One thing that goes by the wayside, and often, is the mental capacity to be engaged during a workout, program, or class. I saw it every day when I taught fitness classes in gyms, and I see it regularly in the private classes I continue to teach. And I get it, there’s a strong desire to check out and simply move. However, checking out has the in-built function of debilitation: when you’re new to a practice, or struggle with competency, checking out leads to a myriad of compensations and thus a lack of growth.
One thing that gets tossed around a lot is this idea of the wisdom of the body. Countless blogs and social posts are written on how the body knows what it needs and thus can guide to fulfilling those things. However, the simple truth of the matter is that the body itself is a dumb animal. It is entirely useless without the brain and the heart to deliver the information it needs in order to keep the brain and heart in good working order. Your muscles are not smart. Your blood is not intelligent. Rather, it is your brain that receives sensory information from throughout your entire body, makes decisions based off of that information, and then sends instructions accordingly. Your muscles are fed information by and act according to motor neurons–cells that are tied directly to the brain.
The relevancy in a movement environment is simply this: when you lose the mental engagement, your brain learns to disregard much of the sensory information it receives, and thus fails to respond accordingly. This leads to, at best, incredibly slow growth and, at worst, debilitation. You find yourself running through the same exercises over and over again without making much progress, because you aren’t actually focused on what you are doing; you’re simply trying to get it done.
Nay movement is for the mind. When you show up on your mat, at the squat rack, for a run, you are training yourself to behave in a particular way. Your ability to make the most of your time on the mat, at the rack, on the run is related to how mentally engaged you are as you move. When you train yourself to focus on the purpose of the work, and then to be in constant awareness of what happens throughout your body as you move, your potential for growth skyrockets: what you learn throughout each movement journey is integrated. Your brain learns what signals to respond to and how to respond for a more successful outcome. Done over a great amount of time, much of this becomes automated, second nature. But it takes a great amount of initial effort and focus, and much of that sustained over a great amount of time to reach that point.
And when the mind benefits from the work, the body follows. Your results may appear to be physiological, but the real work is psychological. Learn this, understand this, practice this, and then watch your movement practice change for the better.
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