Spirit and Motivation in Bodybuilding
The motivation behind aesthetically developing the human body and growing holistically as a human being through bodybuilding are on 2 entirely different spectrums. One is rooted in physical reality, and has limitations and exhaustion. The other is the most fulfilling and exquisite state of existence, separate from the world of form. Additionally, the latter can be used to reach the former’s objectives.
Bodybuilding at first glance seems like (and is) a means to look better, to develop a physique and therefore boost health, confidence and ego, amongst other things. It looks like an entirely physical and intellectual process, based solely on facts and scientific information. We move more weight for the sake of moving more weight, for that feeling of progression, to add that extra quarter inch to the biceps, to obtain that shredded six-pack we see in all the magazines and on television.
Many also lift/exercise to promote physical and mental health. The diet is incorporated into the equation, because it’s hard to grow when we lack the energy and proteins to build new muscle. We also want to keep the body working effectively so we don’t get sick or injured and therefore can’t train. We want to have a healthy system when we get older and need it more than we do now. After all, the physical body is the only thing we will have with us until the day we die, it makes sense to prioritize its maintenance and well-being. All these external reasons are very effective in motivating one to train and be healthy. However, they will all eventually fade away, when the physical body dies. Our physical world is enclosed in Time. Because time passes, all within the physical world passes. None of it lasts forever.
The other motivation behind bodybuilding (or doing anything else, for that matter. This article and website happen to be about bodybuilding) is that which lies within. It is the tranquil, knowing, ever-steady flame that burns inside each end every living being. It is always there, waiting to be consciously observed and put to use. Everything you have learned and known in this physical reality, it has always known. Anything you could ever do through your body, it can create. The Spirit that lies inside us all is in fact our ticket to the everlasting. This Spirit is what tells you what exercise to do next, not your structured, pre-made workout plan. This Spirit is what moves the weight those 3 extra reps, resulting in hypertrophy. When you get so lost in your work that you are unaware of your surroundings, when you become the experience, and cease to be the experiencer. Rather than YOU contracting YOUR biceps, You ARE the biceps. You enter a realm where you there are no limits, no pain, no suffering, no room for effort. There is just you, and this you is the entire world, all at once. You are the biceps contracting, and you are the person contracting the biceps, at the same time. There ceases to be a YOU separate from the world.
“The Tao that can be told, is not the eternal Tao.” -Lao Tzu
This state of being is not a state of words, for it is not in Time. No words can describe it. Although a picture can be painted for others, the picture is merely an interpretation, someone else’s end result. One must experience it firsthand to understand, until then it is not possible. I use the analogy: “Contract your pecs, and watch the weight move, rather than moving the weight with your chest.” Contracting the pecs is what moves the weight, it is the WHY. And then you watch it move. This is different than moving the weight with your chest, which is an end result, the HOW.
When that connection to Spirit is made, is almost feels unfair to others (although while in this state you make no distinction between yourself and others) because any limitations you ever thought you had or could have are now gone. When you previously could do 8 reps, you can now do 30! The reason I have ever stopped my set in this situation is because the muscle literally feels like it is breaking (not tearing, but breaking! weird, I know). Fear steps in and returns me to my physical reality, where I put the weight down for fear of actually breaking my arm.
When I lift a weight, it is because the absolute only thing I want to do at that moment is to contract one individual muscle against a resistance so that it takes the shape of the contraction. Nothing else exists in my mind at the moment when the muscle is pulling against resistance. Throughout the entirety of the rep, and throughout the set, 100% focus is placed on the contractions. I am aware of absolutely nothing else around me. One set like this feels 5fold better than an entire workout without this kind of focus/awareness.
On compound lifts it is the same, except I will only be focusing on one or maybe two muscles/pairs of muscles that are working for that specific lift. For example when I am squatting, I will place all my attention on pulling with the glutes and/or hamstrings. I know the quads are working hard already, and they are not the ones that need the extra work. I focus all my attention on the hamstrings/glutes and do not even feel the quads working, but I know they are. Near the top of the movement, I feel the glutes contract hard, and the hamstrings are locked out (similar hamstring position to on an abductor machine). After completing a set to failure with the hamstrings/glutes, it isn’t very difficult to hammer out another 3-10 reps, incorporating the quads to a much greater degree.
