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.

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