This morning I walked into the gym, feeling sorta somber. As I turned a corner I felt a humm and a calm wash over me. My lungs started to fill. I was entering my spiritual practice. Here I breathe. I am connected to my body. I am in the moment. I move my mind into my muscles and the only focus is making each rep as flawless as possible. I have been in this spiritual practice for 30 years and like any spiritual practice it has evolved and changed. What I seek from it changed. What I bring to it changed. What I receive has changed.
Exercise has always been very therapeutic for me. I recall telling an old coach that the gym was therapy. He clapped back with "the gym is your training, therapy is therapy" I get it, maybe therapy was not the best word to describe my spiritual practice. Lifting weights is very much Yoga-like for me ,breathing, connection and slow down. I think only of my muscles, my form, my range my tempo. When my coach clapped back at me I said nothing, I didnt need him to understand what I meant, it was my truth. He meant that I was there to build muscle, I knew that. Bringing all parts of me to the gym has enabled me to stay in my practice. This is a big beautiful gray space where I can explore everything. I am seeking both spiritual growth and physical growth through my training.
My emotions have always accompanied me to the gym, they ride shotgun. They come with me everywhere, they are way too big to be ignored. There have been blocks or years where I have sought to process rage. I would lift with uncontainable energy after a sleepless shitty night of waiting for the gym to open. I would free myself by blasting Rage Against the Machine (what else) and lifting until the feelings were gone, or at least numbed. It took many years before the rage was actually gone. I would walk into the gym and endorphins would flood me, my heart would race. My physical training was'nt as efficient. I was kinda sloppy, not especially artful. Gratefully I never got hurt.
After several years the rage left and uncovered all kinds of other feelings hanging out beneath the surface. All of these messy feelings had space so now that rage was gone so they came with me to the gym. They all always came with me to therapy too but they didn't move through me in that space, they moved in this one. So here were all these other feelings that were riding shotgun, these were more confusing and they seemed to permeate every part of me. I couldn't tell where they ended.
In the gym, I would explore relationships, triggers and patterns. I have a long history with trauma and a whole lot of toxic people who made a whole lot of imprints on me. Day after day, set after set I would explore my thoughts, actions and feelings, I felt so broken for so long. My eyes would close, I would breathe slowly Imagining that each rep would make me stronger and move me closer to a solution. I would lose myself in rituals and repetitive movements desperately trying to find my voice, something I still struggle with.
Looking back, I realize I was building up my muscles as a defense, believing that if I looked strong, people wouldn't be able to hurt me. So that's where my love for muscle began, from a not so healthy space.I remember feeling vulnerable and fragile, it sucked.
About seven years ago I finally felt healed, I stopped bringing all of my pain with me to the gym. I felt grounded and peaceful more often than not. I was breathing differently and my relationship to exercise shifted. I discovered the sport of competitive bodybuilding. I learned everything I could, becoming more fascinated with each passing month. When I entered the sport it was all about the finished product, the stage, now it's about what I discover on my way to the stage. I am in my practice all day because it moves outside of the gym. I am focused on my mindset, my nutrition, my hunger, my sleep, I need to be mindful and try to master all of it. Mastery in those areas requires intense focus and self reflection. Unless I know myself how can I gain mastery?
Through all of these phases I have had a few constant threads, self improvement, self responsibility, self honesty and self discipline. My training provides opportunities to find my edges. My physique does'nt represent sadness and it isnt a wall to keep people out. It represents my intelligence, confidence and commitment. See what I mean? Things change.
On every gratitude list I write, I include exercise. The ability to lift weights is something I am very grateful for. This is my thing and I am glad I found my thing. There are other things I have tried, other shoes, they didnt fit. My "thing" brings together all parts of me. I continue improving my physique and my spirit simultaneously. So no, training is not therapy however, it is absolutely therapeutic. I am here writing this blog about my love of the therapeutic and spiritual aspects of my training 30 years into my practice knowing that all of these emotional ties are what holds me here as each year passes.
Today, I want to gain control, mind, body and spirit
Today, I want to better understand myself and explore my perceived limits body, mind and spirit.
Most days today I feel like an artist in the gym just peacefully exploring, creating and expressing.
This will always be a spiritual practice for me. Its an artful place. It's a scary place. It's a growth place.
Each day during my practice, I am connected, it is my meditation. There is something I can learn from my training everyday and the lessons are different everyday.