Preface: Many of you know me as the producer and a host on SOFREP Radio, and on a recent episode with Alex Hollings talking his “Old Man Fitness” series I tapped into my philosophy on working out as a way to unplug and escape from the monotony of our day to day living routine. I can’t really take credit for these ideas, they’re not my own. My philosophy on fitness is drawn from many different things I’ve read or heard from various sources over the years. There’s really too many to even name, I take what I can use from people of all different walks of life, some of whom I’ve had the honor to interview. I feel I could write an entire book on this wisdom I’ve picked up from other great minds, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to stick to the more specific topic of mindfulness, or the mind-muscle connection. Enjoy!
It’s Friday night, and while others are out partying or relaxing, I’m genuinely excited to be done with the work week, and ready to get a great workout in at an emptier gym than usual. Some may assume that I have nothing better to do, but to the contrary, I’ve skipped out on plans to make this happen. Sure, I’ll make time to hang with some friends tomorrow at some point, but right now I need this and will enjoy this. People may wonder, how do you possibly enjoy this? They hate the gym, and see exercise almost as a necessary evil to stay looking decent, and for their overall long-term health. Well, I didn’t grow up an athlete, nor someone particularly driven, but through hard times in my life, different pearls of wisdom have entered my psyche trying to find some motivation in various memoirs, interviews, and spiritual teachings. One of the most crucial of these ideas that morphed me was mindfulness.
Before I get into what mindfulness and the mind-muscle connection actually mean to me, let me take you back into that Friday night and my routine. I think routines are integral, and habits whether good or bad are hard to break out of. Whether it’s that cigarette at noon during work, or triple-checking for grammatical mistakes before hitting the “send” button on that email, once you start doing something, it becomes second nature. Since I’m lifting this night, not doing cardio, I have a good meal consisting of a mix of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and once I’m done with that, grab the iced coffee from the fridge and start drinking that out of my shaker as I pack my gym clothes. I put on the same Asics I wear every time I exercise. Before I’m ready to go, I grab what’s left of my gallon of water I’ve been drinking throughout the day, put in my essential amino acids, make sure I have my iPod Nano and earbuds, and I’m ready to hit the road.
I start to feel the caffeine hit me and the intensity of the music I’m blasting as I drive, getting ready to be in the right mind state to make some progress, and most of all to truly enjoy my workout with laser-like focus and intensity. All of this is ritual, but here’s where the mindfulness element starts to come in. In the parking lot, I leave my cellphone in the car and prepare myself for as little to no distraction as humanly possible. Remember I said I brought my iPod Nano? Some of you may have read that thinking to yourselves, what an ancient piece of technology. It’s actually perfect for this. It keeps me plugged into my music as I drown the world out, and with no other distractions on that little device. As I prepare to lift, I am not focused on how much the person next to me is lifting. I’m not wondering what’s on TV. I am plugged solely into what muscles I am engaging as I exercise. I am slowly working the muscle and not focused on numbers or amounts of weight. I am going to failure, meaning doing the exercise until I can’t properly complete a set anymore, and making sure to truly feel the expanding and contraction of the muscle groups. As I continue to do this as completing different exercises, I enter what can only be described as a euphoric meditative state. I often won’t notice a friend trying to get my attention or even what the hell that song is I’m listening to. This is the awesome feeling I was getting at, and it is in that moment that demonstrates what I absolutely love about working out.
