When I started writing ‘Bite, Bench, Breathe’ I wanted to ensure that it wasn’t just another fitness blog, the kind that regurgitates the same old information about the importance of eating protein post-workout and what exercises to do for a ‘toned tummy’. What I hope makes this blog different is that it is raw, honest and has a foundation in the significance of a healthy mindset in achieving great results, both in the gym and in life. Note here that I use the word ‘healthy’, rather than ‘positive’. As a human beings we experience a range of emotions from moment to moment, be it joy, excitement, anger, jealousy, frustration or boredom. To deny these feelings and walk around with a forced smile all day because we feel we should be happy, or because some quote on social media tells us so, is to deny a fundamental part of ourselves.
In my younger years I experienced pain and suffering, as we all do, and unconsciously buried the emotions deeply. Externally I was a very happy and confident person, to the point of being an extrovert. Behind closed doors I still remained very composed, and even having my heart broken didn’t lead me to a Bridget Jones style meltdown surrounded by empty boxes of Kleenex and tubs of Haagen Daaz. The reason for this, I suspect, is that I had found myself dealing with my emotional turmoil through OCD and Anorexia. If I felt low, even for a moment, cleaning my flat would make me feel better. What if I felt unworthy, unwanted or lonely? It was nothing that a twelve mile run couldn’t solve. But, as I later found, this was like putting a plaster over a gaping wound. The feelings would overspill, resulting in the need for more rituals, more counting, cleaning, exercise and food restriction.
I first heard the term ‘mindfulness’ when I was an inpatient in an Eating Disorders Unit. It is now something of a fashionable term, or so it seems, and a lot of health and fitness professionals appear to be jumping on this particular bandwagon. I think it is a wonderful thing for those in the industry to promote to customers and clients, but what I am commonly seeing is the term ‘mindfulness’ being used in a way that implies an expectation of ‘happiness’. Likewise, meditation is often promoted as a way of learning to relax which, in my view, somewhat misses the point. My first forage into the world of mindfulness was sat on my hospital bed reading the book ‘Mindfulness – A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world‘ by Mark Williams and Danny Pennman. Accompanying the book is a series of guided meditations and mindfulness exercises, which I worked through from week to week. Fortunately I had the luxury of time, as my only other commitments in hospital were making sure that I was being sufficiently fattened up (or so it felt at the time), but it was time well spent. Sitting down to meditate every day made me confront myself, probably for the very first time.
Some days I meditated with tears rolling down my face.
Some days I meditated and was interrupted by the hospital cleaner who would bombard into my room without knocking, which never failed to infuriate me.
Some days I meditated and could only think about food.
Some days I meditated for thirty seconds before sacking it off and doing press ups instead.
But, through rain or shine, sadness or joy, I kept it up. When I left hospital, and in the years that followed, I have managed to adhere to an (almost) daily practice. Usually in the morning, after breakfast but before training. I also try to incorporate mindfulness into daily tasks, such as whilst washing up. The aim is not to be happy, to fool myself into thinking that washing up dirty Tupperware boxes whilst stood there in my Marigolds is the sexiest job in the world. The task is to simply notice what is happening. Where does my mind wander to, what feelings are provoked, where do I feel them in my body? This will differ from day to day, and there is often no logic to what arises. However, in simply noticing feelings, acknowledging them and letting them pass, I no longer need to clean obsessively or wait for the clock to tick to 11am before I can allow myself to go to the bathroom. OCD is still there, as is Anorexia to some degree (I am only ever a work in progress), but on the whole they are now habits and routines as opposed to deep emotional crutches.
Practising mindfulness has enhanced my life in numerous ways, most notably that I simply see more beauty in the world now, in nature but also in people. Beyond this, I believe that this practice has helped me achieve some awesome results in the gym. I admit that during some weights sessions I can be distracted – my mind might wander to topics outside of the gym, or my eyes might wander to the hot guy bench pressing behind me – but as best as possible I remain present in the moment. The notion of ‘mind muscle connection’ is often talked of within the gym environment, and this is essentially what I try to cultivate. Yoga practitioners often speak of ‘breath, bandhas and drishti‘ which, when broken down, I incorporate into my training as follows –
Breath – What is my breath doing? Am I even remembering to breathe in the first place? The goal is usually a smooth and deep inhale on the eccentric (lowering) phase, followed by a sharper exhale on the exertion, depending on the tempo of the exercise.
Bandhas – Meaning ‘body locks’, relating to the deep abdominals and surrounding, stabilising muscles. Whilst lifting I think about my whole trunk – I want my body to feel solid and secure in order to effectively lift or lower the weight I am using. I then come back to the breath, making sure to breathe from the bandhas as opposed to shallowly through only the top part of the lungs.
Drishti – Meaning ‘gaze point’. Bims, stop looking at what everyone else is doing and focus on your own shit! It may appear vain, but I like to train in front of a mirror and look directly at the muscles I am working. If I am training back or glutes I keep my gaze forward or down, and try to visualise beautifully detailed wings or a muscular, peachy bum.
This is just one way of incorporating mindfulness into your day, but it’s one that I believe has helped me achieve both a healthy mindset and a body that I am comfortable and happy in.
Please comment with your thoughts and experiences, on the blog or social media @BimsWinter.