Andrew Vandermeer, personal trainer and crossfit enthusiast, shares his experiences with the mind-body connection as it applies to both his workouts and life.
- Three mile bike ride to the gym
- Work technique on muscle ups (20 minutes)
- WOD (workout of the day) Three rounds of 12 Deadlifts, Nine Hang Power Cleans, and Six Push Jerks at 135 pounds
- Three mile run home
Yes, I am a Crossfitter. I love being able to do something different everyday to push and challenge my body and myself. I’ll just get this out of the way now: yes, crossfit can be dangerous and you have the same potential to hurt yourself just like in skiing, lifting, running, walking, and getting up on the wrong side of the bed.
Like with most things in life if you follow your pace, listen to your body and progress with the right coaching, what you do will only get better. With that being said, we must support the mental part of our lives as much as the physical.
Finding “The Zone”
In sports people talk about finding “The Zone” —the one place where an individual can block out all distractions and focus on the task at hand. I don’t believe this only applies to sports. I believe a CPA does it when filing taxes, a mid-wife when delivering a baby and it is especially found in meditating. Meditation has been the most influential practice in my life, and has helped everything grow and flourish; I’ve been at it since I was 14 years old.
Finding “The Zone” is being completely engulfed by the moment, ever-present in time.
The Mind-Body Connection
By trade I am a personal trainer and I manage Crossfit Deco; I’m also a big believer in the mind-body connection—a belief that shapes my workouts, my training and nearly every other aspect of my life.
Problems arise when we dismiss this mind-body connection. Everyday I spend at the gym I see a lack of communication to certain parts of the body and over-stimulation to others.
Finding balance is key.
In Crossfit, as with Life
Consider other aspects of your life: you can’t spend all day at work or at home, there needs to be a work-life balance. Sometimes you need time away from a friend or significant other in order to bring balance to your relationship. And as noted earlier, the same concept pertains to the body: without balance, good luck with even the simplest tasks like standing or walking.
It all starts with the communication between your cells, it all ends with balance.
Here’s a little trick to see how well you communicate to your body; are you using the external world or if you truly are working from within?
Stand up in your normal standing position and lift one leg. See how long you can hold it there before falling over. Now as your feeling confident close your eyes. Can you keep your balance?
If you fell right over then it’s likely that you rely on your external vision to know where your body is at in a spatial sense.
Back to the mind-body connection.
Let’s put you in a yoga class, Restorative Yoga. You’re holding positions for longer than normal trying to completely relax the body. You close your eyes and you can feel your hips adjusting to your position, the feel of gravity on your legs and chest; and with every breath your body adjusts, moving into a deeper and different position than the breath before.
Feels good, right? In that moment you are creating a better mind-body connection. The nerves that run from your brain to your body are getting better at delivering and communicating information. Doing something over and over again you can become better at it—you adapt.
So as demonstrated with your yoga poses, the more you are living in the present moment the more adaptation can take place.
Lets take this up a notch further. What do you do when you squat into a chair? Do you make sure your feet are planted? Do you engage your core to stabilize your balance? Do you activate your glutes, hamstrings and quads to lower yourself down safely onto the seat? Or do you gauge your chair’s approximation and plop—50/50 chance you’ll hit it, right? Can you feel your muscles engage at all?
It’s been my experience that most people feel their quads or hamstrings and the glutes get left out. Next time you go to sit down try closing your eyes, engaging your core, squeezing your glutes first and lowering yourself down slowly to see what you can feel.
Mind-Body Connection in Practice
So lets flash forward six months, six months of mindful movement—acknowledging the muscles firing and being able to feel them in any movement, knowing which muscle is doing most of the work and feeling the other ones that are assisting.
You can squat on command with perfect form and perfect range of motion. You walk into a crossfit class and you see “200 Air Squats for Time” on the board. You think to yourself, “Oh crap, but I can do it.”
Everyone gets warmed up and you get into the WOD (workout of the day). The coach says, “GO” and you propel yourself into action. Your core is engaged and your legs are firing as they should. As you get to 50 Air Squats, you close your eyes to run a check on your body, you notice your not really feeling your glutes engaging anymore, so you remember to really squeeze your butt on the way up and they instantly turn right back on.
You keep going.
Now you’re at 112 Air Squats and your form is starting to suffer. You can tell you are just going through the motions and your back is rounding every time you go down. Your coach yells, “chest up, engage your core” so you stay tall as you go down, once again locking that core so that you don’t round your back.
You’re at the home stretch—10 more Air Squats to go—and you have completely shut out the outer world. Eyes are closed and complete attention is on these last few squats, you are in “The Zone.” Nothing around you can distract you from finishing. You’re reaching muscle failure and your legs feel like rubber, but somehow your body keeps moving. Your brain continues to recruit more and more muscle fibers—its mind over matter.
Boom! Two Hundred, you did it.
You lay down in your most perfect starfish position without even opening your eyes. Like a computer, your brain runs a check: First, I’m still alive, phew. Second, I’m breathing like crazy and my heart is pumping. Third, my heart is pumping so much I can feel almost every blood vessel expand and contract throughout my entire body, especially my legs. Talk about living in the moment.
As I begin to regain my composure my heart rate slows, I feel the heat coming off my body, and I’m thirsty. After a little time passes, I sit up and feel that my quads and my hip adductors need to be stretched. I am in a wonderful moment where I am acutely aware of what my body is telling me to do in order to recover.
My body and I just shared an experience, that same experience in yoga, only magnified.
I believe that there can be an infinite number of ways that you can connect with yourself. Some people do it through exercise, some through music, some do it through meditation and some have other ways still. Try not to put a limit on yourself. Be creative with yourself and keep an open ear to what your self could be telling you—often times it’s something that has been right in front of us all along or a completely different experience that we need to throw ourselves into.