Quite recently a good friend of mine joined the world of blogging. It was only when we had our conversation about blogging and specifically what shape he envisioned his blog taking in the future that it clicked that I had actually been blogging myself for more than half a year already. Then it sunk-in how long ago that first blog post of mine actually was (I still consider myself a novice blogger by the way).
Aside from the self-indulgent nature of this thought, it also got me thinking about the pretenses under which I first met this friend – which was at our university’s gym. He was, at the time, just getting into competitive powerlifting, I believe, and very eager. In the intervening period since we first met I think it’s sufficient to say that he has done exceptionally well in this endeavor, and he’s continuing to perform exceedingly well in the sport. Not only that, he has to be one of the nicest and most intelligent individuals I’ve ever met and I’m very fortunate that we did indeed get to meet. If you get a chance to, I’d highly recommend having a browse of his powerlifting blog: http://twowhitelights.com/
This, in turn, got me to thinking about my own personal reasons as to why I go to the gym, and why I so sacredly cling onto my weekly training sessions when I conversely don’t have any current aspirations to compete in the sport. I have a few interesting theories as to why, and thought I’d lay some of them down here.
I don’t think it’s a huge leap for anyone who follows my blog to deduce that I am very internally charged as an individual. By that I mean I’m quite introverted and I draw energy from activities that create a suitable environment for internal reflection and thought. I have reason to believe that I am naturally inclined towards this; also during my younger years I had crippling social anxiety which I believe further amplified this propensity towards activities which provided and fostered solitude.
My older brother was and is somewhat a veteran of the powerlifting sport here in Auckland, and he introduced me to working out at the gym and showed me what to do. Naturally the moment I had become somewhat familiar with how to navigate this new dungeon I started to bring my iPod to every work out and found that I more and more began to rely on my weekly gym sessions as a medium for reflection and introspection. It became a weekly meditative session for me to regain perspective in and of life, and thus I believe it also inadvertently became an escape for me from the toils of ordinary civilian life. For at the gym it would just be me, myself, and my music. Nothing else. This allows for a lot of mental peace and space to mull over things that are currently going on in one’s life. In this way it offered an unparalleled opportunity for me to be one with myself and – forgive the melodramatic imagery – to finally have a level arena to battle my personal demons in.
While I was going to the gym at this point on a regular basis, I admittedly still didn’t have that great of a relationship with the activity. I’d find feeble excuses to skip my workouts because quite honestly all I wanted to do was sit at home and read. That all changed after one particular gym training session while I was in Exeter, UK, on a study exchange in late 2013 – it was around then that I actually got genuinely excited about the gym. Experiencing first-hand the transformative (not sure if that’s a word?) power of the gym during this session was an intoxicating feeling. After battling for years with being generally blue and depressed, finally something came along which pulled the rug from beneath me. For the first time in a long time I had the thought of ‘this isn’t totally lost – I have a fighting chance to take control’, and finally finding a spark to assert control over one’s life*. In fact, I remember the very moment this transformation happened for me.
I was about halfway through my last 2 hour lecture for the week (Corporate Law: Friday’s from 11am until 1pm). I already wasn’t following along with the material that had been handed out the week before even though I really did try, so there was no chance that the lecture material being discussed at that instant was sinking in at all. The clock struck 12pm and it clicked that I literally watched an hour tick by without taking anything in from the lecture; I didn’t even bring a pen out of my bag so I suppose I wasn’t giving it much effort either. Then I thought to myself ‘fuck it’ and I got up and left. It was the first time I had ever voluntarily left/not attended a lecture out of free will (and definitely wasn’t the last). With the freedom that the rest of the weekend in front of me offered I knew the first place I’d go – straight to the gym. That training session was hands down the most liberating workout of my life. This was the session that sparked a personal evolution within me – where I started to gain some form of tangible control over my life. I remember this was also the workout in which I lifted 3 figures for the first time: a 100kg squat (which was a big milestone for me). Not only that, I did it twice. With reasonable certainly I’m willing wager that that second 100kg squat was the one that unleashed this so-called transformation.
