I started lifting weights in my adult life primarily as a means, I told myself and others, to maintain an athletic lifestyle late into life… to be able to ski and ride well for as long as possible.
Inside, however, I think I knew it just made me feel good… it was easier to maintain positive energy, I became more active, I became more aware of my whole body (the union of body-mind-spirit), and I liked how I looked.
So, here was my dilemma: I believe my natural self to be relatively ego-less… or perhaps said differently, more comfortable in a non-attention-getting environment; I thrive when I feel like I’m helping things function better or people live happier in a behind-the-scenes way. My perception of the term “bodybuilding” seemed to be in conflict with my natural tendencies to not draw attention to myself. After all, weren’t bodybuilders just bringing attention from others to themselves? Wasn’t I just bringing attention to myself?
But as my strength training regimen continued, and my interest in understanding my whole body grew, I realized more and more that I was building my whole body. As my body adapted to how I trained and practiced living, my mind adapted, my emotions adapted, and my sense of self adapted. I knew my (whole) body better.
And as I knew my body better, I listened to my body better. I came to realize both from my expanding yoga practice and my expanding bodybuilding lifestyle, that my body, my whole body, knows innately how to be healthy and happy. I just have to listen and understand it.
I now know that modern Hatha yoga asana and bodybuilding grew together in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with the rise of an international “physical culture” and a growing interest in fitness and body-mind-soul health. (1) Many of these Western-influenced, posture-focused yogis were indeed also bodybuilders and gymnasts.
Come to think of it, when I lift (bodybuilding) I am present-moment focused, I am aware of my breath, and I am moving with my breath. That’s yoga, eh? When I practice yoga asana, I am flexing and extending my joints, I am working on body strength (stability) and flexibility (mobility), and I am focused on being my naturally awesome self… accepting how I am, yet putting in the dedicated daily work required to bring out my best. That’s bodybuilding, yes?
I also wonder now if bodybuilding, when viewed from the perspective of whole-body building, is a way for us to view a sustainable world. It seems to me that when I pay attention to my whole body, I eat more naturally and am healthier, I care more about the survival and happiness of our interconnected communities, and I maintain a long-term perspective of my life and our world. I am more resilient. I live, I learn, and I adapt. I value everything more, because I know what my body desires… and it desires whole health (for survival)… and it desires interdependent, supportive relationships with all (also for survival).
Through whole-body building and yoga-practicing, I know my body. And now I know that my body knows the way to be healthy and happy.
And yes, my body knows that being outside with others… skiing and riding, hiking and biking… connected… is where it feels alive!
(1) Singleton, Mark: Yoga Body – The Origins of Modern Posture Practice; Oxford University Press (2010).