The effectiveness of exercise in combating depression and anxiety has been studied so extensively that what was once a matter of theory and opinion is now accepted as medical fact; it works.
One of the most frequently cited reasons for this is that exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals that induce a sense of well-being. Add to that the overall health improvements that come from regular workout routines, and it all makes perfect sense.
While these explanations are certainly valid, I often find myself wondering about what gets left unsaid. For many, the process of strengthening the body becomes a vehicle for self transformation that goes well beyond the scope of reducing body fat or increasing cardiovascular endurance; it has the power to affect lives in a deep and meaningful way.
Our view is that we are comprised of Body, Mind and Spirit. This is not some kind of hokey abstraction. Without a body, there is no you. It is the vehicle through which you execute the instructions given by the mind, whose job, in turn, is to come up with the most viable plans to meet the goals and aims that originate in our innermost being (spirit). The interplay of these elements is what makes us who we are, and each requires conscientious cultivation if we are to function at optimum levels. For many people, working to strengthen the body is the first time they have seriously engaged in the process of self improvement.
If I may use my own history as an example, I spent much of my childhood and teen years as a frail, fearful kid. I was ridiculed for my bony, awkward body shape. I lived in a tough neighborhood, and was bullied because I saw myself as too weak and scared to fight back. At the age of 15, I began to exercise regularly. Gradually, I became stronger, and my appearance started to change. I looked better, but, now in my twenties, I still harbored a fearful disposition. The idea of a physical confrontation with another human being was truly terrifying. Concerned that I would carry this attitude into my later life, I took up Thai kickboxing, and applied myself to it in the best way I knew how. I was not particularly talented or athletic, but I kept at it. Eventually, I entered the competitive fighting arena, and managed to win a championship belt in a regional tournament.
You will most likely not read about my fighting exploits, except right now (and that’s only because I wrote it, so it doesn’t count). There were no pay-per-view appearances, and no one paid me a dime to go out there and get my face punched. But I faced my fears head on and came out with my dignity, which is one of the most important things that could ever have happened to me. I learned that I have it in me to overcome adversity, and this knowledge has carried me through some of my darkest moments.
As I write this I am thinking of an internet video that I see from time to time. It features a man named Arthur, who was an army paratrooper in his younger years. All the jumping out of planes took a real toll on his body, and his legs and back were a complete mess. Even on crutches, his mobility was slow and cumbersome. His doctors told him he would never walk unassisted again. Yoga teachers repeatedly turned him away, no doubt dissuaded by the legal risks of exposing someone in such an obviously fragile state to even further damage.
Eventually, he finds a yoga instructor willing to take on the challenge. What follows is a video chronicle of his progress. It is, at times, painful to watch, as you see Arthur falling flat on his face, knocking shelves over and having a hard time balancing himself into even the simplest of standing positions By the time it’s all over, Arthur is 100 pounds lighter, performing perfectly aligned yoga poses and sprinting down the street (you can, if you’re a fly on my wall, also see me sobbing like an idiot almost every time I see that damn video).
What Arthur, and I, and many others have discovered is that the process of developing the body provides us with tools that, when properly applied, will also develop the mind and spirit, because the process shares common elements essential to success in any of these areas (there are people in prison who start working out as a matter of survival, and discover, often for the first time in their lives, the link between discipline and positive results).
It all starts with a decision to improve one’s current state. The next step is to get the best information you can in order to come up with a viable strategy. Then, you execute the strategy. For this, you have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone, because it is only in challenging yourself that growth becomes possible. It requires that you believe in yourself, even when you don’t. It takes discipline, commitment, persistence, patience and the ability to tolerate fatigue. It will force you to face your fears and insecurities.
But if you are willing embark on such a journey, the ensuing transformation to your mental and physical well being can be profound, and more worthwhile than you ever thought possible…
By Gerry Pinzon, Mercedes Club Personal Trainer and Boxing Instructor