I’ve been practicing this a while, and often heard about the immense benefits of fitness through chemicals like endorphins, but nothing quite describing the feeling that I just illustrated. However, when I was at a low point a while back, someone helped point me in the direction to explain what I was practicing when I wouldn’t have expected it. After periods of time experiencing intense anxiousness, panic attacks, and crippling depression, I finally decided to see a therapist. Truth be told, for me, therapy could not do for me what exercise has, which may explain my passion for it. The problem is that when you go through a true serious depression, your body changes in an intensely negative manner. Things such as your testosterone can dramatically decrease leaving you so tired, that getting through a workout seems nearly impossible, leaving you to resort to other ways of dealing with your problems. During that process though, I was told to read the book “The Mindfulness Solution” by Ronald D. Siegel. You’re probably expecting me to say that this book was life changing and essential for everybody to read, but I actually wouldn’t go that far. What it did do for me however, was connect some puzzle pieces and metaphorically make that light bulb go off in my brain. The book describes this all in-depth, but what I would basically describe mindfulness as, the process of shutting out all other senses while focusing on what you are feeling in that very moment. This may not sound like a very profound idea, but think about the amount of multitasking we do in modern day society. When is the last time you truly focused intensely on being in the moment? We live in a world that I would say embodies the antithesis of this. People no longer make eye contact as they focus on the alerts popping up on their phone, we go to events with friends and are more focused on taking photos to document it happening than to truly savor the moment and enjoy ourselves, and I think it’s really a shame. In fact, I would say it’s not a huge leap to make the connection between this and the rampant depression so many in society are feeling. We’re disconnected from ourselves with all of these distractions. I’ve made an effort to be cognizant of this in all aspects of my own life. I once heard one of my influences, Howard Stern on his show ranting about how “multitasking is bullshit!” It’s no surprise that Stern is far from a stranger to therapy as he openly speaks about, and I believe him to be right on this. When your mind is in several places at once, you’re not truly experiencing any of it.
Siegel’s book gives some examples of when to use mindfulness, and many of them are on otherwise monotonous tasks. For example, feeling the sensation of the water hitting your hands as you’re cleaning the dishes, taking note of the warmth and how it makes you feel. Now, I’d be lying to you if I said I practice mindfulness in all of these daily tasks in this way, I am not exactly a Buddhist Monk. Like most of you, while cleaning the house or washing dishes I’m listening to a podcast, or watching a YouTube video and just getting it done as rapidly as possible. It’d be a tall order to ask people to practice this idea of mindfulness at all times. I did realize at some point though, that this is what I’d been practicing for years now as a lifter and I want you to as well. Some of you may be making excuses for doing this already as you read this article. A lot of you work jobs that require you to respond to emails immediately or have kids you want to make sure are safe. What if I told you though, that using this limited part of your day to disconnect will make you more efficient in all of your other tasks the rest of each day? Believe me. It will. We so often hear about CEOs and top business leaders becoming exhausted, sometimes hospitalized, and we even hear about horrible tragedies like the suicides of military veterans or icons like Kate Spade. I am not implying that mindfulness is the solution to these unspeakable problems, but I genuinely believe it would help this epidemic.
Some of you may also be thinking that this is some type of new age crap, or it’s a theory that sounds nice but is ineffective. Ponder this though. This idea has been practiced for ages, and not just by Buddhist Monks or Yogis. When you hear of Christians who get deep into prayer, they are practicing mindfulness. The surge in popularity of sensory deprivation tanks all over the country, truly a way to practice mindfulness. When it comes to incorporating this into the mind-muscle connection, it’s been described by the greats like Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as Frank Zane on The Power of Thought Podcast conducted by our own Brandon Webb.
There’s also a great piece by rock icon and fitness enthusiast Henry Rollins titled “Iron and the Soul” that describes this. Henry writes:
Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it’s some kind of miracle if you’re not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.
I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron Mind.
Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.
The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.”
In conclusion, I make the argument that you deserve to not just allow yourself an hour or so out of your day to work out, but to honestly and truly enjoy it. I don’t know who you are reading this and it doesn’t matter. All of us deserve that break where we can escape to a new dimension in our minds as we focus on our body. It may take months of hard work to experience the feeling I’ve described, and I myself don’t feel it every time I work out, but when I do, it’s unbeatable. Why else would I skip out on parties and other plans to get a workout in? It’s not just for vanity purposes as you may think. It’s my medication, meditation, and it keeps me balanced in all other aspects of life. There’s a reason that intense exercise has aided people in fighting addiction and trauma. Take those steps needed, form good habits, and find your own style of doing things. When it doesn’t go as planned and you fall off, don’t beat yourself up, keep at it and pat yourself on the back for the progress you’ve made. Block out the noise, allow yourself some much needed time away from the problems and obstacles of your work or family life weighing you down, and simply escape and enjoy. You deserve it!
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.