Weight lifting is one of the most mindful things you can do for your yourself.
Stay with me here.
It’s hard to think of weight lifting in this way. You usually think of grunts, Mr. Universe competitions, and scented baby oil, not the lotus pose.
The discipline of weight lifting has a bad rap. Unfortunately, it kind of deserves it. Most people do it to look good in a bathing suit or to stretch out their t-shirts. The rest of us, though, do it for more thoughtful reasons.
Here’s my story. I was a fat kid for a long time. After I “successfully” lost over 50 lbs thanks to a yo-yo diet (hence the quotes), I went looking for a healthy exit plan. Part of that meant finding a physical regimen I could stick to. One day, my roommate took me with him to the gym, where I stumbled upon weight lifting and fell in love.
Around that same time I started mindfulness meditation to calm my restless mind. I wasn’t sure if the two could co-exist. One is explosive and intense, while the other is calming and peaceful. To my surprise, I found both to be rewarding mindful endeavors.
I’ve been doing both for many years now, and the truth has only gotten more clear. Lifting has granted me a healthier body and a more mindful noggin’. Who would’ve thought that throwing around some iron would become such an enlightening journey.
I recommend weight lifting to everyone, regardless of their personal goals. And now I am recommending it to you. If you want a more mindful state of living, it is for you.
Here are five ways I’ve seen lifting bring me closer to zen-master level.
1. Here, now.
When I am lifting I am only focused on what I am doing. It’s just me and that stubborn barbell. Part of it is about survival: you need to focus; otherwise, you can lose your motivation or even hurt yourself. In an age where everything is equally “important,” and your attention is so divided, practicing this level of focus is refreshing and restorative.
2. Beginner’s mind.
During one my first days at the gym, my roommate came over and stopped me mid-workout. “No no. You’re back is all wrong. We have to practice basic form.” It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it, when you lift, you always have to be mindful of the basics (i.e. form, movement, and being body-aware). That beginner’s mind must never go away, or else you risk getting cocky and building bad habits. You know that guy who swing dumbbells around like a he’s playing bocce ball? Don’t be that guy.
3. Tiny steps.
Above all else, you need patience. It’s a long, but satisfying, process. You can’t jump from one weight bracket to another, or go from a simple exercise to a complex one overnight. There are a lot of steps in between. The mantra of “trust the process” fits well here. You will be amazed at the results you get if you do the work, and follow the many tiny steps with mindful attention. You will be, in essence, chiseling yourself a little bit every day.
4. Pain is temporary; strength is not.
One day, I had a crisis of faith. I stopped half-way through a workout and thought, “Why am I doing this? To show off a six pack?” I found my true motivation, and it’s one shared by many lifetime lifters: getting stronger. Lifting tests you, physically and mentally. These tests can be painful. They are short periods of discomfort. But when you push past this, always chasing a stronger you, you will come out at the other end rejuvenated with pride in your natural fortitude. You just willed a heavy weight to do your bidding. You just sweated out two more reps than last week. “Yeah, I did that.” It’s invigorating to accept the pain and become stronger because of it.
5. There is no (challenging) spoon.
No pain, no gain. It’s a silly slogan, but it’s true. To grow you need to keep challenging yourself. When you lift, you have to mentally prepare for the challenge in front of you. Part of being mindful is accepting the hard stuff. Over time you will build an attitude that frames challenges in the positive. Challenging situations are just opportunities to learn and grow on your path to becoming a better version of yourself. Those 10 squats that just set your thighs on fire will make your legs stronger than ever.