness enthusiasts look to push themselves, they learn how to jam their bodies to its limits. But I say jam because often at times, the intention behind these actions are anything but mindful. The notion of getting “bulked” and “ripped” frequently becomes used to cover up insecurities. Becoming “lean” as a way to run away from the past. To place cement over the cracks and crevices where all the emotional baggage bubbles and swell. Movement and exercise in these cases are usually used to build up the ego and function as a negative coping mechanism.
Ben Pakulski, former body-builder and founder of Ben Pakulski Athletics, explains how during his twenty years of being a professional bodybuilder, he would often try to “shut off” his mind whenever he went into the gym for a workout. Despite his incredible success in body building, he often felt insecure of his physical appearance. By following traditional methods that most bodybuilders follow in building their grand physique, he found himself unfulfilled, empty, and unaware of who he really is. According to Pakulski, this is how exercise and movement can become a negative coping mechanism. Exercise no longer becomes a function of becoming healthier and stronger, but as a way to maintain the ego. Without it, a person’s sense of self may collapse and derail. He, therefore, advocates that it’s important to use movement/exercise as a way to be more present with the body. To improve one’s focus and self-awareness.
In the past, I was guilty of using exercise as a negative coping mechanism as well. When I was in high school, I had a boyfriend that was emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abusive. After breaking up with him, I started to date a guy a few months later who eventually cheated on me. I felt like a victim. I felt the baggage weigh on my shoulders. And I remember blaming myself for all of it. I wanted to hide from the shame and I used sports to do so. I was part of the basketball team and eventually joined Cross-Country and Track. Sometimes I would stay after practice to run a few extra laps, a few extra squats, a few extra push-ups. Anything to fill the time until I had to go home.
Now in retrospect, it’s obvious that I wanted to cope with the fear of not being worthy of real love. The mindset that encapsulated my mindless compulsive exercise was that in doing more, I would become more. In becoming more, I could prove myself worthy and then be loved. But the illusions that we carry in our mind don’t always manifest the way we believe they will. The exercise began to become more compulsive. Building to three, four, five hours a day. I would often choose working out over seeing my friends or family. As time passed, people began to leave my life. And to not feel the pain of the loss, I would exercise even more to numb it down. I would often play my music loud, almost as to drown the thoughts that came. Even if I were tired or injured, I’d push and push some more. For some reason I hoped that the pain would bring me answers on how to feel whole and worthy. But whenever I stayed still, I’d feel the emptiness rise.
Even though I often exceeded in my race competitions, it was never enough to allow me feel fulfilled and satisfied. There was always a new medal to chase. A new PR to break. And yet, I lost my closest friends, my health, my well-being. But somehow I still believed that my compulsive behavior would somehow allow me to win the civil war against my subconscious mind.
Luckily, all of this changed when I began doing yoga. Trying to sync my breath with my movement required work. Focus. Awareness. Sometimes I would exhale when I should have inhaled. Sometimes my mind would be lost in my list of to-do’s instead of on the flow. I often lost my balance or grasp of the pose because I didn’t provide enough attention to my body. Every bit of movement had a purpose. An intention. And learning how to sync everything together brought me closer to myself in a way that no nothing else had before.
You learn that every breath is a source of power. Every inhale provides expansion. Every inhale contraction. In learning this, I began to transfer it to other methods of movement. Running, swimming, cycling, resistance training, dance, basketball. My breath allowed me to have control over my movements. Every adjustment, every dynamic between force and contraction, all rooted within the breath.
It improved my performance. It reduced the time I needed for the same or even better results. My ability to stay focused and sustain my attention transferred to other areas of my life as well. I learned to become more mindful around my family. How to bring more attention to my work. How to be more present with everything in general. Even though sometimes I still struggle to bring myself 100% to what I’m doing, there’s a purer intention in what I do meant to bring me closer to myself and no longer running away from it all.