People rarely confuse the bustle of CrossFit with the calm of meditation. But CrossFit is my meditation practice. I’ll try to explain why and if I persuade you, perhaps you too will see CrossFit (or your own vigorous workout) as mediation. Maybe you will even join CrossFit?
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is a functional fitness approach that was developed by Greg Glassman over several decades. Here is how Glassman defined CrossFit: Increased work capacity across broad time and model domains. Each CrossFit workout—there is a different one each day—is a series of functional movements performed at a high intensity. Each workout is called the "Workout of the Day, or WOD." They are the core movements of life and include exercises from weightlifting, gymnastics, running, rowing, and more. My favorite movements are the Olympic lifts, especially the power clean.
One of the best parts about CrossFit is that despite its obvious intensity, anyone can do it (well, almost anyone, check with your trainer or doctor if you aren’t sure). Each workout can be scaled down to meet a person’s fitness level and limitations, including mobility issues (which still plague me). The CrossFit coaches can adjust the workout so you can finish it and you will, no matter how advanced your physical fitness, receive a great workout.
People participate in CrossFit all over the world; there are now over 11,000 affiliates, which are individual gyms, called CrossFit boxes. You might check out CrossFit 2120, where you can feel the ocean breeze, in Del Mar, California. If you can’t make it to the paradise of Southern California, you can probably find one near you.
CrossFit is controversial in some quarters, probably due to the intensity of both the workouts and the dedication of its participants. Many people start CrossFit and find themselves getting really into it and talking about it—a lot (which can rub people that haven’t tried it the wrong way).
Combining the intensity with the sometimes complex Olympic weightlifting, for example, can, in some circumstances, create a danger of injury (another reason for controversy). That is why it is very important that if you want to start CrossFit, you find a CrossFit box with very strong coaching. Done correctly and with good coaching, CrossFit is, in my opinion, more likely to reduce the chance of injury during both workouts and everyday life, as you will become stronger and more mobile in performing the sort of functional movements that you need to do every day to live. By learning to do these movements correctly, you will, in fact, likely find yourself with less pain and fewer injuries.
The key, of course, is performing the exercises correctly. Like anything else in life, the quality of coaching varies depending upon the location. Ask around and try out a few places before you decide on one. In the San Diego area, you can’t go wrong with CrossFit 2120 or CrossFit Invictus.
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
There are many definitions of meditation and many ways to meditate. This article won’t delve deep into the practice or talk about the different approaches. But the bottom line is that when you meditate, you turn your attention to a specific focus on your present state. In doing so, you might pay attention to your breath, your bodily sensations, a word or mantra, or even the fact that particular thoughts are entering your meditative space.
Overly simplified, meditation is a way to be present in the precise moment, without being enslaved by thoughts and worries of the present and future. Meditating on a regular basis can substantially reduce stress, create better focus and attention, bring mental clarify, and add perspective. It is also a great mental break for those of us that have trouble taking them. Just clearing your mind for a period of time, however, short feels good and undoubtedly helps you.
CrossFit and Meditation
For me, CrossFit is a form of meditation. I am currently in a high-stress profession that requires me to take on the problems of other people, while at the same time dealing with conflict and, often, an adversary. So, as you might imagine, it isn’t easy to turn off thinking about whatever issues are active—along with the typical day-to-day stresses that invade one’s life.
But a CrossFit workout is one of the few activities that brings me to a present state rather allowing myself to worry about past or future stresses. Even though they can be scaled, a CrossFit workout is tough, no matter what level your fitness. And my focus—which requires all my attention and energy—is to figure out the best way to get through it while keeping my form intact.
I am certainly not an expert in the Olympic weightlifting (like power cleans, deadlifts, and squats) or gymnastics, so some of my focus is on trying to obtain and maintain the correct form.
Instead of thinking about a work problem that needs to be solved, I am instead severely aware (in a good way) of exactly how each part of my body feels and what I need to adjust (either mentally or physically) to survive and thrive in the workout.
In some ways, it is a primal return to physical survival that the body had become accustomed to over many, many years before our softer physical lifestyles either rescued us or enslaved us (depending upon your perspective). Thus, it feels quite natural to mentally attend to these feelings of physical durability, as you deal with fatigue and weakness while trying to move forward to achieve a goal, which may require your attention for anywhere from a minute or less to twenty minutes, depending upon the workout.
I don’t know if this “primal” aspect to the workout really makes a difference in well-being, but I’d like to think it does. And, in any event, I am certain from experience that the focus on present physical feelings (along with immediate strategy and form) provide at least some of the described benefits of meditation.
A CrossFit workout clears my mind and allows me to return to problem-solving in a much better state. It reduces mental stress and I find that for hours after my workout I have better concentration and focus. Obviously these benefits arrive at least in part from the physical stress of the workout, but the combination of requirements for form, survival instincts, and intensity offers me many of the benefits of meditation that the typical physical workout doesn’t provide.
Let us know if you have the same or different experiences with CrossFit or other types of workouts.
Each person is different in so many ways, and I anticipate that some people would experience the same meditative benefits of other activities like yoga, biking, running, swimming, basketball, or other sports and workouts.
You might also consider taking a walk, which is great for your physical and mental health.