Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Iron Zen: Meditations on lifting

My last blog post was about gratitude, so in the same vein I want to talk about one of the things I feel so blessed to receive from my time in the gym: Iron Zen. I just made that up. 
I am a pretty high strung person, my brain is always buzzing, always analyzing and twisting things around, jumping from idea to idea or just hyper focused on one thing to the point where I can’t think of anything else. Lifting is my time to get inside of my body and outside of my mind. It is my act of meditation; my anti anxiety prescription. After a good workout everything seems more manageable and easier to solve… or at least in a more reasonable perspective.
So I had a client today say “I just want to be able to relax and enjoy my workout and feel good after. Most of the time I feel ok or feel like I'm hurting more from a tense body and not the actual weight lifting. Are you able to relax when you lift? Is there anything that helps keep you focused or are you able to just zone out at all?”
I mean in honesty I have some rough days. Getting through my leg days smoothly is an exercise in determination and sheer will. This week I won, a lot of times I don't. Much of the time those two days of the week are the ones where I am easily distracted, my mind wanders, my phone keeps chiming, and pretty soon I am starving and exhausted and only half way done with a workout that should have been completed. 
I rely really heavily on my tricks for staying present in my workout on those days 
- I wear a watch and time all my rest periods
- I log my workout and make notes during my rest periods between sets for the weight I used, tempo, and how it felt
- I turn on music or a podcast in my headphones (or put in earplugs) and I don’t take them out until I am done. Even if I want to chat. 
- I even will write notes to myself before I start at places in my workout that I know I am prone to losing momentum. 
I am sure that on those days my coworkers and the other gym patrons would probably say I looked like I was mad or super intense… but that is just what I have to do to push through and stay in my zone. 

Other days it is easier… like my chest and arm days. I am able to tune everything out and just BE inside my body. Feel every rep while I am doing it and adjust my posture and form so that I am hitting the muscle exactly where I want to. Those are the Iron Zen moments. 30 seconds of internal physical evaluation and adjustment followed by 90 seconds of reflection, and repeat. I have no space in my head to think about the bill I need to pay or how someone cat called me on the street. All I have room for is the contraction of my biceps and the rotation of my wrist. A lose grip so that my tendonitis doesn’t flair up. Slightly retracted shoulders, chest up, locked elbows, no swing. Keep going. Past the burn. Don’t feel the pain, just a few more reps, feel the muscle work, don’t think about it, keep counting. Being, doing, not thinking. 
Then I can stop between exercises and say hi to a buddy or talk to my gym crush and have no problem going right back into that space of focus and calm. It is different for me depending on the workout. After those golden workouts I walk out with a rested mind and a worn body. I feel grateful for my hour and a half of peace through physical strain. I strive for that feeling every time I start my session… I don’t always get there, but it is a practice just like any meditation and somedays it just doesn’t happen, and you have to go with the flow and just keep trying and keep bringing yourself back to the moment, to your body, and to the movement.

Friday, December 19, 2014


I am a very fortunate person. I have so much to be grateful for in life, and sometimes it is overwhelming how good life is. However since this is a fitness blog, and that is why most of you either follow me and/or read what I post I will try to keep my gratitude relevant. 
Today during my workout I was filled with this intense joy and wonder I sometimes get when I think about what the sport and activity of bodybuilding gives to me. It makes me almost giddy (could be the endorphins) and I will laugh out loud during my workout listening to something that probably isn’t even that entertaining on my headphones- and people will look at me like I am crazy… But I just feel buoyant. 
The number one thing that I lack that bodybuilding provides me with is balance. Those of you who know me in real life will probably agree that I am a kind of extreme person at times. I have an obsessive/addictive nature. I don’t just do anything a little. I have been that way as long as I can remember. I have always been competitive, driven to be the best, or the most. I am stubborn and persistent. These are good qualities to have as a bodybuilder, especially a vegan bodybuilder… but there is another side to the coin. 
In bodybuilding you learn that you can’t be THE best, you can only be YOUR best. You can train everyday, with maximum intensity, and make it your main focus in life, and you will only see small returns. You have to accept that there is no instant success (beyond your newbie gains). You have to accept that it WILL take years, sometimes decades to reach your physique goals. This sport will destroy you, will crush you, will make you feel insignificant, weak, and fragile. It will also make you feel like a god, it will feed you, it will grow you, it will drive you. It will push you when you want to quit, and be there when no one and nothing else is. You will have injuries, and you will work through them. You will plateau and learn to overcome, and you will see weight or movements that you never thought to attempt, conquered. 
It gives you community, but teaches you that you can be ok alone- just you and the iron day after day, good or bad. A constant in a sea of turbulence. It surely makes you stronger, but we all know how weak you can feel after a good leg day. As a trainer I have the joy of getting to see the change in a person (more often women) as they become more confident in the weight room and it translates into other areas of their life.
Bodybuilding teaches you the necessity of consistency for success in life, and the dedication needed if you want to exceed mediocrity. You learn about pride and humility, success and defeat. You learn that you will never be GOOD ENOUGH, but that YOU ARE GOOD and that is ENOUGH. There will always be more, and bigger, and better… but you will keep working, and growing, and that journey- the improvement, is really the purpose. 
I want to be unreal, I want to be beyond human, and I get closer every time I dig in and do my workouts… every time I make the choice to stay on track with my food. There are no short cuts as a natural bodybuilder, it is going to take a long time and dedication, but every millimeter of growth and pound I add to the bar is my constant reward. My workout is time I give to myself, a gift; meditation, reflection, and antidepressant all rolled into one. 
I have goals, dreams, faith, and a stronger character as a result of my time bodybuilding. I am so grateful. Thank you to my coaches, mentors, inspirations, and the gym. Ugh I love the pump.