I specifically remember racking the weight after ascending from the second squat, kneeling down to sit on the ground, and having my mind racing; flooded with thoughts that I had no idea were even in my head. It was so odd; whereas my previous thought patterns involved thinking of an idea and finding reasons as to why it wasn’t a practical or worthy idea to pursue, suddenly there was a new-found confidence about any ideas that henceforth sprung to mind. Suddenly my thought patterns shifted from “maybe this can’t be done so I shouldn’t bother” to “it might be impossible but I’m going to give it everything I’ve got nonetheless”. Actually it was in this mental flurry that I also, coincidentally, decided that I wanted to take magic further than being just a hobby.
From then on it became routine. Going to the gym was never again an up-in-the-air affair; 3 times a week in whatever weather I’d get my ass to the gym and train.
It also became a regular outlet for any pent up rage or unstable emotions that I had. Every time I was feeling frustrated or felt extremely emotional about something I’d notice a marked increase in my gym performance in the session immediately following that ordeal. It is a hunch and definitely not proven scientific fact (it may not even be related after all) but I no doubt leave that gym session with an altered, calmer disposition with respect to whatever was troubling me when I entered.
I like to think that whatever was troubling me fueled my workout session in such a way that it pushed my body further than I’d normally be content to push it. Of course with this will be some form of growth and physical expansion of muscle. To me this is a resonant poetic thought. In its rawest form it symbolizes the physical manifestation of one’s troubles and demons, but more specifically it is the physical manifestation of the slaying of those demons. From that day forward that issue no longer troubles you because you’ve battled through your workout and consumed that which spurred you on in the first place, and you now wear the ghost of those demons in the form of increased muscle mass (however minuscule); and you carry that physical and emotional armour with you every single day.
And just like muscle represents the armour that we amass for ourselves against the problems in life, so too do the plates that go onto the bar represent these very same problems, anxieties, frustrations, and challenges of life, by making the weight of the load that much more heavier for you to bear. Particularly symbolic with the squat movement, it emits a powerful metaphor for what life or fortune throws at you. There you are standing on your own two feet and you can feel the weight of the bar and life’s challenges weighing upon you; you accept those challenges thrown at you as you begin your descent downwards, but with sheer determination and will you force those challenges back to where they came from and you emerge again solidly planted on your two feet ready to face the next challenge. In other words you either get crushed by the load or you take control and lift it (see video at the end of the post).
Ultimately it’s a tale of triumph over the demons that plague us and our journey as we continue slaying them and making them a part of us to carry forward through the rest of our lives.
It was through putting all these images and ideas together about the gym, coupled with the experience I had in Exeter, which served as a catalyst towards weightlifting becoming inextricably attached to my life as a form of meditation, therapy, and transformation.
I guess for all the excessive airy-fairy poetics I’ve woven into this blog post, I also just wanted to get across the idea that there’s more to the gym than yelling and chucking some heavy things around as most would initially assume (I definitely did at first). For creative and romantics like myself who have no particular religious inclination, it is one of the closest things to a spiritual endeavor that one can find themselves a part of. I don’t profess to be correct in this remark; but it is definitely a perspective through which one can view the idea of being a regular gym-goer (which is, after all, all I can really offer you as a reader).
For me the gym is akin to a temple for the broken to piece themselves back together again and face the world anew; it certainly has served this function for me and will continue doing so for the foreseeable future, and I am highly certain that if going to the gym was not the direct cause of significant positive change in my life, then it certainly was the spark that drove positive change and blew my quiet passions into a roaring flame.
*Side note: while feeling and sounding very poetically inspirational – I knew perfectly well at the time that this was a form of modern rite of passage to bring one’s self into the phase of life of being an independent individual.