“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”
Self-awareness is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom and is what takes us up the evolutionary ladder. So why does it so easily elude us? As someone who teaches people how to move, I am constantly confronted by people’s lack of physical and mental awareness. Also on a day to day basis I am confronted with my own lack of awareness. By practicing regularly, I seek to become more aware of my actions in and out of the gym. I find it to be difficult but rewarding.
The physical practice of yoga is said to be preparation for being able to sit in meditation (a pure awareness practice). My teacher Edward Clark used to say, “Evenly metered movement coupled with evenly metered breath creates and evenness of mind.” CrossFit is also extremely good at creating a state where awareness can flourish. In the midst of a WOD you are brought to the edge of your physical and mental limits and thus given an opportunity to practice your awareness. However, high intensity workouts can often have the opposite effect on some people because they tend to shut down and tune out the pain or discomfort. A teacher must have multiple strategies on hand for teaching awareness to people that respond differently to stimuli.
As a teacher I observe my students during class and note whether or not they can pay attention to me, whether they can stand still when needed, whether they know where their bodies are in space, where they focus their eyes, whether they carry themselves with composure. This helps me with my awareness as I become more attuned to my students and also I become more aware of how I comport myself in front of them. If teaching is about imparting knowledge, then first the teacher must offer the knowledge and, second, see if it has taken hold in the student. Many teachers speak but don’t observe whether their words are absorbed by their students.
For some people weightlifting is a random occurrence of movements that may or may not result in the barbell arriving at some position in space at some time in the near future. When in fact weightlifting is an organized series of muscular actions that result in a specific and immediate movement of the bar to an exact location in space. In order to master weightlifting there has to be awareness of where you and the bar are at all times. The paradox is that in order to cultivate this awareness there has to be a certain sense of calmness in your body and mind while at the same time exhibiting an all-out physical and mental effort. My teacher Glenn Black says, “In order for conscious relaxation to happen we must resist the temptation to do what we have always done. Resist the temptation to go forward and rest comfortably in place.” Many lifters are so focused on the end of the lift that they do not begin by setting up properly. Many lifters are so focused on the amount they are lifting instead of the quality with which they are lifting. What needs to be cultivated is an understanding that with improved awareness comes improved technique and with that comes bigger lifts.
Stretch, lift or meditate: do whatever it takes to cultivate greater awareness.