Mental and Physical Fitness

Part 1: What’s On My Mind

Take 1-2 min and just sit with your eyes closed.

What did you experience?

Most of us experience our mind chatting away about a hundred different things, one right after another.  Our minds are constantly going, all day, every day.  This mental chatter is so constant and all pervasive that we do not realize that this inner voice  is not the real us.
The mind is only a small part of consciousness.  But it’s the one that dominates our lives.

In physical training we often talk about ‘energy leaks’ in the body.  If someone does a squat and they are not in proper alignment, they lose or ‘leak’ energy that could be used more productively for the lift.
The constant mental chatter we experience is an INTERNAL energy leak.  We don’t realize that it’s happening because we’ve grown accustomed to it.  But the constant stream of thought drains us of energy.  It limits our creativity and often prevents us from being as happy as we could be.

We believe that we control our thoughts. But most of what we think is throughout the day is involuntary, automatic and largely repetitive. It is mental static that serves no real purpose.  Generally speaking, we don’t think, thinking happens to us (like digestion or circulation of blood).  We don’t realize that we are possessed by the mind.  And this mind is not our true self.
Cogito Ergo Sum.  ‘I think, therefore I am’ leads us to believe that the thoughts running through your head are the essence of you.  This is not true.  Most of what we think is the ego running wild.  When we quiet these constant thoughts, we discover the real “I”.

So what do we do?  How do we quiet this constant mental chatter and open ourselves up to more energy, greater focus, more creativity and inner calm?  We do it in the same way that we improve our physical fitness…we train it.

Now this training is not necessarily easy.  It is just as challenging as learning to play the piano or any physical training we could go through.  But the rewards are vast and life changing.  More creativity, more productivity, more joy.  Who wouldn’t want to set aside a few min a day for that?

Part 2: Take A Deep Breath

Here’s how we can start training to quiet the mind.  First we must find a link between the body and consciousness.  Breathing is perfect for this.  Even though we breath hundreds of times a day our breathing tends to get very disfunctional over time.  It becomes shallow and high in the chest.  Here’s a simple exercise to reset our breathing pattern to it’s natural state.

-Stand up nice and tall.
-Find your center by pointing to a place 3 finger widths below the navel.
-Inhale and expand from that point, filling your abdomen from bottom, to middle, to top.
-Exhale. Expelling the air from top, to middle to bottom.

Next we’ll try a simple 5 minute meditation.
-Sit erect with your spine like a string of pearls suspended from the top.
-Gently bring your focus to your breath.
-Inhale bottom, middle, top. Exhale top, middle, bottom.  The breath should feel long, slow and relaxed.
-If thoughts come into your mind, let them float away like clouds in the sky.  Without effort. Without judgement. And bring your focus back to your breathing.

What did you experience?  It’s likely that you find your mind wandering all over the place the first few times you try this.  That’s perfectly ok.  It takes some time and effort to quiet that mental chatter.  With a little persistence it will certainly happen.

Practice this meditation 5-10 min, twice a day to start (you can gradually increase over time).  It will change your life more than anything else you could do.

Part 3: Put It Into Action

So how do we relate this to our daily lives?  A good place to start is to incorporate the breathing awareness exercise into a few small activities.  Have some dirty dishes that need cleaning?  Try to turn off any potential distractions and focus on your breathing as you wash and dry the dishes.  Just like the sitting exercise, let any thoughts that arise pass through like clouds in the sky and bring your awareness back to the long, slow, deep breaths you are taking.
There are dozens of activities you can put on autopilot while you practice this.

As a trainer and an athlete I get to see how this can improve physical performance.  Quite often in training or on the playing field we will have an unnecessary mental failure before a physical failure.  Here’s an exercise to help get rid of some of the mental blocks that can hold us back.

Isometric squat test.
-Come into a low squat position.  Do your best to keep a neutral spine with the top of the thighs parallel to the ground.
-Hold this position as long as you possibly can.

There are two ways to finish the exercise.  If you stop by standing up, this means that you gave up mentally.  If you have the strength to stand up then you had the strength to hold the squat just a little longer.
But if you end the exercise by falling down when your muscles can no longer support you, then give yourself a high five!  You have broken through the mental barrier that says ‘I cant do this any longer’ and pushed yourself to your physical limits.

With a few minutes a day of this breathing and awareness practice we can unlock many of the hidden potentials that lay dormant within us.  Try it consistently for 30 days and let me know what you experience!

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