Embodiment is a Performance Enhancing Drug

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It’s not a pill, potion or powder.

It costs absolutely nothing. You don’t need any special certification or training to do it.

Always available on demand, you can do it absolutely anywhere. It makes you faster, stronger and maybe even smarter.

Somehow though, it always seems to slip under the radar. There is no hype or trendy bandwagon when it comes to embodiment. It is simple, unassuming and powerful in a calm, settled way.

Now, don’t let that calmness fool you. Deeper levels of embodiment can allow you to explode in a fury of power and stunning explosiveness. It can also allow you to move with grace and seemingly mystical effortlessness.

So, if it’s so powerful, why don’t more people practice embodiment? Why isn’t it taught at every gym and sports program nationwide?

Traditional embodiment practices

First of all, for a long time embodiment practices like meditation have been seen as strange and esoteric. That’s changing a lot. It doesn’t hurt when one of the top hedge fund managers in the world credits meditation for his success.

Qigong, taichi, yoga and tantra are some of the other practices that develop greater body awareness and internal sensitivity that can have profound effects on your training. Each of these have a meditative quality to them, but focus on meditation through movement.

The question I’ve been asking is this: Do these arts have to stay in their own compartment, sentenced to an individual isolated bubble of your day?

And… can they be incorporated inside of a movement practice, like parkour, gymnastics, handbalancing, or just going and working out at the gym?

Yes, absolutely. In fact, I think it’s insane not to utilize them.

Why? Here are just a few benefits you can look forward to integrating more embodiment practice into your training routine:

  • Better control and balance. The more conscious and present you are (embodied) the more you’re able to make minor adjustments and corrections.
  • Greater tension and recruitment, or greater relaxation and ease. This leads to greater strength gains, or greater increases in flexibility.
  • A clear signal to your nervous system that it’s safe to move through a range of motion. The more present and relaxed you are, the more you get the “green light” from your body to proceed.
  • A greater sense of power and ability to stop, start or change direction. Because of this, embodiment can potentially make you more aware of when something is off so you can avoid injury before it happens.
  • Being more sexy. Haven’t you noticed that people that are more in their body and grounded just feel more attractive?
  • Relief from stress. The more embodied and present you are, the less you’re worrying about things you have to do later.
  • Greater awareness can help you learn movement patterns quicker, leading to more skillful, beautiful movement.

However, you know just as well as I do that this is far from the norm.

All you have to do is walk into any gym to see it. Walking heads on a stick everywhere.

Most people have their headphones on or are tuning into some kind of screen. What does this mean? They’re tuning out of their bodies.

Even if they aren’t distracted by their favorite device, they’re likely just mindlessly going through the motions (this is what I did for years).

Whether or not you have an interest in pursuing qigong or yoga as a lifetime pursuit, you can learn a lot from picking one of these up and exploring it for a few months. Even a simple sitting meditation practice, focusing on your breath and the sensations in your body can be amazing for your movement practice.

I recommending having a base of practice with some sort of meditation or body awareness technique before you try integrating it into your regular training.

Once you’ve got a few months under your belt, you can start embedding more serious embodiment practice into your routine.

Here’s what a typical strength and mobility movement practice looks like for me:

Full body join warmup – 10m

Strength and mobility session – 5 sets each

  • Handstand pushups – 3 reps
  • Middle splits progression – 5 reps
  • 90 seconds rest
  • Staggered grip chinups – 3 reps each side
  • Front splits progression – 5 reps
  • 90 seconds rest

Looks pretty standard, right?

But here’s watch how it transform when I add more embodiment practice into my flow:

Full body joint warmup – 10m

Qigong practice – 10m

  • Handstand pushups – 3 reps
  • Middle splits progression – 5 reps
  • 90 second standing meditation
  • Staggered grip chinups – 3 reps each side
  • Front splits progression – 5 reps
  • 90 second standing meditation

With the second program I am starting my session with a condensed qigong session. I do the Fire Dragon Meridian Qigong from Master Wu.

If I have a lot of time, I’ll do the full form. If not, I’ll just go through a few of the opening movements.

The second thing you’ll notice is that I’ve transformed my rest periods into standing meditations. I bend my knees and sink my weight into my lower body, similar to a horse stance. This especially helps when a lot of your energy is going up with upper body movements. Your energy is regrounded.

In this stance I focus on breathing deeply and feeling into my body. Then I turn my attention to awareness of the space around me, I find this has a calming effect and helps with the energy not collapsing internally.

When the time is up, I move on to the next exercise.

I mean, you’re going to be resting anyway, why not get the maximum benefit out of it?

Adapting to more explosive workouts

If I’m doing more explosive movements in my workout, I might focus on more jaw wide open, breathing through the mouth in a slight back bend. Here’s an example from Elliot Hulse.

This helps open the front of the body and floods the body with oxygen to aid in recovery. You’re still keep the energy high, rather than calming yourself with the horse stance meditation (this one I’ve found is better for slower, more controlled training sessions).

This approach to combining fitness and meditation, the physical and the energetic is a direct result of my work as a trainer under Metaphysical Fitness. Were it not for the support and guidance of Justin, I’d probably be spending years trying to figure out how to integrate these various aspects of my training.

I should also note that the integrated mobility following strength exercises is something I learned from Coach Sommers from the the Gymnastic Bodies program. I’ve been using this protocol in my training ever since and it’s a great way to make sure you’re complimenting your strength with mobility work. The actual strength and mobility programming was designed by my coach, Justin Goodhart, which I highly recommend.

Obviously, the example I’ve given here is a very strength and mobility focused routine. I’m working on the hardware of my body, not so much specific movement practice or play.

But this doesn’t have to be limited to strength and flexibility work. You can do a short meditation as a warmup for parkour or gymnastics class. During water breaks you can ground back into your body and regain a sense of calm and renewed focus.

Remembering your purpose

For even greater affect, try reminding yourself of why you practice during your rest periods.

  • What’s your personal reason for doing this?
  • How does it impact your family and friends?
  • How does this affect your work and goals in life?

To be honest, sometimes I forget to do this with my training sessions. It would probably be a good idea for me to set a reminder or use a stick note to remember my purpose with my practice.

It doesn’t have to be fragmented

For a long time I kept my meditation separate from my physical training. Everything stayed in neat, little individual boxes.

The only problem is that I felt like I was being pulled in a thousand different directions. My meditation practice was lackluster, and my progress in my training was always jumpy and inconsistent.

You don’t have to keep your interests separate. In fact, I’m a firm believer that when you find ways to integrate, or embed your goals the process unfolds with much greater ease.

Does this perspective take time to adapt to? Yes, definitely. For me it felt weird at first. I would constantly forget to use my rest periods as meditations and just pick up my phone instead out of habit or distract myself somehow.

Cut out the distractions:

  • Turning your phone off definitely helps. At least put it in airplane mode.
  • Keep it simple. You don’t have to do a full yoga, qigong or 30 minute meditation session before your training.
  • Stick with silence or instrumental music. Audio books, podcasts or music with vocals can deter from the quality of your practice. Instead listen to these when you’re walking or running.

Go easy on yourself if this is a new approach for you and just do what you can.

Even a small dose of embodiment can have dramatic effects.

Use it carefully, use it wisely. This drug has not yet been approved by the FDA. 😉

If you’re at all interested in exploring this work further, consider booking a coaching consultation with me.

Over to you: any weird or off-the-wall things you do that improve your training sessions? Share with us in the comments.

PS: If you got even a little value out of this, please give back by sharing with whatever social network you use. It helps me create more free articles like this one for you.

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