Have you ever had someone tell you to just ‘be present’? (Have you ever told yourself that?)
Presence is something I hear about all the time, and it’s a fascinating practice- one that is by far easier said than done, at least in my experience!
A lot of you know I used to be a fitness trainer. A year ago I was ‘in the best shape of my life’- training gymnastics for hours every week, teaching cycling, barre, yoga, kettlebells- the works. I was strong, fit, and my life revolved around the gym. I paid a lot of lip service to being present in your body during workouts, without necessarily practicing that myself.
For most of the past year, I’ve been traveling. It’s been about 7 months since I’ve been in a functional training center (think kettlebells, rings, pull ups, mobility). Last week I landed back in Denver for a little while, and I had a training session with a good friend of mine.
It was fascinating to be aware of several things that went on during that training session. One, my body remembered how to do the movements. Even if it had been awhile, and that shit felt HARD, I knew how to have good form and was stronger than I thought I would be. #win. Or something.
Second, that workout was definitely more of an exercise for my ego than anything else. My brain kept trying to take me out of the present moment and justify that the workout was hard with thoughts like, “well a year ago you could almost do a muscle up” and “don’t worry about finishing, you’re a fitness instructor so you’ve already proven yourself”, and all sorts of reasons as to why I should feel okay about myself. Which is fine. Except that it was trying to make me feel okay so that I wouldn’t do the work.
This is what happens when we aren’t present. We trick ourselves into putting off doing the work and living the lives we want by getting caught up in the stories we tell ourselves.
A year ago I was physically stronger. Faster. Fitter. Whatever. My brain likes to remind me of that a lot. What it doesn’t like to remember is I was mostly trying to be stronger so I could prove to the world that I could do cool stuff, and thus prove that I was enough. All of my training had external motivations- I was seeking fulfillment through achievement once more. It might not have been by getting an A on a paper or helping someone out even though my schedule was full, but when I held a handstand for 2 minutes, the praise I got on my form and dedication gave me the same hit of validation that a perfect report card did growing up.
I wasn’t able to be fully present during that time, because half of my brain was always seeking validation and recognition for what I was doing.
So, why train at all? Why move my body, if not for external validation and looks?
Honestly? Because it feels good to challenge myself. When I’m pushing through my 51st kettlebell swing or holding that last 10 seconds in a handstand, I am completely present in that moment. I feel myself wanting to give up, and make a conscious choice not to. I get to see my ego taking over, and decide to not let it. There are no other thoughts in my head other than to keep going, remain focused, and breathe.
My ego can play a million tricks on me, and my brain can do everything to rationalize my stories, worldviews, and where I stop. My body never lies. Neither does yours.
Who cares if I could hold a 3 minute handstand last year? What can I do today? I can explain away anything, and am actually pretty great at manipulating energy and situations (for better or for worse). When it comes to moving my body and completing a workout, I either do it or I don’t. There is no grey area. The ego plays no part in the present moment.
And you might be thinking, “that’s great and all Kate, but how does that apply to MY life?”
Here’s how. Whether you love the gym or hate it, move your body or don’t, you always have the opportunity to get present.
To check in with the here and now. To ask yourself, “where is my ego running the show?” and “what benefit am I getting from letting my stories take over?” I justified my shaky self-image for a long time with, “well I’m a fitness instructor and I’m going to work harder than everyone to prove that I’m worthy.”
The first step to presence is knowing when you aren’t.
Any time you are dwelling on an experience that happened in the past, thinking about something coming up in the future, or lost in a daydream or an idea- you aren’t present. Surprise surprise- the first step is awareness.
The second step is grounding in to your body.
Place your feet on the ground. Sit or stand up straight. Breathe and feel your belly and lungs expand. Check in with your physical experience. Tension? Tightness? Constriction? Soften where you can. What do you feel? Name the physical sensations in your body.
The third step is to state what IS.
Keep breathing. Allow your mind to remain aware of your physical space, of your breath, of the rise and fall. When your thoughts start to come back and entice you away from the moment, ask yourself what IS right now:
What is your experience?
What is it you truly need?
Why do you keep returning to the past or fixating on the future?
Will that help you right now?
What WILL give you what you need right now?
Usually when we aren’t present, it’s because we don’t want to deal with how we feel, or we are avoiding something uncomfortable. It can feel much safer and more comfortable to remain in your head. Trust me, I know. I lived there most of my life. Even as a yoga instructor I had a hard time remaining in my body for very long. It felt scary to live there, because I couldn’t hide there. Being in my body means letting go of control. It means listening and allowing instead of holding on and projecting.
Breathing and listening for what IS lets whatever is stuck in there to move out. It’s telling your ego to politely STFU so you can discover what it is you need in the now.
The final step is to remember that presence is a continual practice.
As much as we’d like to, we can’t just ‘get present once and for all’. The stories and expectations and hopes and uncertainties are going to keep rising.
Being present isn’t about fixing anything. It’s allowing yourself to fully be in the experience you are having right now. Whether that is sitting at your computer reading this article, getting on a plane for your first solo adventure, or simply enjoying your morning coffee, having this practice really can lead to a richer experience of life.
It’s up to you to choose presence, and to put your practices in place. By practicing presence, you get to choose your experience- the way you want to feel, the person you want to be, how you move throughout the world.
Don’t worry about doing all of this right away. Simply start with awareness. Notice when your ego has a firm grip on your well-being. See where you can soften its hold, little by little. When you’re feeling constricted and tense, take a deep breath. This is YOUR experience of life. Don’t miss it.
And if you want a little extra support in working with this? Schedule a free, no strings attached Discover Session with me- we can jam on presence, body image, ego tricks, and more. Click here to schedule now.