Don’t Make Your Body Your Machine
TRX has a slogan:
Make your body your machine. I love Trx. It is absolutely my favorite fitness tool to use. But I think even the creators of TRX know that the metaphor of the body as a machine is a destructive one.
We are living in a moment in our evolution in which the mechanistic world view is beginning to seem outdated. We are moving into an era of biohacking and we making a return to nature as any adamant follower of the paleo revolution can tell you. More and more frequently people are wanting to become fit by working naturally with their bodies and with the flow of nature. The rise of parkour, animal flow yoga (which i love) the TRX itself, and the movenat movement to name a few fitness trends that are leading us in the right direction– all point to the fact that there is a trend towards finding fun and challenging functional movements that our ancestors would have approved of— as a means of cultivating the sickest possible bodies that don’t look like they were bought in a body factory after years of monotonous reps and faux-healthy protein shakes. There is a return to nature movement in the fitness community that reflects a larger trend in the new consciousness that is emerging on the planet. It advocates being real over being air brushed and being able to move like a natural athlete over being able to bench press a lot, but also looking like your shoulders are carrying the weight of the world because they are so inverted and rotated in to protect a terrified heart (and I still like to bench press by the way).
During the industrial revolution it made a lot of sense that everything was looked at in terms of tanks, gauges, engines and other distinct parts. If something in the body is not working, according to this world view, why not have surgery to remove it…like taking the carborator out of a car. To make the understatement of the millennium, the industrial revolution and all that came after it in the 20th century has been a remarkable time in human history in terms of evolution in medicine, machinery, psychology and art to name a few. The mechanistic worldview is not all bad. Everything from open heart surgery to Picasso, Fraud and Einstein emerged from it. And of course it is still sometimes helpful to see the body as a machine, just as it is sometimes necessary to get surgery (I just had arthroscopic surgery on my ankle a year and a half ago and I am happy that the surgeon understood the component parts of my ankle like parts of a machine of sorts.) But it is a severely limited worldview/metaphor. This is especially true when we look at our bodies and nature as a whole in this way. I know because I have experienced a deep frustration with my body when I viewed it as a machine that was not operating properly. Our bodies are not machines. They are dynamic living organisms that respond to our emotional life, environmental factors, our relationships, our diets and our psyches, in a complex mosaic that cannot be understood with a mechanistic blueprint. The problem arises when you see the body as separate from your mind and soul and a slave to the athletic feats you want to accomplish (great athletes know that they have to rest and listen to the body even as they occasionally push the body to the brink).
We can use me as an example of someone who didn’t want to listen to his body and had to pay the consequences. I deeply wanted to compete in the Russian kettlebell challenge a few years ago and became furious at my body when it developed a herniated disc and shoulder tendinitis from overtraining. I got really angry and truly couldn’t understand why my body wasn’t obeying me. It seems that my body had something to teach me and I was going to have to learn whether I wanted to or not. All of the sudden I couldn’t participate in my many of my passions. Basketball was taken off the table for me, as was running, yoga and weightlifting. I slowly degenerated while trying to keep pace with other machine-like trainers in my gym and being in complete denial of what my body was trying to tell me. At that time I was actually a mess in a variety of ways…but I was refusing to admit it to myself. I had a reputation to uphold. I worked at equinox. I had my life together. I was a fit and noble and healthy adult. Meanwhile my body was telling a different story. I was addicted to stimulants and was only sleeping 4 or 5 hours a night. At the same time I was drinking beer most nights and loading up on heavy inflammation producing agents like pasta, Oreos and dairy. I thought I could train away any of the over indulgence…after all that was what other young people I knew did. They worked hard and played hard. But there was only so much punishment my body could take. On top of my less than ideal diet and over-training I was in a destructive relationship, hardly allowed myself to do anything nurturing or creative, and had an incredible amount of unprocessed fear anger and grief from my life that was contributing to my inflammation and poor organ, hormone and musculoskeletal function.
