Mind Like an Elephant

Imagine this: You’re at the gym, on the mat, in the middle of a set of crunches.

Your thoughts might go something like this: you remember that you forgot to take out the chicken for tonight’s dinner. One. Two. Oh, and how excited you are for that new episode of True Blood that comes out tonight. Three. Hmm, wonder if the girls will want to come over for hangout time, drinks and True Blood watching. Four. Is Rebecca still dating Henry? She might need some company tonight if not. She always gets sad when they break up. Oh, crap, what rep was I on…

How you went from reps to breakups is a matter of what we might call the undisciplined mind.

The Dalai Lama said, “The undisciplined mind is like an elephant. If left to blunder around out of control, it will wreak havoc. But the harm and suffering we encounter as a result of failing to restrain the negative impulses of the mind far exceed the damage a rampaging elephant can cause.

That may seem a little dramatic for an example concerning crunches, but let’s think about it. If I’m in the act of tightening and loosening my muscles as I repeatedly lift and lower my upper body without so much as a thought, who’s to say I’m not inadvertently doing harm to my body?

This translates also into everyday life. When we’re going through the motions and are not conscious of our daily movements, we often forget to breathe. We hold our muscles taut for extreme and uncomfortable amounts of time, stub toes and cut fingers, without ever noticing that we’ve done ourselves any harm. It isn’t until we see the “mysterious” cut or crawl into bed with tight, painful shoulders that we are aware that something is awry, though we never know exactly what. We have gone through our day without mindfulness. Without awareness of where we are in time or space.

While working out, we must take special care to be present in every moment. We must be careful of our form and our movement. One misstep and I can lunge too far and gravely injure my knee. Inattention to my shoulders during presses, and I might not register the brief spark that alerts me that I’ve gone too far.

As much as I don’t like the saying, I have to quote Jillian Michaels here with, “Don’t dial it in.” Be present as much as possible. Not just in your workouts, but in your daily life as well. The more we can listen to our bodies, our muscles, and our breath, the less likely we are to experience inexplicable aches and pains that alter or prohibit our participation in life.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather not go through life with a mind like an elephant. I’m clumsy enough as it is.

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