The first task of the aspiring hero is to train her body. Only when she has learned how to master the external world can she begin the far more difficult task of mastering the internal world.
I’ve talked before about how success-oriented types tend to discount the importance of health. We tell ourselves that we need to put in as much work as we can, now, when we’re young and resilient. Once we’ve earned our leisure time, we will make up for all the lost sleep, convenient food, drinking, and hours spent hunched in front of a computer.
We tend to ignore just how much this neglect is impacting our ability to do quality work right now.
Today, I want to talk about the importance of fitness in particular, and why a physical practice is so essential to mastering yourself and unleashing your true potential.
Training my body, becoming stronger and more coordinated, has had a huge impact on my sense of self-confidence and courage, and I believe it is an essential thing for any aspiring Warrior to find peace with his or her body. Your body is not just who you are, but it is also your mode of expression in the world. Learn to cultivate it, to appreciate it, and to trust it.
The Training Ground for the Spirit
In many epics, myths, and legends, young heroes spend their early training in physical preparation. This isn’t because the physical is more important than the mental and the spiritual, but because it is the most basic realm we must master.
How can a hero expect to overcome the more challenges of ideas, thoughts, principles, motivation, and loyalty if they cannot manage their own bodies and move through the world? Physical competence is a foundational prerequisite for mental and spiritual competencies.
The discipline required for a physical practice can help us develop our character:
- It teaches us how to delay gratification. You have to work hard, sometimes when you don’t want to, in order to reap later rewards. Numerous psychological studies have found connections between this ability and success (like this one involving children and marshmallows).
- It teaches us persistence. You will fail a lot. But you can only make progress if you insist on continued practice despite setbacks.
- It teaches us resiliency. Much of any practice, from yoga to martial arts, involves tolerating some discomfort while continuing to maintain focus. This mental toughness is essential for overcoming the hardships of life, which affect us on an emotional level.
- It teaches consistency. To make progress in any sort of physical training, you must show up every time. Similarly, success in many endeavors requires showing up, day after day, to put in small amounts of work that build momentum over time.
- It teaches us where our weaknesses lie. You will get frustrated. How do you handle it? Do you just give up or do you learn how to handle yourself?
A Means to Express Ourselves
We are physical beings existing in three-dimensional worlds. Everything we do, from communicating to construction, requires us to move our bodies in some way. And yet, many of us are completely body-illiterate, lacking such basic abilities as crawling, rolling, and even walking correctly.
Now, this may seem irrelevant to expressing our will in the world. After all, we have machines that can carry us hundreds of miles and other machines that can share our pictures at the press of a button.
From an objective standpoint, it is true that we have an apparent mastery of our physical worlds. But, we evolved to move our bodies, and our brains know when our bodies are not up to the task. Lacking basic movement capabilities, our brains can sense that we need to be more careful, more reserved, more restrained in our lives.
This definitely has an effect on how we interact with the world and others.
- When it’s painful or difficult to travel long distances, we start to prefer shorter-range trips, then no trips, and this impacts our perspective on the world. Quality movement creates a sense of freedom.
- When our bodies are weak, the world becomes a place full of insurmountable obstacles, narrowly defined pathways, and immovable objects. Physically, we cannot move freely nor shape things, and this changes how we see our ability to move within and shape our social and intellectual worlds.
- When we know we are vulnerable to disease or disaster, we play it safe, teaching ourselves that we shouldn’t take chances. Soon, we only do what we’re told because we know how dangerous it is to go against the grain.
What is a Practice?
Yogis often use the term, ‘their practice,’ to distinguish yoga from other physical endeavors, like going for a jog or pumping iron at the gym. Other ‘practices’ include martial arts, dance, meditation, parkour, tai chi, and natural movement as it’s being defined now.
A practice is something done for its own sake. It has clear standards of progression, but the progression doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you’re doing it regularly and mindfully.
Another defining quality of a practice is that it is all-consuming. You can’t get good at it unless you involve your entire being. To be a master martial artist, your mind and emotions must be at the same level as your body. This makes sense, since the point of most practices isn’t to focus on the body while ignoring other parts of our being, but rather to use training the body as a vehicle to training the mind and spirit (I’d say a good practice makes no distinction between mind-body-spirit…’cause there isn’t one).
There seems to be an element of self-expression in it as well. Dancers have their own style. Martial artists and traceurs (parkour practitioners) are noted for their unique approaches to challenges. Yogis find ways to flow through poses that suit their moods and inclinations. This self-expression is empowering; it is the whole point of an empowering physical practice.
In terms of fitness, physical practices seem to place a much stronger emphasis on elements like coordination, applicable strength, and mental engagement through expression. Competitiveness, at least as a central feature, is generally a no-no.
That said, I firmly believe almost anything can be performed as a practice, so long as it is integrative and approached with the right mindset. I’ve said that meditation can be anything, and I believe the same is true of a empowering physicality. Some things lend themselves to it better than others, and there’s a reason many martial arts share similar approaches.
So, how would you start a physical practice or adjust your current approach to fitness to make it more empowering and less of a chore?
I’m so glad you asked! That’s the subject of this week’s e-mail newsletter: creating a physical practice to empower your life.
But I will give some suggestions here:
- Look for something that inspires you. I know so many people who go to the gym to lift weights or spin a treadmill because they feel they have to when they’d much rather be out doing something else. Just do the thing you want to be doing! If you need some targeted training to get better at that, then consider the gym, but the foundation of your fitness should be something engaging.
- Commit. You need to make it a regular thing, or you’ll only resent it. If you know you should be practicing yoga 10 minutes a day, every time you don’t, it’s just going to be hanging over you. You’ll feel guilty, which will make you hate it, which will make you avoid it. On the other hand, practicing regularly is a joy and a reward in and of itself, beyond the physical benefits.
- Take joy in what you can do, not what you can’t. It’s very easy to get caught up in moving forward. Practitioners from yogis to traceurs to karatekas can get focused on what the ‘advanced’ students are doing, leading to discouragement or pushing too hard. Remember, virtuosity is doing the common uncommonly well. Your black belt moves will be totally different than the other guy’s, so don’t even bother comparing yourself.
- Make it your own. Sure, you need to follow certain guidelines, and if you have a teacher, listen to them. But ultimately, you’re doing this for yourself, as a means to empower and express yourself. Make sure not to lose sight of that.
Make sure to sign up for the e-mail newsletter to learn how to create a practice or shift your current physical training more in that direction.
Until then, Fight On Brave Warriors,
PS: Don’t keep the inspiration all to yourself! Hit the share buttons on the left! (Unless this wasn’t inspiring, in which case, I’ll do better next time).
Photo credit: Mister.Tee on Flickr