November 3, 2021

Aligning the Physical Body

The body influences the mind. The mind influences the body.

It’s important for me to endeavor into new fitness territory. When I was younger, like most kids I would play anything and everything but my natural love was basketball. And then after graduating high school, I wanted to fill out my naturally lean frame, and I become obsessed with heavy weightlifting. And then after a torn Achilles tendon while playing basketball, my attention turned towards Yoga where I fell in love with becoming more in tune with my inner body and my natural imbalances. And then, my competitive drive took over once more, and I took up boxing for a few years. And currently - along with a new passion for running and golf, I am trying to find a way to adopt all of these disciplines into my current workout regime.

I have also noticed how incredibly rewarding it is to go from being an absolute beginner to gradually improving one’s skills. I can still remember my first day in the weight room, or my first yoga or boxing class. And I also remember how with enough reps, the body has an intuitive way of knowing how to adapt to the new struggle.

All the while, my creativity has a way of flourishing when I am heavily involved in working my body. And faltering when I’m not.

These are my thoughts on fitness:

Exploring our bodies is a journey of self-discovery. Once we start down that road, there is no end game. There is no point in the journey when you can say, ‘I’ve done it! I finally completely understand my body and where every ache comes from and how to avoid injury.’ There isn’t a finish line that you know you have to reach and then you can just stop because you’ve accomplished that, and you can move on to the next thing. It’s constant. It’s never-ending. And the deeper you go into it, the more you find out.

Most people are not in tune with their bodies. People are generally able to feel the symptoms and nothing else. They complain about soreness here, or soreness there and they are always searching for a quick solution. We do not want to go to the source of our pain and find the underlying issue. We don’t want to be bothered with such trivial matters as that. We would rather accept the pain we feel on a daily basis as something that has roots in the unchangeable.

We inherently know what our bodies want and need. Our bodies love movement. Instead, we are forced behind a desk; living as sedentary as humanly possible our bodies have become stiff and rigid. We feel the aches and pains and know the best version of our selves would go to the gym after work. Or do a light home stretch. Or go for a walk. Or foam roll. Or do all of the above. But why don’t we?

The mind is cunning. It convinces us that after a hard day at work what we deserve more than anything is to relax. And by relax, we mean lie around on the couch, surfing our phones and watching TV. If we do this long enough, our thought patterns become wired to believe that we don’t have time, that our energy is all used up at work, and what we need in order to feel better is further inactivity. We have adapted a lifestyle of almost disinterested laziness.

People don’t like taking responsibility for their own shit. We would rather find an excuse. It’s either an injury we never recovered from, a car accident that happened a decade ago, an underlying medical condition or the fact that we think once we turn 30 or 40 years old, everything begins to go downhill. We have rehearsed these excuses so many times that we actually believe it. And our body gives us exactly what our mind tell us.

We need to learn to listen and understand what it is that our bodies want without the interference of the mind. This requires us to be quiet and go within the body to observe.

What you’ll find are areas of your body that are prone to carry tension. You’ll observe chronic injuries as having an underlying issue and understand that there is a reason for why you feel the way that you feel. You won’t view your body anymore as a mystery because you will learn how to go into each bodily feeling. Your responsibility when you are working out or exercising is to address these alerts from your body. Your responsibility is to take attention away from the mind, and bring it into the body.

We want our bodies to be resilient and functional but more importantly to be free of nagging injuries and chronic pain. Even if we are able to lift 400 pounds, or run a marathon, or whatever else – if it is accompanied with constant discomfort in the body, it is not ideal. It’s kind of like a good pair of jeans. When we wear a quality pair of jeans, even if they are slim and tapered, the best pairs of jeans feel like we’re not wearing anything at all. We want our bodies to serve us in what we ask of them, and to do it quietly without fuss.

I remember once I was in a yoga class, with a teacher who I was quite fond of. You could tell how passionately she loved yoga and how sincere she was in helping all of us feel the love that she felt. At the start of class, as we were getting prepared, she said something that really touched me.

She said, “If there is one thing that you do in today’s class – more so than any pose, or sequence, make sure that you breathe. If you can do that for this next hour, you have had a successful class. Feel free to add in movement, but do not forget the breath.” Just breathe. It is amazing how often we forget to bring our attention to something as natural as breathing. Working out and being active is an amazing opportunity to explore the connection between breath and movement.  

When you are in the gym working out, pay as much attention to what is happening inside of your body than the actual exercises itself. Maintain good and balanced energy when you are stressing your body. As so many athletes have said in one way or another - being relaxed in moments of great stress will only enhance your performance.

Most days before I go to the gym, I have very little idea of what I am going to do. However right before I go, my body tells me what it wants. Sometimes it tells me that it is feeling weak, so it wants to pump some iron. Other days, it reminds me of the full plate of pasta I had the evening before and asks for forty minutes on the treadmill. And other days, it feels tight and imbalanced and asks for a full workout of band work, stretching and exercises focused on rehabilitation.

In reality, your health and fitness is whatever you want it to be. On the broader spectrum, it’s about how you feel and about being more functional in the areas that are important to you. Some people want to train to be an athlete. Others just don’t want to be in constant pain. Others just want to work out to look good.

We need to stop treating our fitness and health as a chore. If you do, that is exactly what it will become. If you don’t want to take care of your body, no one is going to slap you over the hand or force you to do so. Learn about what your body wants and what it needs. We all have limitations and imbalances but we can use them as an opportunity to overcome adversity. Be cautious in giving your mind too much control over your actions. You instinctively know what your body wants. Movement.

Michael Bains

Currently 31, he lives in the Yaletown district of Vancouver. He enjoys staying physically active and is an avid reader and writer. Hooped is his first published novel.