My movement practice is an escape from my sedentary work life as an internet freelancer and the anxieties and stresses that can come from it. So why did it take me so long to abandon these same stressors from my movement practice? Questioning my practice and gaining insight from my coaches and peers led me to these discoveries that have changed the way I frame stress and my response to it. Here are my takeaways on the lessons I have learned.
1) Create systems
Randomness can be fun but it can also be stressful. Systems allow us to measure our output and see where we are succeeding and failing. Systems are also replicable. Each of us doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of people before us that have created systems that work. This is why we look to those more successful than us to guide us. These successful people have created a system for themselves whether they intended to or not. In my case, I take a system that my coaches use on themselves and have tweaked for my use. My coaches have refined that system from their own coaches, and through the lens of their own lives, have applied it to themselves and their students. What a system ultimately does is take out the guess work. It says, “Do X for Y amount of seconds/minutes/hours/days/years and you will most likely achieve Z.” The system is allowing us to take out any of the guess work and focus on the process. When you have less to think about you can be more focused on your goals. Less Thinking + More action = Less Stress + More Success.
2) Keep your word
In my training, there are 2 people I have to keep myself accountable to: myself and my coach. Having recently moved to Brooklyn, I left my friends and their social pressure behind. I’m not talking about the bad kind of peer pressure. I’m talking about that part of our ego that wants us to make sure we don’t let our friends and family down. When you are part of a group of people all training with the same purpose, it’s harder to stop what you’re doing because you don’t want to let them down. You’ve all promised to work hard and keep each other in check. If your peers care about you enough, they won’t let you slide into lazy habits. I no longer have the direct, in person feedback from my peers since I am a remote student receiving all of my training and instruction online. Although I have to send my coaches videos at the beginning and end of my 5 week cycles, interaction is limited. This means I am accountable to myself. I can easily take days off here and there. I can cut sets short and take video of only my successful reps. All these things would be easier in the short term but they have long term side effects. My system will begin to fall apart. The psychological consequences also worry me. Continually falling short of promises to myself will mean I have a higher likelihood of giving up any time things get tough. I continue to learn this the hard way and have to practice rewiring this habit. This mentality can also leak into work life. As a remote freelancer, delivering on my word is why my clients trust me. Failing to stick to that and clients begin to get upset and stress levels go up. Failing to stick to my plan in training means being stressed out because I know I should have pushed myself harder.
3) Let go of expectations
I have dreams of a 1 minute, 1 arm handstand. This dream is a selfish one. It has no value to others outside of an entertaining party trick. It’s still my dream and I still want to achieve it. All dreams come at a cost though. How I choose to pay for those cost is entirely up to me. I’ve found in training that when I chase after a certain amount of time in holding a handstand that there is a fine line between fun and productive and frustrating and regressive. Ego is a powerful force in our training. It can push us to compete and seek to be better than who we were yesterday. I love the fuel that my ego can give me to take my practice to new levels I never knew possible. Its when I lose site of balancing this ego with self love and respect for the process that I get smashed with a stressed out mind. I’ll begin to ask myself questions like “Why can’t you do this?!”, or “What is wrong with you today?” These may be fair questions to approach softly but when I ask myself these questions with the tone of a crazy sports dad, I’m only setting myself up for future failure and a poor response to that future failure. When I let go of my ego and expectations, I am able to better focus on the process and stay in the moment.
4) Focus on the process
Meaningful pursuits can take a long time. My pursuit of movement freedom and mastery over my stresses and anxieties is a lifelong endeavor. In fact, it has no end. I will never reach a point of perfection. It doesn’t exist. The only thing that exist is that I will continue to have to work at it everyday. If I don’t want to work at it everyday then I should stop doing it. Because the only thing that matters is the fact that I will continue to practice everyday. No two days will be alike but everyday will have a process I have to complete. Those daily processes are part of a larger, lifelong process. In essence, everything becomes a process. Now, in order to continue with the process, I have to make a choice. I can choose to accept the process and work hard/smart or I can choose to think about the process and why or why not I want to start/continue the process. Ultimately, one choice focuses on taking action and the other focuses on thinking/not doing. The only way we can be involved in a process is by doing so it seems that there is only one choice we can actually make in order to prevent anxiety.
5) Don’t forget to breathe
Training isn’t just about moving your body in complex shapes and patterns. Breathing is integral to the experience. When training gets more difficult, I will start to hold my breath and/or take shallow breaths. These short and shallow breaths can send my mind and body into a state of fight or flight. It’s often overlooked and as cliche as it may sound, focusing one breath at a time works. I specifically aim to pull oxygen from the lower lungs so it feels as if I am filling up my belly with air. Breathing more from my diaphragm versus the upper part of my chest has pulled me out of/stopped me from having panic attacks. The beauty of the breath is that its always there for us to take control of. It’s the one thing that I can focus on at any point in the day that will change my psychology and chemistry almost immediately. It’s not only beneficial for me but it’s also going to be good for those around me (and the universe!) The quote below is from Steve Maxwell. He gives excellent advice on breathing that has helped me.
“You’re connected to the Universe with every breath you take. We all share the same air. I’m breathing in electrons and atoms that you exhale and you’re breathing in mine. We’re sharing energy every breath you take. There’s this idea that we’re isolated individuals. We’re all absolutely interconnected. And that’s basically what breathing is.” – Steve Maxwell from The Second Coming of Steve Maxwell: Pranayama Breathing and Chi