The Goal Is To Sit

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Have you ever been frustrated by a perceived notion of lack of progress? What if there were another way to think about the whole issue?

We often have conversations with EFL members regarding progress during which a person may say it took them X months or years just to get to this point, which they may regard as less than ideal. Often we look back through their programs and assessments so they are reminded where they started, and can see for themselves how far they’ve come. What usually follows is a discussion of how their practice should be thought of as a long term endeavor, and further not to compare themselves with fictitious people in diet ads or TV shows. Once we see how far we have come those notions of falling short usually dissipate.

Recently I read a wonderful little book called Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, a Buddhist monk who founded the first Zen center in the U.S.  In one discussion regarding the goal of meditation he says that in Zen the goal is not enlightenment, a breakthrough, or any other such metric, but that the goal is to

1. Sit

2. Breathe

3. Maintain good posture

In other words the goal is to just show up each day and do it, but while being mindful of the qualitative aspects. A secondary aspect of his statement is to draw the student away from the idea of return on investment, or that they should expect reward for putting in the “work”. Just be consistent with attention to form and detail and then keep doing it. I could draw many parallels here between this mindset and martial arts, yoga, music, or many other arts/practices. The point is reframing how we think of exercise/moving/play/sports.

I wonder if Buddha treated himself to a mocha frappuccino after a long meditation session?

We know from studies that those who are successful in losing weight and keeping it off do so because they undergo a general lifestyle change and become more active while eating amounts commensurate to their daily life. Likewise many individuals we have trained or other friends/colleagues that have made big changes came to take pleasure in physical activity and do so whenever they can, therefore creating a positive feedback loop.

All you have to do is visit a climbing gym and watch people get after it for hours with smiles on their faces, or a skateboard park, ski hill, or….EFL – Everyone is practicing/playing, but with intent, and some sort of structure. On the matter of purposeful practice Suzki says:

For the beginner, practice without effort is not true practice. For the beginner, the practice needs great effort. Just to continue should be your purpose.

We all have experience quitting something, or know people who habitually quit things before making a serious effort. That is why we assess, program, coach, and regularly reassess everyone at EFL – it certainly helps to have guidance as none of us can be expected to know what to do at the beginning, and it aids in overcoming barriers. But once we start to learn and improve through showing up and giving serious effort then it makes us feel good so we want to do it again. Does it need to be more complicated than that?

We have found that if the person feels and moves better then they are more likely to show up again, and more likely to go hike, bike, ski etc… and not regard exercise as some sort of duty or punishment. And if they gradually get rid of the idea of needing to constantly be doing more more more, and instead regard each chance to exercise as a pleasure then hey, now we are on to something! Naturally if you are injured, are tight etc… you need to work on that, and always be mindful of form and quality, but that should increase a sense of fulfillment. Consistent effort is enjoyable in and of itself.

There ain’t nothin’ to it but to show up and breathe.


About the Author:

Owner of Elemental Fitness Lab in Portland, OR. Our approach to training is to integrate research (I'm an NSCA CSCS, certified Functional Movement Screen, and Precision Nutrition) with practical experience. I've studied martial arts in Japan and the U.S. for many years, and have put in my time in the gym, in the water, on the snow, on the rock wall, and on the bike.
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