What I have learned over the years of training is that no matter how you evolve your body it really means very little unless you also evolve your mind.
We are quick to want to change the body, to strengthen, improve, shape, tone, build… But how easily or often do we attempt to change the shape of our thinking? The body is pliable and adaptable while the mind can remain unmoving and entrenched in old routines and pathways for years on end. No movement. No change.
After all, it isn’t the shape or strength of your body that will ultimately decide your happiness. As author Richard Carlson so simply put it, ‘the quality of your life is determined solely by the relationship you have to your own thinking’. How many athletes or highly fit people do you know who are insecure, anxious, overly concerned with the aesthetics of their body, highly stressed or downright unhappy? And yet they may well have fantastic physiques and be incredible athletes. What will decide the quality of their life is not their relationship with their body, but the patterns of their thought and the subsequent health of their mind.
Think about training the mind just the same as you train the body. Movement can be overly forced and controlled, or it can be allowed to happen, fluid and instinctive. And it is the state of your mind that will decide this, ultimately. Mindlessly repeating repetitions of a movement while you think about your chicken dinner or watch TV on a treadmill is less beneficial for you from a physical perspective as well as from the mental. Putting your mental energy into your training – into every single step, jump, crawl, lift, vault – will give you a far more rounded and engaging experience while also strengthening the mind as well as the muscles. You will finish training feeling mentally refreshed even if you are physically tired, as if you have just had a healthy meditation session – which of course is exactly what you will have done: meditation in movement.
Meditation in activity is a thousand times superior to meditation in stillness.
Without doubt the body and mind are inseparable, so how effective we are in all things, including our movement, comes down to how holistic our approach is; how integrated are these two halves of the whole. Mindful movement, therefore, is not a a case of conscious control; rather it is a conscious decision not to control, so that the unconscious mover within is allowed to express itself fully.
This is when that quality of grace will appear. And this can come about only in the absence of judgement – not seeing your movement as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, for both of those are outcomes of analysis. In fact, graceful movement manifests only when their is no analysis at all, so that the unconscious mind is freed of the tyranny of the conscious mind, and the natural athlete can emerge. Picture running to catch a frisbee in flight – no time to analyse, no time to think of correct form, and yet we move with speed, power and accuracy in order to make the catch at exactly the right time. Our conscious mind has been thrust aside by the inner movement expert.
The good news is that this is something we can direct and implement in our training. It doesn’t have to come about haphazardly or randomly over years of practice. Sometimes known as ‘natural learning’, this method is actually innate to original parkour which required the early practitioners to be fully focused and immersed in their training due to the absolute commitment to successfully completing the tasks they chose on any given day. Whether this was breaking a jump, overcoming an endurance challenge or finding routes over tricky terrain, parkour requires a complete integration of body and mind, and this is the essence of mindfulness: no separation between doer and that which is done. The mover and the movement become one.
The quality of your life is determined solely by the relationship you have to your own thinking.
So how does one begin? In my current Parkour Roots class in London I’m focusing on encouraging and enabling this more mindful approach to movement, utilising a very simple method based on objective observation of one’s own movement – not how you think you move or how you wish you moved but how you actually move. Then from that place of understanding we look at applying the principles of deliberate practice, aiming to reinforce optimal movement patterns rather than deconstructing sub-optimal ones. It’s a case of where you put your focus: where the mind goes, the body follows.
This is a process we consciously initiate, of course, from a desire to become a better mover and a more integrated human being: but once initiated the process becomes unconscious, enabling instinctive movement governed by the automatic, fluid ‘thinking’ of the body itself. The result is good parkour. Body and mind aligned to perform a movement, overcome an obstacle, achieve a task – whatever challenge is put in front of you. As I like to say, an adaptable body is an intelligent body.
And a further benefit ensues from applying mindful movement: the freeing of the mind from judgement, control, tension, anxiety and fear – and this has a carry-over into every aspect of your life, helping you to remain calmer and more balanced throughout your entire day. And this is, in fact, the most valuable benefit of all: for your movement to become a means by which to improve the quality, focus and health of your mind.
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