• Julie

Embodiment, Inquiry, and the Art of Lifting Heavy Shit

Updated: May 14, 2019

If you’ve ever tried to lift a 50kg bar off the floor, you’ll know that it requires total concentration. As you approach the bar, awareness is drawn quickly inwards from the external environment. There’s a quick scan of the physical body, the heart rate, the breath. The moment the hands grab the bar, proprioception, interoception and kinaesthetia are at once essential. Then a deep inhalation, a breath retention, and a single pointed focus, an ekagrata if you will. And then the moment of truth, the exhalation, a realization of whether you’ve overcome the seemingly impossible, or whether you surrender to trying again another day.

For those of out there unfamiliar with what proprioception, interoception and kinaesthetia (a word I also only learnt recently) are, here’s a quick definition. Proprioception is the awareness of the position and the movement of the body in space. Interoception is the sense of the internal state of the body and kinaesthetia is awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body by means of sensory organs (proprioceptors) in the muscles and joints.

I’m a yoga practitioner, a yoga teacher by trade, a yogi at heart. Lately though, I’ve turned to powerlifting at the gym as a form of strength training. And while many yogis may not fully understand (because you’d have to do it to understand), I find it to be a powerful form of inquiry and embodiment, and an intense practice of being in the moment.

Embodiment, a buzzword as of late in the yoga world, relating to a deep listening. A deep listening into the soul, into our patterns, movement, connection to the world around us. If you walk into a powerlifting gym . . . and I’m not talking about a regular commercial gym, I’m talking about a real powerlifting gym . . . . what you’ll notice is a lot of the same inquiry going on. Although they may not be as concerned with the spiritual implications as us yogis, there is a heightened awareness, a tight sense of community, and a hugely positive environment.

I wouldn’t consider myself a powerlifter my any means. I’m just a newbie, dabbling, but I come at it with a different set of eyes. I’ve suffered from chronic pain as a result of some unfortunate accidents while traveling. For years, I’ve practiced yoga and meditation, and received hours of bodywork from healers of all modalities. In the early stages of my injuries, my practice centered around the management and the acceptance of pain, which then gradually progressed to understanding the pain, my patterns of movement, and slowly trying to re-pattern.

I’ll have to be honest in saying that at some point, I got tired of inquiring and looking at the pain. I realized that I was ready to move my body and move beyond the pain. I started incorporating high intensity interval training (HIIT), initially as a way of losing weight.  It didn’t take me long to realize that so much of what I had been trying to do in terms of re-patterning (essentially bringing to life important and underused muscles) were being addressed by the HIIT training. Off course, HIIT still leaves you very susceptible to injury as it moves at a very rapid pace and there isn’t enough time to really figure out what you’re actually supposed to be doing, and what’s the appropriate resistance and weight load to make the exercise optimal. I eventually turned to weightlifting as an education for myself, and as an experiment.

The incorporation of powerlifting into my weekly routine was key in transforming my understanding of my physical body and its relationship to the breath and mind even further. When you’re lifting heavy, you don’t have the option to switch off. There’s no opportunity for the mind to drift off into space. Just as in yoga, the breath is a key and powerful tool that makes lifting heavy possible. There’s not much of a chance without the breath. And so, everything that I learnt through yoga, pranayama and mindfulness practice is called upon in the seconds leading to the lift.

The retreats that we do with MENTARI Fit & Flow really try to bring out this relationship between fitness, yoga and mindfulness modalities. While typically yoga, HIIT, weightlifting and meditation are seen as completely different practices, our perspective at MENTARI is that there is much to be learned from all, that there may be more in common between them than we think, and that a well-rounded and healthy routine will have elements of all of these practices in it. These are complimentary practices that inform each other. The more we can be open to learning, the stronger we become. The stronger and healthier we are, the more connected we can be to finding our purpose in life.

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