What yoga and lifting weights have in common

Friday, October 09, 2020 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

Whenever someone mentions meditation, focus, and self-discovery, the physical activity that immediately comes to mind is yoga. But there's one other activity that I think of, and that's lifting.

Say, what now?

Oh, yes, you read that right. I'm saying that squatting heavy barbells, doing deadlifts, and pushing a stacked bar away from my chest are things that help me achieve a state of zen!

female lifting weights

You might be wondering how an adrenaline-filled activity is something I associate with calmness and enlightenment, so allow me to explain. Perhaps after you read this, you might think differently about lifting heavy weights at the gym, especially if you're a girl.


How I lift

Other folks prep for their sets by sniffing ammonia, grunting like apes, slapping their cheeks, or even having a gym buddy strike their backs repeatedly. That's all good. Those are ways to get the adrenaline pumping for one to lift a rather heavy weight off the floor.

But while there's nothing wrong with all that, it's not how I prep for a heavy set.

female front squat

Whenever I know I'm about to do a difficult deadlift or squat, I get into position in front of the bar and start grounding myself. I listen to the music, then allow it to fade. I take deep breaths and let the rest of the world dissolve away. A few more cleansing breaths, then I get closer to that level of focus I'm after. The clanging of metal around me, the conversations – these start to feel more distant.

Then, something in my mind clicks, telling me I'm ready.


Focus

I know it's almost counter-intuitive to relax and meditate right before a lift that requires a lot of adrenaline, but way before I stand to lift, adrenaline has already saturated my blood – and I don't need any extra to lift. But I digress.

barbell squat

Adrenaline is responsible for many stressful situations, enabling us to react and survive, whether it be through fleeing or fighting back. But lifting weights isn't something that activates the fight or flight response in me. It has always been my way of centering myself, of achieving peace, of focusing on the one task right in front of me. Everything around me melts away in importance. Nothing else matters, except the barbell in front of me and being able to lift it.

Perhaps this is why I have never depended on caffeine during workouts. I don't drink pre-workout formulas. I don't drink coffee. And while I have been asked to take a whiff of ammonia in the past, I never felt like I needed it. All I need is to get in the zone and allow my world to shrink to the size of the platform I'm standing on.


Recovery

For me, rest periods between sets are not just for physical recovery. They're also for psychic recovery, allowing me to recharge my mental battery so that I can endure one heavy rep after another without wanting to give up.

During rest periods, my surroundings become part of my reality once again. I'm usually sitting down on the floor, breathing steadily, allowing my mind to relax and take a backseat to whatever is unfolding around me. Unlike during my prep period when I consciously focus my mind, I let my mind stray without getting lost during recovery intervals. It's a deliberate but controlled wandering; a slow broadening of consciousness; a return to my senses.

I become more conscious of sore muscles, of how fast I'm breathing from the effort it took to finish the set, of time ticking away as the next set draws closer. It's when I actually feel adrenaline flooding my veins – I know I'm about to get back on the platform, and my body needs to be ready once again.

Way before I prep for the next set, my adrenaline has already reached optimum levels. Once that happens, I then hunker down, try to achieve a zen state for another round of tough reps, and repeat the process.


Mental work

Lifting is more than just a physical task. If my mind refuses to do the task at hand, my body refuses to cooperate. I have to be mentally ready to push myself if I am to finish a session adequately.

female deadlift
For me to execute this 210-pound (95-kilogram) deadlift, a personal record, I had to believe I could do it. It was as much a mental as a physical achievement. 

It isn't just my body that becomes stronger whenever I lift; my mind does, too. It develops resilience, patience, endurance, strength, and confidence. It gets trained to focus despite distractions. It learns to listen efficiently to cues to accomplish a difficult task.


Girls should try it!

While others feel relaxed and energized after a yoga session, I feel the same way after a barbell workout. The experience always feel transcendent to me. It's why I love it – I always feel my body communing with my mind. I feel different parts of me getting to know each other better.

I feel myself getting to know my own mind and body better.

So, if your impression of doing barbell squats, deadlifts, and bench presses is that it's simply an exercise of brute strength best executed by the big guys in the gym, you might be pleasantly surprised to know that it can also be meditative, not to mention enlightening.

deadlift setup

I feel like more girls need to try lifting before they diss it! And if you're a girl, you can even do it with a skirt and with your hair in pigtails, just like I do, as you can see in the above photo.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!

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