Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Enjoy the Silence...

"Enjoy the Silence" - not just a bad Depeche Mode song.

Spending time in silence is one of the first steps in cultivating true mental/spiritual strength, focus, calmness, and balance. As mentioned in the previous post, we are not talking about the ability to suffer through a hard workout or experience. Rather, we are talking about the ability to remain strong when necessary, yet surrender when appropriate; the mental/spiritual maturity of knowing when to push and knowing when to yield. Or, in the immortal words of Kenny Rogers, "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em; know when to walk away, know when to run". All kidding aside, if you are willing to give it an honest shot, you will be amazed at how this simple practice can improve your training, performance, and your life.

Without devoting time to silence and training the mind, our thoughts control our reality; a reality that may or may not be accurate. Without proper training and awareness, our reality is shaped by our reactions and responses to the world around us, we are influenced by our experiences, biases, conditioning, genetics and our filters. While our perception may occasionally be accurate, there is a good chance it isn't the case. In each moment, each instance, we get to chose how we perceive and how we react, yet without first observing our thoughts we have no awareness. Furthermore, if you never spend time shutting the heck up, turning off the external noise and work on quieting the internal noise, you will have no insight let alone true mental/spiritual growth.

Let me give you an example, if something takes place during your day and you react by becoming angry, upset, or stressed and you arrive for your workout feeling angry, upset or stressed, I can almost guarantee that your perception of the workout will be off as will be your performance. You will most likely feel frustrated, have loads of negative self-talk in your head, too much tension in your body, and much of the session will feel like a struggle. Sure you will leave feeling like a million bucks, but the hour you spent training was more of a suck-fest than necessary.

On the other hand, if you were to have the same experience prior to class, but you respond with equanimity, clarity and calmness, you will arrive at PR Fitness with an entirely different attitude. As a result, you will have a more positive experience in your training. When the workout becomes difficult your body will be less tense, your movement patterns will improve, and you will utilize oxygen more efficiently, thus improving performance. When you are in a positive frame of mind, your inner dialogue will be words of encouragement, patience, and empowerment which further shapes your workout experience and performance. You still go home feeling like a million bucks, but your experience of getting there was entirely different.

Another thing to consider is that while completing your workout temporarily take some of the pressure (stress) off the pressure cooker of life, in short order the pressure inevitable returns. Devoting time to silence ultimately helps to turn down the heat of life which lowers the pressure long term.

"So what?", you may ask. Hey, if the first example sounds like you and you are perfectly happy with that, then I say continue on your not-so-merry way. Who am I to throw a monkey wrench in your misery? Yet, if the first experience sounds like you and you are ready for a change, then today is your day.

Personally, my goal in my training encompasses far more than physical performance, PR's, and fitness; it's also about (more importantly) becoming a better, balanced human being. I train to learn more about myself and the world around me. I train to cultivate insight into my own ego, hang ups and short-comings and then to work towards improving in these areas. I train not just for physical capacity, but also for mental and spiritual fitness.

At the end of the day, any A-hole can pick up heavy weights, run far, run fast, do a sub-4:00 "Fran", but who cares? Isn't it more impressive to have a decent physical capacity, yet also posses a spirit of humility? Isn't it more admirable to have a 6:00 "Fran", yet posses strength of character? And, isn't it more impressive to run slower, yet exude peacefulness?

If you are still reading and on board to "Enjoy the Silence", here is your homework:

How: Just sit in a comfortable, upright position with good posture. Focus your attention on your breathing. Focus on the sensation of the breath coming in and out of your nose. Once you are focused on the sensation, just keep your mind steady on the sensation and count your breaths to 10, then start over again. Each time you get distracted, just go back to counting. It's that simple, it's that difficult...

How Long: First timers will do well to set aside 10 minutes per session. Once you are consistently sitting for 10 minutes per session, begin to add a couple minutes to each session until you work up to 15-20 minutes per session. Don't stress or be in a rush to get to the 15-20 minute mark, that approach pretty much destroys the point of the practice. In this practice there is no "goal" or measure of "success".

How Often: For beginners, I suggest 3 times per week. Once you are consistently spending time in silence 3 times per week, bump it up to 4 times per week. Eventually, you should devote time to silence 5-7 times per week. Again, be patient and don't rush in to sitting more often. Make this a sustainable practice, not a burden on your already busy day.

When: Pick a time of day that works in your schedule. Initially, there isn't any one time of day that is better than another - the key is to just sit! I prefer right before bed, when everyone else is in bed and the house is quiet, or first thing in the morning, while everyone else is still sleeping. If you are like me, these are the only quiet times of day in our house!

Where: In a location you are not likely to get interrupted. For some, you may have to resort to a closet, the bathroom, basement, hide in the garage, etc. I'm only half joking on this one. You gotta do what you gotta do to make it work. No Excuses!

