posted on February 16, 2018
We are all, I’m sure, far too familiar with stress. It’s a part of everyone’s daily life (yep, you too!) From work deadlines, caring for children, dealing with school delays or trying to understand recent school shooting tragedies, and everything else ranging in between moderately annoying to completely infuriating. How can we even begin to mitigate the damaging effects of these constant stressors?
My personal life has become so jam packed with these icky, permeating, suffocating stressors that I’ve found myself desperately searching for some kind of relief from it. So I work out. I feel better momentarily and then it creeps back in. So I work out again. It works and I find some instant relief, albeit brief. So I try again, I test out a new Cardio Lab workout and let the sweat (and maybe a little swearing) cleanse me. By the end of the day, I’ve worked out three times and yet the weight of the stress still sits heavily on my chest.
I continued to run my body into the ground to avoid the black hole of emotional stress inside my brain. Until someone reminded me that I have the most powerful tool available out there to combat stress: a mindfulness practice.
As a yoga teacher, you’d think I’d have this whole mindfulness thing down by now and know better when I needed to whip it out like a strong, sparkling mind/body shield. Except the thing is, I found myself only practicing mindfulness when I was inside the yoga studio. And with a growing pregnant body, a full time job and 6 year old twin tornadoes to raise, I found myself practicing less and less. I began to feel like a fraud yoga teacher, preaching one thing in my classes while my personal life was crumbling.
So I’ve slowly started implementing my mindfulness practice again, one step at a time, inside the gym and out:
Step 1: Breathe
As lifters, we know breath is the most important aspect of any lift. Yet sometimes we forget that it is the most important aspect of anything. I began to try to harness the power of breath control. When I feel overwhelmed, I take deep breathes to a count of five and exhales to a count of five. Even after just one round, I can feel the calming effects.
Step 2: Practice gratitude
It is so easy to let this one fall to the way side when stress feels suffocating. Inside the gym I have begun to remind myself that I am grateful for just being here. I am grateful for my health, strong muscles and resilient body. I am grateful to be surrounded by a supportive community of fellow friends and lifters. Outside of the gym, my gratitudes are much the same. I am grateful for just being here, for beautiful, healthy children and a supportive family. Honestly, once the list starts flowing it amazes me how never-ending it seems. For that, I am thankful.
Step 3: Turn off my phone
Admittedly, this one is challenging for me. I clutch to my phone at times like it is a cherished child. Ridiculous. So, starting small, I turn off my phone during my training sessions and begin Step 4.
Step 4: Turn a routine task into a mindful moment
Although you can use this technique in simple daily tasks like showering or washing the dishes, I’ve been trying this with lifting sessions. I use all my senses and try to focus on the experience. Try it yourself: How does the chalk feel on your fingers and on the barbell? How does the air around you smell? What does the bar feel like in your hands? Notice what happens to your breath, your body and your muscles before and after you complete a lift? Listen for the multitudes of sounds surrounding you. Close your eyes, what do you see? Open your eyes, what do you see?
Step 5: Remember mindfulness means simply being present
When frustrations naturally set it, when the doubts all come creeping back and when the stress is angrily knocking on my door again I try to remind myself that mindfulness simply means being present. It doesn’t need any fancy gimmicks or fancy meditation classes or any twisting contortions of yoga poses. It can simply mean taking a moment to hug my child or a simple moment of silence.
So, yes, the stressors are still there. They are still just as jam packed and just as icky. But there is a breaking in those dark clouds now. And yes, working out is a great way to combat stress but it is not a cure-all. In fact, in my case it was just a Band-Aid and a momentary endorphin boost. To reap the full benefits of it, I needed to pair it with my powerful tool of mindfulness, both inside the gym and out.