When the Gym Isn’t Just a Task

I’ve written posts on will power and the importance of lifting, and I live I life that prioritizes health and physical fitness over many other things.

But I often find myself in conversation about dedication and how disciplined I am about lifting weights and going to the gym, and people tend to say:

“Man I wish I could be that good about going to the gym”… or something to that effect.

See the gym is much more to me than something to do to keep myself in shape. That’s actually one of the last reasons why I go so regularly.

The gym for me is an outlet. It’s an escape. One where I can blast music, let my stress go, and listen to – and connect with – my body.

For these reasons (and also that it’s good for me) I keep it close to the top of my priority list.

But what people see on the outside, though, is someone who finds time to go to the gym more times during the week than not, to keep themselves in shape. And this is something that seems to be envied by a lot of people.

But when the gym is more than just something you do to stay in shape, it isn’t always a good thing, or something that should be envied.

Because when I miss a workout, I’m missing much more than just an hour of mindless sweat and fatigue. Missing a workout means missing time that I need with myself, and it can make me stressed, anxious, upset, and angry.

When someone goes to the gym with the sole intention of it being good for you and something you should do on a somewhat frequent basis, it’s easy for those people to skip a workout to do something else, like grab a few drinks with friends instead. It’s easy because there aren’t many other elements tied to the workout, like the therapeutic effect, the self-competitive effect, among others.

See these people have actually subconsciously mastered the idea of moderation and balance. An idea that doesn’t come easy for some, including me.

No matter what your reasons are for going to the gym, it’s important for us to always remember that a life of balance will ultimately give us more joy than one with unequal weights.

Sometimes we must recognize when it’s okay to take a step back and enjoy the things around you and experience all that we can to help us live a stronger, healthier, and happier life.

But priorities are priorities for a reason, so we must help each other understand what’s important to each of us so we don’t feel like balance is a difficult thing.

And if you surround yourself with people who truly care about you, they will understand and work with you to have balanced relationships and friendships that will only grow stronger as time goes on, while also allowing you to attain the personal goals you set out for yourself. 

Listening to Silence

Living in a big city, it’s hard to get away from noise. Horns honking, people shouting, construction blaring. That’s why so many of us cover our ears with music to drown some of it out. And while I’ve even written about the power of music in my life personally, sometimes there’s even more power in silence.

Today I took a walk to a nearby park to clear my head. And, being New York City, it was hardly a quiet trip. But in the noise of kids yelling and dogs barking, I was overtaken by a stillness and quietness inside my head.

All of the noise around me faded away and I was able to find peace.

How?

Through the power of breath and meditation.

Along my walk I really didn’t want to think about anything. In fact, I wanted to think about nothing. So I mindlessly walked around the park, watched people pass by, and the only thing on my mind was my deep breaths – in, and out.

As I continued walking I noticed that while there was so much around me that I heard, I wasn’t listening to any of it. 

And instead I began listening to the silence. The thoughts that began to come into my head. Things that made me pensive, reflective, and curious.

It sparked something within me to begin to plan and to be productive with these thoughts, and I realized on my way back home how deep into this meditative state I had become.

With all of the noise and the craziness that fills our lives, especially in recent times, we all need to remember to remove the headphones, to remove the space and sounds around us, and clear our minds.

Through deep breathing and focused meditation, we are able to listen to this silence and begin to ponder. Some thoughts that present themselves are easily ignored, while others stick around and begin to elaborate.

Focus your attention on what is important and let other thoughts go through breath.

If we are always letting the busyness of our lives consume us, we will never have time to let in thoughts and ideas about our lives, our friends, families, and things that we are grateful for. This can lead to a sense of sadness and loss of hope.

Because there’s a lot that we have that we should be grateful for. There’s a lot that we have that we should be thankful for. And there’s a lot more our minds can tell us about our wants and needs that will make us stronger, healthier, and happier.

We just need to give them the chance to present themselves when we meditate, breathe, and create silence in a world that seems so hard to ignore.

My Philosophy is Evolving

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “What I’m Doing in the Gym” post, and that’s mainly because I’ve been all over the place when it comes to my training lately. But now that I’m finally back in a good groove, I’ve got a plan of attack that will help me reach and exceed the numbers I was lifting quite a few months ago, but this plan will also help me do so in a way that’s healthier, safer, and more impressive.

