Wednesday, March 28, 2012

THE RACE: There's Many A Freudian Slip Twixt The Mind And The Body

Who's ready for their weekly psychology appointment?  If I haven't mentioned it, I was a psychology major in college.  I read a lot of "self-help" books (for lack of a better word) and if I could have done anything other than be a lawyer, I would have a been an FBI forensic psychologist.  You know - like Silence of the Lambs. I love that stuff.

So I guess it's no surprise that this blog combines my love of endurance events with, well...the mental game.  That's how I roll....I'm always analyzing...always...people, cases, me, life...the world is a Psych 101 textbook for me.  

So I found it pretty hilarious when I committed a textbook Freudian slip at my acupuncturist's office tonite.  We were talking about basic maintenance - coming in more frequently for basic body maintenance and not letting so much time lapse between visits.  It's like your bike:  you have to do routine maintenance or it just gets all gunked up and doesn't ride worth a crap.  I know that, and yet often I maintain my bike better than my body.

Worse yet, lately I've been maintaining my body better than my mind.  I've been focusing so much on rehab-ing my calf injury, getting back into a workout routine, strengthening up my flabby core, and trying to find my swim mojo, that I've totally lost my mind. I mean, literally, lost track of working on my mental fitness as much as my physical fitness....

So tonite as my Mr. Miaggi was working his acupuncture magic, we were talking about "cleaning up" (his term, not mine) some knots in my muscles, and I said - without even realizing it "Yeah, I've been focusing so much on the outside that I've neglected the inside."  Doh!!

What I thought I meant initially was that I'd been focusing so much on just getting my running game back, getting some bike strength, and trying to figure out my swim form, that I was ignoring some of the muscular tightness and pain I'd been having.  But, what hit me two seconds later, was that I also meant that I'd been focusing on my physical health to the expense of my mental health lately.  Hmmm....break out the couch!

Well without getting too heavy on folks, I think that your mind-body connection is like the connection between basic bike maintenance and efficient bike riding.  If you don't put in the maintenance, you're going to have a rickety ride and most likely break down or get a flat.

As athletes, we're used to pushing ourselves.  We even credit our mental strength with getting us through tough physical times.  But what happens when you're so focused on your physical strength that it comes at the price of your mental strength?

I wouldn't dare go out for a bike ride without first checking my chain to see if it needs cleaned/lubed, making sure that I have a spare tube, patch kit and CO cartridge in case of a flat, and airing up my tires.  Yet every day, I rush about my normal routine without really making sure that my mental tires are fully aired up.  As a result, I'm constantly riding slightly deflated, both mentally and physically.

For quite some time I've been meaning and wanting to learn how to meditate.  For a Type A, control-freak, busy-body like me, rocket science literally would be easier than calming my mind.  But - after my little Freudian slip - I now realize that I need to make that happen.

MindBodyGreen is one of my favorite mental and physical well-being websites.  If you search for "benefits of meditation" on their website, you'll find a wealth of articles, including 7 Health Benefits of MeditationStudy: Mediation Calms Pain, and 7 Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation. I love the last article in particular.

So what are the mental and physical benefits of meditation according to these articles?

  1. "It enables us to let go of our ego and struggles and makes space for healing, creativity, stillness, intuition and connection to our spirit." 
  2. It "brings your attention to the present moment.  It prevents you from living in the past or worrying about the future.  Plan for the future, but live in the present."
  3. It "allows you to let go of anything that limits possibilities.  It gives you confidence, courage and the ability to trust yourself and block out impressionable thoughts.  it keeps you grounded and centered - less pushed by what's going on around you.  Your intuition becomes clearer about what is right for you." 
  4. "What's happening on the physical level is very much a reflection of what's happening on the emotional and spiritual levels.  In other words, in order to heal and thrive physically you need to pay attention to your emotional and spiritual well-being."  
  5. It lowers blood pressure and heart rate; improves circulation; reduces perspiration; slows respiratory rate; reduces stress and anxiety; and lowers blood cortisol levels. 
Wow - pharmaceutical companies and shrinks would be asking for a bailout if everyone practiced meditation!  

So with all these benefits, why is it so hard for people like me to meditate?  According to this video by Lisa Dawn Angerame, an Advanced Certified Jivamukti Yoga teacher and Senior Certified Baptiste Power Vinyasa Teacher, our current societal mentality of wanting instant gratification makes many of us reluctant to make the commitment that meditation requires.  She explains that mediation is just that - a commitment.  You can't just sit down and expect to "turn off your mind."  Ah, well there's my biggest problem:  we control freaks want instant gratification.  

When you first start trying to meditate, you have to make the commitment to sit for X number of minutes a day, or sit for X number of days a week.  You also have to expect that your mind is going to jump around - it's not just going to sit still like a dog upon your first command.  You have to train it.  According to Lisa Dawn Angerame, "[t]he point of mediation is to have these things happen, acknowledge it, become aware of it, and release it."  

Sounds easier said than done; but, as with anything, you only get better with practice.  MindBodyGreen provides 5 Easy Tips for mediation for beginners
  1. Be comfortable in a quiet place. 
  2. Become present - totally aware of your surroundings. 
  3. Take long, deep breaths and focus on your breath. 
  4. Once you're focused, take note of your body, starting with your toes and working your way up to your head.  
  5. Practice, practice, practice.  
So I guess I need to set aside my need for instant gratification and recognize that mediation, once learned, will provide more gratification than I could ever dream.  But gaining the full benefits of mediation requires maintenance - consistent practice.  It's just like bike maintenance.  You have to learn how to do it, practice it, and do it every day if you want to make sure not to break down.  

So, I guess my little Freudian slip has made me think harder about my desire to do meditation....

Do you meditate?  What do you find to be the benefits?  What tips do you have for a beginning "meditator?"


Jen said...

I had to laugh at your opening. I used to want to be a lawyer. Now I spend great deal of my work cycles doing computer forensics.

I *try* (By try, I mean I intend to, but...)to meditate for a few minutes every day. I usually fail at this. I used to be much better about it, but with my schedule of late, I've really let it slip. I completely believe in it, but but but. Always with the but. I think I avoid it a lot and for a lot of reasons; however I know I would be better served doing so.

I read a book about moving meditation once, I wish I could recall the name of it. I think running can be like that, allowing you to turn off your constant inner chatter and be present.

Life Through Endurance said...

Thanks, Jen...if you remember the name of that book let me know. I totally agree that running is very meditative. I'm so focused when I run. Now if i could just turn that same focus into making my mind be still!!!