The solution for me personally, and I believe the solution that works for most members of the general population, is to actually listen to the body and to stop taking all of our cues from external authorities. Going to war with our bodies and treating them like machines may work in the short term, but what is the price that we will ultimately pay? I like it when my body feels like a well oiled machine as much as the next guy, but unfortunately the reality is that I rarely feel like that. I often have stress, aches and pains, and a complex emotional life to deal with. What works best for me ascetically as well as emotionally is for me to trust myself. I try to listen to my pain (both emotional and physical) because I finally integrated the consequences of not listening to it for far too long. I also try to listen when I am really enjoying the intensity of a good workout or a great yoga session or a great basketball game, and my body is telling me it can handle more. Listening to our bodies does not mean we will be lazy couch potatoes. Frequently it means just the opposite. When you were a little kid did you have to motivate yourself to run around and chase after each other or play games? No. Your body new what it needed and it wanted to run and jump and play. But we have become so distrustful of the body (and by extension nature) because of so many deeply imprinted cultural fears. What if we listened to our bodies once again? Perhaps it is true that we might need to take a nap instead of do a workout today. But maybe tomorrow we would feel more refreshed and get a more complete workout. Or we might initially need more naps and eat more cookies until we finally realize that what we really want is to sleep better at night and to get more sweetness from our lives. When we are learning to listen again sometimes things initially slow down or they get worse before they get better. Their may be a certain amount of detox or withdrawal from living a life of either over training or under training (if we really listen we will find that being sedentary is not working for us one bit. But we have to listen deeply to our bodies and not the overprotective voice in the head that tries to keep us safe and small). And it’s ok if we
initially takes few naps or eat a few cookies as we learn to listen to our bodies once again. Rest and recovery are a huge part of having a healthy and aesthetically pleasing body. Allowing ourselves the pleasure of something forbidden may paradoxically keep us on a good diet and prevent us from unconscious binging. Overtraining and over-restriction is way more likely to screw up many fitness enthusiasts appearance than the occasional nap or cookie. Adrenal fatigue may cause more weight gain than that 30 minutes you are telling yourself you have to do on the elliptical. And it’s also ok to push yourself through that signal to nap and just do it. There are no rules really. But can you trust your own intuition and your own internal cues without assuming that you are a lazy bum? If you can, than you may find that you have a happier, healthier, and more relaxed relationship with your body than you would if you always forced your machine of a body to do exactly what that fitness magazine told you to do (not that there is anything wrong with fitness magazine workouts if that’s what your drawn to).
I read two books recently: one called intuitive eating, and one called the yoga of eating. Reading them helped me lose more weight than all of my years of trying to do the paleo diet, the zone diet, or the warrior diet exactly right. And that’s just my experience. Other people need rules and regulations and that’s just fine. I personally have no rules or rules about other people having rules. But as a fitness professional for the last 7 years I can say with a certain amount of authority that the people I see making the most progress are the ones who are listening to their bodies, living their lives at a high vibration, resting adequately, enjoying movement, and listening to their pleasure and satiation signals when they eat…not the ones who are following all the rules. That’s not to say I haven’t seen some extremely fit (and even occasionally happy) people who do everything by the book. That’s great for them. But for the rest of us I would suggest that we listen and trust instead of bullying ourselves to freedom.
If you win the rat race you are still a rat. In other words if you are miserable in the process of getting fit and eating healthy (or doing anything really) you will still be miserable once you have achieved your goals. If you can fall in love with life, rest adequately, eat from a place of wholeness and mindfulness, and follow your nose until you find the fitness regimen that is right for your body,
mind and soul– than both the process and the end result of your workouts will be joyful and fulfilling. I invite you to try this radical new approach called listening to yourself and your true nature. Many great Sages and Mystics have advocates for it over the years. You might come to find out that you like yourself and your body way more than you thought you did.