What I mean by this is that when I was on my old powerlifting program, I was increasing my strength like crazy. I was hitting numbers I never thought I would hit. 405 deadlift, 320 squat, 240 bench. I was extremely excited that, at 160lbs, I was able to hit those numbers. While they aren’t extremely impressive for any competing powerlifter, 4 plates, 3 plates, and 2 plates was something I’ve always wanted to accomplish, and I did it relatively quickly.

But after I hit those numbers and tried to continue to make quick and frequent PRs, I hit a major plateau, and I ended up loosing my mental game and also started pushing my body too hard. I felt weaker because I wasn’t making jumps as fast as I had been, and I was brittle because I would try to over-lift and my ego got the best of my body.

After recent months of lackluster training which has had noticeable affects on my overall strength, I’ve finally been able to get back into a routine. But my head is also in a much better place than it was before in regards to my training.

Before, I was ego-lifting. Trying to force personal records because I wanted to see the number go up and impress myself and others around me. But once I got to that place, I realized, my strength was of very little quality.

This was because I wasn’t focused on building a foundation first, I was focused on getting right to building the house.

Now I’m not a bodybuilder, so a house isn’t referring to my body, but my strength and my numbers.

This time, I am taking the time to recognize what’s most important. The core. The roots. The foundation.

How am I doing this?

By slowing down.

I am no longer concerned about getting strong quick and lifting the amounts I was before as fast as possible. I know I’ll get there. But when I get there I’m going to be able to continue growing stronger because I will have built a foundation that is strong in all areas. Not just in the core lifts (squat, bench, deadlift), but in dynamic motion, power, and agility.

I am going to be relying on my weight-belt much less as well, in fact, I won’t be using one until I can lift a total of 900lbs between my squat, bench and deadlift. Using a belt was central to my squat and deadlift, but it prevented me from building that strong core foundation that is so extremely important for real, quality strength.

Currently, I’m at about 275, 225, and 335 respectively, totaling 835lbs. These next 65 pounds are going to be tough to get back, but I will get back.

To stop myself from ranting on, I will end with this:

In all aspects of life, we take shortcuts to achieve our goals quicker. But in almost every case where this is done, we would be much better off taking our time where we can, investing in yourself and the process, which will lead us to achieving our goals and more in a way that’s healthier, smarter, and more fulfilling because we know that we did things the right way, and our hard work and dedication in the life long journey of becoming the strongest, healthiest, and happiest we can, be has paid off. 

It’s Flag Day, Live a Little!

Are your ‘cheat days’ more like plain old excuses?

There’s no denying that I love talking to people about their goals and interests when it comes to living a strong, happy, and healthy life.

But because of this, I often see individuals deviate from what they know they should be doing to lead them to their goals, and instead fall into this trap that has become widely socially acceptable, making it even easier to fall into.

“I have goals to lose weight, build strength, and to feel better about myself overall”….”Oh come on, it’s the weekend! Calories don’t count!”

It’s easy to find ways to procrastinate and instead do what’s less difficult, but this sort of mentality needs to be eradicated in order for true progress to occur.

There will always be an event, a holiday, a weekend, a celebration, where we can make up excuses to cheat on our diets or skip our workouts.

Getting into the habit of making fewer excuses due to some perceived good reason or alternative will not only accelerate our progress helping us reach our goals quicker, but they’ll also quickly build a good habit of sticking to our diet and exercise program which will flourish into healthy lifestyle habits for as long as we live.

We will more frequently choose to forego the dessert and go to the gym after we realize how easy it is to simply not put food that’s bad for us into our mouths (or at least less of it), and get our butts in the gym even for a half hour.

And all of this isn’t necessarily our own individual faults – as I mentioned before it’s a problem that our society has accepted, joked at, and therefore welcomed.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a situation where someone has said:

“We’re celebrating, eat whatever you want, it doesn’t matter!” 

And is met with a response of anything other than:

“Haha! You’re right!”