What not to do during this time:
  • No music - it's a crutch and a distraction. If you need some noise to drown out the background noise, turn on a fan.
  • No iPhones, Crackberry's, laptops or other electronic gadgets - leave the phone off and in the other room.
  • No prayer or sorting out "problems" during this time. If you want to pray or "think", do it after the session - this is quiet time and time to train your mind. If a great idea or the solution to world peace comes to you during this time, forget about it until you are done - it will still be there...
  • No dozing - it may become hard to stay awake during your session, just do your best.
  • Oh, and no Facebooking, or Tweeting during this time!!!!
If you have questions, let me know. I'm here to help.

"3, 2, 1... Sit!"

Until next time...

Be Well,

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Filling in the Gaps

If I were to ask you "What is the biggest deficiency in your training? What do you feel like you most need to work on or improve?" What would you say? Most common, the response would be related to deficiencies in strength, power, technique, skill, cardio fitness, nutrition, etc. As your coach, would you be surprised if I told you that any and all of the above responses are incorrect?

While you may stink at doing Squat Cleans, or you may have the cardio capacity of an 80 year old emphysema patient, there is one area that is, literally, head and shoulders above the rest when it comes being a well balanced athlete and one who is truly "fit" - that would be the training of your mind.

When I say "mind", I'm not referring to your "intellect" or ego-mind. In fact, in our culture this part of our mind is chronically over-trained/under-rested. We feed our mind on books, magazines, newspapers, internet, Facebook, Twitter, radio, television, education, conversations and so forth; to the point that our mind becomes as unhealthy as our body.

Additionally, I'm not referring to "mental toughness" in terms of being able to hang tough in a hard workout, or the ability to suffer through pain of the physical, psychological, or spiritual nature. Rather, I'm referring to the mind/spirit that is at the very core of "you". In fact, what I'm referring to lies at the opposite end of this spectrum of hardness. I'm talking about the ability to quite ones mind and the quality of stillness or softness; the ability to narrow ones sustained focus on a single point without wavering, without being blown off course. I'm also talking about the ability to direct ones thoughts and responses, rather than having your mind run a muck in a million different directions, constantly in a state of reaction(s) based on past experiences and fears.

Having spent the last two years immersed in the current "Western" approach to physical training and hybrid training (CF, et al), the one glaring deficiency I see in all these modes, styles and approaches is the heavy emphasis solely on the physical disciplines, performance outcomes, and practices that help to forge "elite fitness" and mental toughness. While I'm clearly a huge fan of this style of training in some respects, I also recognize the shortcomings and how all the "hardness" creates an imbalance in terms of creating a truly healthy, fit, balanced human being.

Long before there was a "PR Fitness", there was this... Chris, sitting meditation. St. John's USVI, around 2004. (Sorry for the poor picture quality. It's borderline a miracle that this photo even still exists. Yeah, a lot shorter hair and a lot less tattooing back then!)

Over the years I've also spent a great deal of time in the "softer" disciplines of yoga, mindfulness practices, and meditation. Years before PR Fitness and long before there was a "CrossFit", "Gym Jones", or "Mountain Athlete" I was a student and teacher of the multi-disciplined approach to fitness and wellness: weights, aerobic conditioning, flexibility/yoga, proper diet and meditation. I spent years as a Wholistic Fitness Teacher, yoga teacher and a meditation guide. With over a dozen years of practice, I learned that while many people in the yoga and "spiritual" community have cultivated very nimble and flexible bodies, they are generally very week in terms of true physical strength and power; they can bend, twist and contort and they can sit in meditation for hours, experience mental equanimity, or even have "mystical" experiences, yet they cannot pick up heavy stuff and often lack true endurance. This is not true fitness and well-being!

My contention is that to be a truly fit and balanced person, you must possess ability, competency and skill in the physical arts and all it's components: strength, flexibility/mobility, power, endurance, agility, and so on. Yet, you must also possess an equal balance in the mental and spiritual realms: calmness, peace, and the ability to flow and manage stress. You should also be capable of maintaining healthy, meaningful relationships and be integrated to things outside yourself and things bigger than yourself.

Having been around the fitness block (multiple times), I have yet to find a program or system that truly delivers in all facets of fitness and well-being. Yet, I can tell you that we, at PR Fitness, are headed in that direction and welcome you along for the journey.

In the upcoming weeks I will share lessons, practices, techniques and assignments which will help to cultivate greater balance in your training, and in your life. I would encourage you to embrace these practices and truly deploy them to the best of your abilities. I would also encourage you to share your thoughts and experience here by posting "comments". And finally, I would encourage you to ask questions or email me if you need anything: chris@prfitness.net.

Be Well,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

High Five Escalator

There are a million ways to get people out of their comfort zones and ruts (our specialty at PR Fitness). Here is another way...