5 MIN READ
By lululemon editors
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf,” Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction therapy, once said. That’s a metaphor, of course, but truly learn to surf and you can, for a few present moments, “hang zen”.
Today, however, meditation has a reputation. The preconceptions it conjures are simple: sitting comfortably, cross-legged, a popular app playing in your ears and incense burning in the background. It works for millions of people. For millions of others, it doesn’t.
But the benefits of meditation are myriad. And just because you can’t connect with traditional mindfulness practice, doesn’t mean that your mind and body need to miss out.
Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally, as if your life depended on it”. That can be while doing traditional Buddhist meditation, but it doesn’t have to be. And it’s easier to be mindful if your life really does depend on it - for example, if you’re surfing, rock-climbing or, in the case of Renee Castello, street-skating through east London. “I can’t think, ‘Oh my gosh, I nearly got hit by a car,’ because there’s another car coming,” she laughs.
That might not exactly sound stress-reducing but being forced to only think about the present moment “switches your brain off to everything else”, says Castello. It’s peaceful–in its own way. She describes her mental state while skating as “thinking without thinking”. There are times when she skates with her headphones in and zones out. And there are times when she simply feels the breeze on her skin and notices her surroundings: “I’m just coasting down the road.” Which does sound stress-reducing – and a lot like mindfulness.
Yoga Instructor and lululemon ambassador James Downs likes to teach and practice “movement as a form of meditation”. It can be difficult to explain, he says, because it doesn’t look like most people’s idea of meditation. “I think people need different things at different times.” Seated meditation might be the hardest place for some people to start if they need to keep more occupied, or unsuitable if they have a history of trauma or eating disorders that makes tuning into their bodily sensations difficult. Ultimately, it’s whatever works, not forcing yourself through what you think you should do.
Plus, meditation doesn’t automatically mean that you’re being mindful. If you’re not paying attention, then you can all too easily go through the motions – or sit through them – while your mind wanders.
On stressful or mentally fatiguing days, calisthenics coach and lululemon ambassador Jermaine Straker, founder of the Cali Kulture academy and community, will power through a circuit of basic movements: press-ups, pull-ups and dips. “You don’t really have to think,” he says. “You just go.” Then there are days where he’s refining more technical skills such as handstands, which are more about “finding balance within yourself.” He tends to practise the latter on his own, when he’s better able to clear his mind and stay calm.
“Imagine that you are skiing down a slope and your full attention is focused on the movements of your body, the position of the skis, the air whistling past your face, and the snow-shrouded trees running by,” writes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who coined the term “flow”. “There is no room in your awareness for conflicts or contradictions; you know that a distracting thought or emotion might get you buried face down in the snow.”
“The zone” to athletes, “ecstasy” to religious mystics, “aesthetic rapture” to artists and musicians: whatever you call it, when you’re in flow, your ego falls away. Time flies. Your actions and thoughts follow on from each other instinctively, inevitably, “like playing jazz”.
You can find flow while skiing, writes Csikszentmihalyi, but also while reading a book, talking to a friend or playing with a baby. The “full involvement” of flow “makes for excellence in life”, because the happiness that results is of our own making, not dependent on external circumstances, and leads to “increasing complexity and growth in consciousness”.
Part of why Straker fell in love with calisthenics is that it’s “very progressive.” In weightlifting, you can do pretty much all of the exercises from the off, albeit with a light load that you then gradually increase: “Whereas in calisthenics there are so many movements you can't do, and you have to work hard and earn those movements.”
When he got his first handstand, he felt a sense of freedom, like he didn’t need anything beyond his own body, which gave his training “another dimension”. When he wasn’t able to train for a few weeks in December because he had to look after his mother, he felt anxious and his blood pressure went up (he checked it with her monitor). Little wonder, then, that he now relishes being back at the bars.
When Castello first went with her mum to skate at east London’s Stratford Centre, and enviously watched all the “really, really sick” skaters weaving between pedestrians and cyclists, she had to work at it. Eventually, she reached a level where “my body could take over and allow my mind to switch off”. Now, she says, skating is “therapeutic”.
“I could’ve had such a bad day and I put on my skates, and I put in my headphones, and then I'm cool. I'm great.”
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