Are you working out on the INSIDE?
Much of the focus on our physical routines — workouts, gyms sessions, yoga classes — is on how the work is affecting us on the outside. There is so much content out there about how to do specific workouts so your body can look a certain way on the outside. And don’t get me wrong, these workouts and routines have plenty of merit and can be very beneficial.
But here are a few caveats:
1. Your body and your external appearance are going to change. It’s one of life’s stark and harsh realities. I was always quite confident about my outward appearance and thought I’d always look toned, fit and tight. Ha! The folly of youth. It might take 15–20 years for some but rest assured, your outward appearance will fade.
2. Solely focusing on one muscle group or one area of your outward appearance is most likely not healthy, it will breed imbalance in your body.
3. Over-exertion and “crushing it” will be beneficial until you’re about 30, then it will start to erode your body.
Turning the focus inward
Yoga is extremely powerful because if taught correctly, it directs you to pay attention to the inner experience WHILE you are physically exerting yourself.
I was an athlete for years and worked out in the gym extensively before turning to yoga at around age 30 due to injury…and wow, I’m so glad that my body forced me to find a new practice and means of physical exertion.
I very clearly remember the first time a yoga teacher asked us to pay attention to our emotions during class. She had us in an extended chair pose and my thighs began to burn.
She said “Pay attention to the emotions that might be coming up right now, like anger and rage, and let those move through you.”
Physical exertion can bring up deeply held emotions in my body?
And specific muscle groups hold very specific emotions?
I was blown away.
For some of you this may be common knowledge but for me at the time is was a revelation!
I began to pay attention to all the other emotions that were surfacing in other poses.
And then I began to pay attention to the emotions that were surfacing in other workouts…and then not even in workouts, but in certain, specific situations…like nervousness in social engagements or anger in talking with my Dad about my relationships.
The step that quickly followed was to begin to find presence with these emotions, allowing them to move in and through my body as they arose.
When I did this, I found that these emotions became unhinged and were slowly set free. The ongoing, repetitive practice — finding the feeling associated with the discomfort, noticing it, allowing it to move, not reacting, and letting it go over… and over again — this practice will get us all the way to freedom!
We go through the same process in meditation — noticing the recurring thoughts, allowing them to float by without getting attached to them, letting them move, noticing that they are not real, and letting them pass by.
This process is why people feel so good coming out of yoga class. Yes, yoga can be a physically challenging practice and release the physical tension in our bodies, but that’s just part of the reason why we feel so good coming out of a practice.
The bigger, more connected reason is that we’re allowing trapped emotions, patterns, and ways of being to move through us, without reacting as we open up to a new way of being. The whole time breathing, grounding, and then ultimately standing still.
And the truth is that any physical exercise can bring you to this same place. So the next time you’re working out or physically exerting yourself do these things:
The Grounding Practice
• Turn your attention inward.
• Pay attention to your emotions coming up, what you’re feeling.
• Breathe through whatever is happening — there may be tough emotions coming up, just look at them and feel them (not easy).
• Rinse and repeat.
• And then finally, after your workout is over, pause, stand on your two feet, upright, feel the ground beneath your feet, close your eyes and feel yourself planted into the ground…let go of your thoughts and just feel the ground beneath you, even if it’s for just 5–10 seconds.
Many people stretch after a workout, winding down as a means of recovery, and this is important. What I’ve found most beneficial after a workout however, or even during a workout when resting, is GROUNDING the workout INTO your being.
Ultimately we all want to look good, but ultimately we’ll learn that feeling good will get us a lot further. And a huge part of feeling good via physical exertion is to physically unhinge from the emotions that are running through us and holding us down.
This may require yelling and screaming it out. Grunting and growling. Often in a workout scenario, we are allowed to let these types of emotions show, so let them rip, let them move.
Then, feel yourself connected to the earth. Feel yourself as a living being on the planet. Feel yourself plugged in, alive and radiant, because you are and your physical manifestation on this earth is a big part of that aliveness. Feel how it connects you to the deeper aliveness that runs through us all.
And that is ultimately the point, to feel the deeper connection that runs through us all. Our physicality can and will connect us to that deeper stream that runs through everything and then we can feel truly alive.
Ok now you can turn around and take that selfie in the gym mirror! :)