We all help each other deviate from our own best interests and goals, because we know we are doing the same from the influence of ourselves and others, so we pass that behavior on to those around us.

And while on occasion splurging is absolutely fine, and even encouraged from time to time, I see excuses of “Oh just this once” made far more often than just this once. 

Becoming the strongest, happiest, and healthiest you can be is hard. It is extremely difficult work that takes a lot of time, dedication, and focus.

Our goals we set for ourselves and our lives inside and out of the gym sometimes take years – lifetimes – to fully accomplish. But what gets them done is working relentlessly without excuse to make what you want for yourself happen.

Excuses are distractions and signs of faintness of heart – they tell us that whatever we’re making an excuse for isn’t that important and that there’s time for it later.

But living a strong, healthy, and happy life is ongoing and always evolving, which is why now is more important than ever to start your journey, without excuse, because you can’t get this time back, so make it the best and most affective you can, now.

We don’t always have to be 100% true to our diets 100% of the time, but you can build a diet that will get you to your goal while eating foods that are fun and taste good, and allow you to deviate slightly on occasion.

What we DO always have to be 100% true to is ourselves and understanding when we’re making an easy excuse and when we should harness our will power to reach our goals we have in fitness and in life with ease.

Digital Double Vision

It seems like ever since the introduction of smartphones, we’ve become obsessed with pictures. Seemingly to “capture moments so they last forever”. Every chance we get – every concert, event, and gathering we snap up as many pictures we can. At the time it seems like the smart idea, so that you’ll have those pictures and memories to look back on. But how many of us actually look back at every single picture we take? 

I’ve found that when I’m at a particular event, I have this double vision – looking through my phone screen to see what is actually bigger, brighter, and clearer behind it if I just put the phone down. 

Because sometimes what’s more important than being able to remember a moment, is to actually experience the moment so that the memory is engrained in your mind from your own immersion in the moment instead of spending the whole time trying to get the focus and lighting just right through a screen.

I’m not saying that taking pictures or videos on our smartphones is bad, in fact I love doing it. But what I am challenging us to do is to be more mindful of the frequency of those captured moments, and whether or not the actual moment itself is worth experiencing more than something you probably won’t look back on after you take them and share a few on social media. 

Don’t feel like you have to take pictures and videos of everything. Because if you do you’ll spend all of your time with digital double vision instead of using the gift of sight and all other senses to create a memory that’s much richer than anything a cell phone could capture.

If you focus on immersing yourself  in and experiencing moments instead of trying to document them, you might find yourself living a stronger, healthier, and happier life because of it. 

Having Eyes Bigger Than Your Stomach

There’s a saying I always think of when I take too much food in a buffet line: “My eyes were bigger than my stomach”. And it seems like no matter how many times I’m in this situation and I say this to myself, I have a hard time learning to take less food. 

One of the more recent times I was in a buffet line I thought about this pretty hard. I took my plate and I quickly glanced down the line to see exactly what it was that looked good to me to help me scoop out proper proportions so that I knew I would finish everything I put on my plate, and get a little bit of everything. 

This saying, though, really started to mean a lot more to me as time went on. Because I think many people, myself included, often find themselves constantly seeking out new opportunities and grabbing for each one right as they come. Not realizing the amount of work involved later, or failing to taking into account other opportunities that may come our way in just a short amount of time, and sometimes they are ones that we may actually want more. 

When we take too much food and put it on our plate, we don’t leave room for the unknown that is ahead. We’re hungry, opportunists, and in the excitement of the moment when our salivary glands are pumping, reason subsides and impulse takes over.  

Sometimes we get lucky – what happens to fall on our plate at the beginning of the line ends up being the thing we want most and most of, and we don’t even take some items later down the line and instead just focus on that one main dish. But most of the time, we forget about all of the sides. The smaller, more manageable portioned foods that come in more variety, which too are very tasty. 

So when we sit back down at the table, we’re left with huge plate fulls of entrees with very little on the side.

So we start eating ravenously and with passion on something that seemed so exciting all but a few minutes ago, but then we’re left with a whole other piece of steak that we didn’t finish since we took too much at the start. 

All of this time and space we used to fill up our stomachs with this seemingly amazing food is soon not even finished and we’re left with half eaten portions, with nothing else to pick at. 