The Spirit knows what is best for you, under any and every circumstance. After all, it is a part of you, maybe it IS you, underneath all the external layers you have accumulated. You want to develop your physique? Go to that quiet place inside of you and let it guide you effortlessly through your workout. Let it guide you through your entire day, as your physical gains are made outside the gym rather than while lifting. You want to experience the Void, where there is nothing but emptiness, endless possibilities? Return to that eternal place inside of you, and hop on for the ride. It will always be there for you, whenever you want it. All you have to do is find it, and it will do the rest for you. Or rather, YOU will do the rest for yourself ;)
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I have noticed this connection between the mind, spirt, and body when working out as well. Sometimes at the beginning of my work out I’m not 100% into it because I know how much time and effort I’m going to have to put in. BUT after the first set or so my muscles loosen up and start to get that pump, endorphins are released and then I get into it. Its no longer a chore to workout. I’m not thinking about how many more reps I need, or the fatigue on my muscles. I’m just IN IT and it does seem like you can just do rep after rep after rep.
…..@dylmill, good post man!
Motivation is what gets you starting to workout. Habit is what keeps you going. If ever you struggle with motivation to go to the gym, just replace those thoughts with a zen state of mind until you reach the gym, thenlet your body and heart take over. Everytime I’ve had to take a few days off, I’ve gone on long stretches of not working out. But when om in the zone, nothing makes me happier then working my body at its peak performance.
@kathompson1121, Thanks! It’s true, there is a tremendous amount of effort, and often time, that is invested in these workouts. However, just being “in it” as you put it, makes it seem like nothing. Once you incorporate something into your life in the same way that you are “in the workout”, it doesn’t even register as work or effort.
@yoinkie, I agree with what you say about motivation. I mostly agree with your view on habit as well, although there are many a times where habit no longer factors in, and is replaced by something deeper, less superficial. The state of mind where of “one-ness,” I guess I’ll call it, takes over. If someone can make entering this state a habit, that is when one becomes truly unstoppable.
As for the Zen state of mind, I often find myself stepping into something that could be called Zen. I just tell myself: contract the muscle. Nothing more, nothing less. There really is no more to it. Don’t worry about the next rep, just contract the muscle.
“When I lift a weight, it is because the absolute only thing I want to do at that moment is to contract one individual muscle against a resistance so that it takes the shape of the contraction. Nothing else exists in my mind at the moment when the muscle is pulling against resistance. Throughout the entirety of the rep, and throughout the set, 100% focus is placed on the contractions. I am aware of absolutely nothing else around me. One set like this feels 5fold better than an entire workout without this kind of focus/awareness.”
Your focus is similar but different from mine at the same time: the way I see it, pain is an illusion of the body. The pain stimulation exists to warn our minds that there may be incoming damage to our physical selves: it is a signal sent to your brain and then back to the area of “pain” to let you know to stop. You experience pain during a lot of physical activities: weight lifting included. Pain is nothing, to listen to pain is to let your body do the talking.
You focus on the act, on overshadow and rise above the act itself. It reaches that point where I am training so hard that there is no pain, there is no body. I keep going because I have silenced the pain and my body is moving in a trance. Mind over matter, but Spirit over mind.
I have a post about the power of the Spirit: It’s titled Rage & Flow, maybe you should give it a look if you get the chance. The last paragraph or so covers your point.
@dylmill, Well, that is exactly what I meant by being “IN IT”…. I guess we just have a slight different definition of what being “In it” means…. but my definition of being “in it” is the essence of your post. anyways I agree… It would be very beneficial if i could transfer this kinda of attitude to other things in my life… but it is a little difficult when there isn’t such a concrete physical and spiritual connection.
@kathompson1121, I must have miscommunicated what I was trying to say, because I completely agree with you and I see how my response could have been misinterpreted. When I say being “in it” makes it seem like nothing, I mean that to the person who is “in it,” the experience to them seems like nothing. It is nothing, it is not separated from the experiencer. Being “in it” does not register as effort to the person who is “in it.” And I agree, being able to enter that state of existence is a task in itself. I think that remaining in this state throughout your entire life is what we are all seeking.
@egarim, I read the last paragraph in Rage and Flow, I look forward to reading the rest later as it caught my attention. I like how you explained it, it rings very true to me. The way you phrased this perspective gives me something to think about, thank you.