Bringing Presence into Strength Training

One of my big ambitions has been to bring Yoga into strength training, and to bring strength back to westernized Yoga.

What is it that I mean by that? Let’s start with Yoga. The word itself means union. I can take you on a whole adventure about what that union refers to, but for now we’ll keep it simple. I am seeking union and cooperation between my body, mind, emotions, and spiritual essence — that energy that animates me.

I’ve been purposely training my body since I was in High School. Yeah, there have been times where I’ve focused to feel contraction, or feel the pump, but I never really stopped to get into my body. My training consisted of beating myself up — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

It was a lot of, “don’t be a little bitch, finish that rep” (even if my technique was terrible).“Don’t be a pussy,” even when I knew it was time to stop.

Unfortunately, the CrossFit that I was exposed to (which really inspired me and led me into a broader world of training) only served to make this worse. Now it was a competition.
Shut up, body. No pain-no gain.

After a while, I realized something was wrong with that approach, with the mental and emotional — not to mention physical — bullying. It was definitely making my physically stronger and more muscular. Yet, when we push ourselves mentally and emotionally with threats and bullying, we can begin to believe those words and to identify with the stories that we use to “motivate” ourselves.

It’s why self-bullying and desperation-motivation have no place in my personal practice, nor with my clients. It’s something we work on.

So, what did I do to change this?

  1. Get intentional — what are you looking to accomplish within this session? If you don’t have an intention, why are you doing it?
  2. Be mindful — do what you’re doing while you’re doing it. This can be as simple as internally narrating what you’re doing. For instance, if I’m squatting, I remind myself of a few things. As I descend into my squat, I say to myself “posture”, and as I stand in my squat, I say to myself “push”. You might be surprised by what you begin to notice as a you train.
  3. Use Your Breath — Your breath helps you to take in energy-potential, and expel waste while you’re working out (and really, always). Use it intentionally. One example is using an intentional exhale when you load the body, like when you’re standing up out of a squat? Why? The exhale encourages bracing throughout your trunk, protecting your spine and keeping you upright. Pairing breath and movement also helps to ensure that everything is in the right position as you move. In Yoga, we inhale out of & exhale into twists so that our rib cage is fully expanded, allowing for more thoracic spine mobility and improved rotation. You can also breathe through your nose during cardio. Why? It helps to keep you down-shifted in a “gear” where you’re likely to burn more fat and less stored glycogen. This means you’ll go for longer and feel better at the end.
  4. Rest intentionally — What’s your rest-period for? It’s for ensuring you’re as recovered as possible for the next set, and ready to rock it. So, come to your breath. Downshift to a nasal breathing pattern. Consider “working-in”: combining breath & movement in a way that facilitates rest while greasing the groove for your next set. If I’m working on squats, then eyes-closed, slow breathing-squats are an excellent option. So is Cat-Cow! Decide what you need, and go for it, just stay off your phone and don’t get distracted by training partners or groups.
  5. Be honest with yourself — Your body will tell you when it’s done. When it does this, stop. Say thank you, and pack it up. If you’re unable to complete reps properly, you’re technique is breaking down, you’re starting to feel dried-up, or you’re getting that CNS Fatigue tunnel vision, you’re done. Take 5-10 minutes post work-out to stretch, or just lay down with your eyes closed. The Yogis are smart enough to put Savasana at the end of practice. Why? It’s huge for downregulating your nervous system and shifting you into a rest state. That way, you can start recovering and rebuilding immediately. If you don’t do this, you’ll likely be waiting at least 2 hours before this recovery happens. Let’s be honest, regardless of how cool it is to train hard, rest and recovery is where all of your growth happens.

You owe it to yourself to begin these practices now. These alone will get you more in touch with your body, where it’s at, and what it needs. Whatever it’s telling you, your job is to say “thank you”, and to listen. You only get one of these in this incarnation, so take care of it.
Check back next week where I’ll dig into the mental & emotional piece, and how you can apply the Yogic principles of Yama-Niyama to your strength training for increased performance and better gains!

If you have questions, please shoot me a DM on Instagram @robertbilljr

Love and Chi,


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