And it’s those side dishes we don’t make enough room for that often times compliment and make the main dish taste even better. 

We need to remember that there are times where spontaneity and impulse should be encouraged and cherished. There are times when it’s great to take everything on at the risk of not finishing it later. But we must also remember that a quick glance at what might be ahead can help us take on and pursue smaller, more manageable projects/tasks that still lead to the same larger goal of being satisfied and successful in our own way.  

We can always get seconds if we want more, so we should always plan on finishing our firsts. And when we go back for more we’ll be even more informed and careful about what it is we really want the next time around. Or we may find out that we’re full enough as is. 

All to say that with food and with life’s opportunities and ventures, a careful and rational assessment of what may come to help choose, realize and take on what is most important to us, will help us live a stronger, healthier, and ultimately happier and more satisfied life. (And stomach.)

Empathetic Compassion and New Experiences

For those of you who don’t know, I love yoga and new experiences that force me to step outside of my comfort zone. So it’s only logical that I combine these two ideologies to try a new form of yoga.

Last week myself and a friend went to an Aerial Yoga class. If you’re not familiar with this type of yoga, imagine a fabric hammock that’s attached to a single point on the ceiling. So it looks like just a loop of silk but you can unroll it to be a fairly long tube.

The idea of Aerial Yoga (or at least what was communicated to us) was that the connection to the ground and the hammock creates a new challenge as well as deeper stretches with the help of gravity. And this most definitely was the case.

From aerial downward dogs to complete inversions without using your hands, you really got to stretch very deeply. But it did hurt. The hammock at times (depending on the position and execution) really dug into your skin. So I definitely recommend wearing tight clothes that cover most of your skin, and maybe even an extra layer.

As everyone started to get the basics down, we stared to get into more complex movements. And throughout the class, myself and the other members of the class found themselves giggling from the awkwardness and challenge of it all.

At first I thought this was annoying, and that myself and my own laughing was taking away from the whole “experience”, but midway through the class and after reflecting on it now, I really came to appreciate it.

It was very clear that there were some Aerial veterans in the room, and it was also VERY clear that most of us weren’t. And because most yoga styles are performed in silence, I felt bad for those going to the class who were there to really work. But as everyone continued to giggle quietly by themselves or with a friend, I looked around and could see the people who were clearly very experienced, and they themselves were smiling.

Sometimes for a very tough pose to set up and get into, the pros would just continue on themselves, locked deep in focus and minded their own business. Sometimes they would smile on and giggle. And it wasn’t a giggle that was making fun someone, it was a contagious giggle from others who were as well.

What I took away from this was not only that Aerial Yoga is hard and that I want to do it again, but that there is a great quality within us, the Mind & Matter community, that strives for new experiences. Being uncomfortable doesn’t scare us if we know it will lead to more strength, health, and happiness.

It also demonstrated an even greater quality within us, that everyone in this class had: empathetic compassion.

We should never laugh in the face of others for stepping outside of their comfort zone or attempting to become a stronger, healthier, and happier self. Recognizing that people are making the effort, no matter how much they are struggling, is something that should be commended, not made fun of or scoffed.

We have all been in uncomfortable and new situations, so we can all relate. We all have the ability to embrace empathetic compassion, and especially because this example relates to health and wellness, it is no laughing matter.

The strong character and will of people even stepping into that room to try something new right beside those who can float gracefully over the mat with ease demonstrates their own strength and confidence within themselves. No matter how hard or ugly it may look. They’re there, working just as hard, if not harder, than the more experienced acquaintance beside them.

So continue to try new things and to not be afraid of failure. Let that be the fire that ignites your drive and focus to achieve the highest form of what success means to you.

If you’re afraid of failure, that means you want to succeed. If you aren’t afraid of failure, it means that whatever you’re doing doesn’t mean enough to you that you could quit at any time and not give a damn that you DIDN’T succeed. 

And practice empathetic compassion for others that are in new situations or environments and who are ready and willing to learn from your own experiences. Laugh, embrace, and have fun together because we are all on our way to a stronger, healthier, and happier life, and we can’t do it alone.