Understated

There are a few things said quite often in all sorts of fitness and movement classes … and yet, somehow, are understated and kind of brushed aside as an afterthought. This is a shame when really, in my opinion, they’re the fundamentals of a long, rich, fun career of being alive and moving well on this planet.

Here are a few. Try these on for any movement or workout practice.

1. This should be fun.

This should be fun. Your movement practice should be fun. (Side note: “fun” can seem kind of flippant, so substitute whatever you’d like to mean you’re actually enjoying it, even if it’s mind-breakingly difficult).

This often gets understated by boiling its full value down to “… so you’ll actually work out.” Yes, that’s part of it, but secondary in my opinion. Primary is a host of physiological responses that come about when you’re doing something you actually enjoy. It’s hard wired. (Don’t wait for a paper to come out about this! Go find out. I dare you.)

Consider the subtle-yet-obvious differences between two strangers looking at each other, and two lovers gazing at each other. Are the “mechanics” there pretty much, if not nearly entirely, the same? Assuming we set these people up with the same head positions, distance apart, etc., according to exercise science, nothing should be different. But of course, as we all know intuitively if not experientially, these are two vastly different experiences happening within two pretty different body-states.

Be like the lover. Yes, work hard and have a strong drive and all that, but love it. Or find something else.

2. It’s okay to modify this [workout/pose/class].

It’s okay to modify. In fact, you’re often hosing yourself if you don’t modify something the class is doing.

I hear this said a lot by instructors in classes, that modifying is great, though their tone, I think, often carries with it the subtext “… so it’s fine and you can kind of do your thing, but it’s mostly preparation for the real thing, i.e. the full pose, or distance, or whatever.” Who doesn’t want to do the real thing? That’s why we’re here! And so we, being the very socially intelligent creatures we are, pick up on that subtext and dive in too deep, too fast.

But of course, the real thing is not a destination, it’s the practice itself. This is not a nice idea; it’s the physiology and anatomy.

Let’s take running 5 miles vs going a shorter distance, mostly walking with little bouts of running: if the runner starts to feel heavy in her legs, landing more with a thud than a spring … that’s actually what’s happening. Pushing it and continuing along while landing heavy is not doing her a service.*

The connective tissue throughout her body, in a constant conversation with what we call the nervous system, and muscles, and endocrine response, are now being essentially punished by out-of-good-progression forces. (And it feels like that, no?).

Walking isn’t some “well, if you can’t cut it, do this” version of running. It can be the perfect movement practice, on its own and as part of an amazing, fun progression towards running.

Other examples: deadlift too much too fast, and you’ll start losing electrical connection to the most vulnerable areas of your low back, which then looks like you rounding it. Keep smashing into downward dog when you should maybe be in child’s pose, and wonder why you’re working with stiff and overworked shoulders, and a thoracic spine that just won’t open …

One of my current heroes, Ido Portal, sums it up: there are no bad movements, only out of progression ones.

Blindly working really hard is easy. Playing it way safe is easy. Paying attention, and making your own decisions in the moment from there, is difficult and absolutely the most fun and best game in town.

3. Rest when you need to.

Enough said, perhaps, and this is entirely part of the progressions conversation above. I used to hear something like “rest if you need to” (or “modify as you need to”) and think yeaaaah, okay … that’s just for the people who can’t cut it; I’m a fitness guy!

Yes, I had even read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind … and still, this mindset that more will be better is so very deeply embedded into my, into our collective, outlook on how the world operates, within and without.

This is a great time to challenge those assumptions.

Right there with you, LB

*One of my long-held favorite thought experiments I’d ask is something like “well, but what if a bear were chasing the runner? wouldn’t our bodies, and the intelligence that created them (whatever we call it), have adapted to be able to sprint away from the bear and not sustain an athletic injury?”

That would seem a case for the occasional don’t listen in and just smash your body as best you can, eh?

Though more and more I’m thinking, and finding out, this: that the intelligence governing the body knows the difference. (Duh, right? I’m laughing at myself at how long this thought took to form!) Just like the distinction between strangers looking and lovers gazing, we respond to what we need to respond to! Often really well, if the need is actually there.

And on that note, I know there are probably 10,000 stories of people who smashed their bodies running and then felt awesome the next day. I’d just reckon there are 1,000,000 more of people who did that and didn’t feel awesome, and perpetuated more of the “you are not enough so you must work harder to get this body-machine into shape!” myth.

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4 Responses to Understated

  1. Nancy Rose says:

    Liam, I really, really like your thinking and writing. And caring! I hope you are headed toward a book, because I am always wanting to reread, or read more.
    Thanks, heaps!
    Nancy Rose

    • Liam Bowler says:

      Ah, Nancy, thank you for the kind and inspiring words. Glad mine resonate with you! A book hadn’t even crossed my mind … But it just did 🙂 cheers, LB > > >

  2. Jana Goodman says:

    I appreciate your thoughtful insights re: exercise we call “work” (who needs that?) out and fun, gratifying movement. there are all those voices in our head on repeat tape (and you nailed them, I guess classes are the same everywhere!) from the workout classes we’ve been in. thank you for helping me replace those “should” tapes with a different sound track, it’s a TON more fun that way.
    yes, a book collection of your thoughts and inspirations: I second the motion.

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