“Good” Workout Vs. “Bad” Workouts

This week I read a post in the Wildmind Newsletter about meditation, but I think the concepts can also apply to our practice of Pilates, yoga or any movement discipline we undertake.  So I’m taking the liberty of paraphrasing:  What is a “good” workout vs. a “bad” workout?  We waste a great deal of time making these judgments and worrying accordingly. The judgment is ultimately not about the workout, but really about ourselves and how we perceive our own efforts and abilities.  Maybe we think a “good” workout is one during which every exercise is performed to whatever specifications we demand of ourselves that day.  So it’s a workout that goes according to some preconceived notion or prescribed plan. But how many things in our lives actually go according to plan?  Or perhaps a better way of looking at it is how often does a well-layed out plan go awry? And what do we do when that happens?  When a workout doesn’t work out, we create stories about how we are not good at ______ (fill in the blank) or this practice isn’t the right one for us, or something similar. But this story is our own invention, so maybe we need to invent a different one:

With a bit more experience (assuming we don’t give up in the face of all those judgments) we may start to think that it’s the effort we put in that defines what is “good” or “bad”. We take into account that the conditions we’re working with change; sometimes they make [our practice] easier and sometimes harder. Imagine you go running. Some days you’re running on flat ground with the wind at your back. Sometimes you’re running uphill against a stiff breeze. The first of these runs is going to feel more pleasant (it’s a “good run”). But which of these runs is going to help you develop more fitness and stamina? The second one, right? So maybe it’s the [workouts] we struggle in that are really the “good” ones . . .

Think about how good you feel when you’ve completed something that you perceive as difficult.  It may take some time and effort to make that happen, but with a little determination you can find a way to your goal that works for you. Try being kind to yourself and have a little patience.  It is rare that anything worth having comes without at least some struggle.  But when you have that “aha!” moment of accomplishment, it is the best feeling!  Dangle that carrot.  You can reach it.

Expanding on the concept of patience with yourself and your goals, here’s something from Yoga Journal’s Daily Insight:

Yoga was originally developed to lead the practitioner to freedom from suffering and to realization of his or her Divine Nature. . .. It can be helpful, though, and even necessary, to set lesser goals along the way. . . These goals can help you to move in the right direction and provide you with valuable mileposts.

On the road to attaining your goals—in yoga and elsewhere in your life—you will inevitably encounter obstacles. Patanjali [recognized author of the Yoga Sutras, considered the guide book to the philosophy of classical yoga) refers to these as vikshepas and enumerates nine of them: illness, listlessness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, cravings, delusion, inability to progress, and instability in maintaining progress. Depending on your nature and the goals you have set, you will run into some of these more readily than others; but sooner or later you will come up against them all. How you meet these obstacles will affect how well you surmount them and what your state of mind will be in the process.

One does not need to understand the Yoga Sutras to recognize these obstacles. We all experience one or more of them on a daily basis.  That’s life!  It’s full of obstacles.  But you don’t have to give in.  Try being as patient with yourself as you would be with a child or a friend or family member that you care about.  We are often so much more willing to give others the benefit of the doubt than we are to allow ourselves the same leeway.

So next time you are tempted to skip your workout because you are worried about how you might perform, my suggestion is to just show up.   To echo a further sentiment in the Wildmind post, I would assert that

any workout “you turn up for is a ‘good’ [workout]. Sure, there are some days it’s easier than others and there are some days you have to put in more effort. But I’d suggest that you regard the [workout] you do as being infinitely better than the [workout] you don’t do.”

If your performance doesn’t meet your expectations that day, chalk it up to experience.  Whether or not you realize it, your body learned something.  Allow your mind to learn something, too.

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