Friends, we have a problem.
I noticed the problem several years ago. Through the pressure of a friend I finally got a membership to a local gym. I was pretty excited for my promised weight loss, ripped abs, and toned arms. I arrived on my first day ready to conquer the treadmills before heading over to a weight lifting class. I was pumped to get pumped! I hopped on the machine and began running. I smiled at my triumph and looked around to see who I could sneakily make eye contact with to prove my dedication.
I looked. And looked. And while the gym was full of people, I didn’t really see a lot of life.
Attack of the Zombies!
This was the moment when I realized humanity was doomed. I’ve always known that the end of the world would probably come from a massive zombie infestation. I just had no idea that the zombies were already here, preparing for their victory by lifting weights and increasing their endurance. After that first horrific realization, I began seeing fitness zombies everywhere I went: my clubhouse where I live, on the sidewalks around the neighborhood… I even saw them portrayed on commercials, movies, and television.
They were everywhere, but nobody seemed to care!
Well played, Zombies.
Now in all fairness to the humans who have already fallen prey, I really do understand the mentality behind the zombie fitness trend. After all, despite knowing perfectly well the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, I really don’t enjoy running all that much. It is not that I can’t run, because for years I forced myself to. It is just that I find it really, really boring. I found a solution to this problem by listening to music that inspired me run like the champion. But after a while, the music didn’t seem to cut it. My playlist began feeling repetitive and redundant (and repetitive and redundant).
So then I tried a television. While I was a student, living with my parents, I had the luxury of a nice big tv right in front of my treadmill that could lull me into an entertainment-filled world where I didn’t have to pay attention to what my body was doing. Boredom wasn’t an issue anymore. I could run! Zombie runners unite!
Of course, on top of the boring factor, we are just so busy these days. Sometimes the only way we can justify working out is if we can do something else at the same time. When I was a teacher I would often see my students reading homework, writing papers, or catching up on the daily news… all while trying not to fall off a machine that allowed them to run in place. On the one hand, it is really impressive to see such amazing multi-tasking skills. On the other, I wonder where the line is.
All of these reasons are legitimate. And I’m definitely not here to say that watching tv, reading, or knitting a scarf while working out is necessarily a bad thing. However, I do think we should consider an alternative.
As a Somatic Practitioner I usually have tell people what the word “Somatics” means. It is a term that was first coined by Thomas Hanna. The word Soma is a Greek word that ultimately means “living body.” Somatic practices like Bartenieff Fundamentals, Yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Body Mind Center, Thai Chi, etc. are practices that encourage the individual to understand and develop the body through personal perceptions and lived sensations. Rather than relying on mirrors, doctors, personal trainers, or other 3rd parties to tell us what is wrong or right with our body, Somatics is an approach that acknowledges that our own perceptions of what we feel is an important aspect of working, understanding, and challenging the body/mind/spirit to progress.
That is not to say, of course, that we don’t ever want to rely on an outside eye. But an outside eye will always see just another “body” (in a similar way that we view a cadaver or model skeleton). It becomes an object for observation, prescription, and outer correction. But, when we are considering our own Living Body, we bring with us our own experiences, sensations, and desires for change. After all, ultimately, we are the only ones who know what we are really feeling at any given moment.
Say goodbye to zombie fitness and hello to revitalized moving!
I want to challenge you to consider the principles behind Somatics in the activities that you are already doing. Here are a few things for you to try while you are running, lifting weights, or doing whatever it is that gives you energy:
1. Notice how you are feeling.
It sounds like a simple idea, but the truth it that we often ignore sensations while we exercise (or live, for that matter). How do you feel when you run? When you lift weights? When you stretch down and touch your toes? Does it enliven you? Do you feel pain? Do you feel energized?
2. Consider your posture.
Even if you don’t think your posture is “perfect” just thinking about the way your body is put together can be very beneficial. For example, if you are one who likes to read and run, consider what it might be doing to you spine. Since so much of us spend a lot of time with our head slightly down and forward anyway, this practice may not be the best thing for our overall health (especially if you already experience back pain of any kind).
3. Consider larger connections.
I talked a while back about Body Connectivity. Consider some of those tips and apply them to your workout. This is a great opportunity to sense those connections.
4. Notice your range of motion.
We often talk about increasing our endurance and strength and decreasing our waistline when we talk about fitness. And while many of us are (or know that we should be) stretching as part of a complete fitness plan, we usually only consider big muscle groups when we think about flexibility. However, if you consider the many articulating joints in your body, you may realize the huge capacity you have for movement.
Sometimes I like to think about the many bones in my foot as I let it hit the pavement when I run. Consider the 24 vertebrae that make up your spine. Look at an anatomy book and get a sense for the possibility of movement that we don’t usually take advantage of.
5. Enjoy the moment.
I firmly believe that more people would get off the couch and move if they found something that moves them.
Why does this matter?
The benefits of working from a lived bodily experience are many. First, we enhance our ability to control what we are doing which is first and foremost a safety issue. We are less likely to twist an ankle, push ourselves beyond our abilities, or give up if we are investing in the moment… really living in the moment. Second, it is a practice for mind/body connection. For some reason many in our society are still holding onto the belief that the mind and body are separate and disconnected. No bueno. We are connected.
Clarify your intent
Ultimately, this practice makes for a more enjoyable and lively workout. By the looks of what I see at our gyms, our intent seems to say “just keep on going and endure the pains of life.” This doesn’t work for me. I know that I can tell a difference when I allow my mind and body to integrate together in those wonderful moments where I am using my body fully and living in the moment mentally and emotionally. So, to save humanity, let’s kill those Zombie Bodies and allow the Living Body to take its place in our world.
How do you make the most of your workouts?