One of our new members said the other day: ‘it is interesting that when I’m using a kettlebell, my mind has to be completely and utterly on it. There is no space for anything else, it is total focus’. I agree. In fact, kettlebells and mindfulness seem to go together like Red Caviar, Lewis Road Creamery Butter and Pumpernickel Rye bread (trust me, it’s divine).
Last month yours truly took part in the NZGSA Kettlebell Sport National Championships hosted by Shane Cameron Fitness in Auckland. It was a memorable experience, full of challenges and triumphs, all in the company of kindred kettlebeller spirits. My two events were 20kg One Arm Long Cycle (OALC), and Double 12kg Long Cycle (LC)
The kettlebell felt so heavy during the warm-up for the competition. ‘How could I possibly have imagined lifting THAT for 10 minutes straight?’ the thoughts buzzed like bees in my head. ‘What the hell were you thinking, picking that weight, are you crazy?’ ‘You’ll make a fool of yourself, going for the 5-year standing record and failing’ blah blah blah…
I had switched to a heavier 20kg bell for the One Arm Long Cycle event (from 16kg that I used in the North Island Champs) with only 3 weeks to go before the Nationals. I knew I had the strength from years of kettlebell lifting, but did I have the stamina and the mental focus to last under a heavier bell for 10 minutes? I stayed off training for 7 days before the comp, so picking up that 20kg bell on the competition day after a week of yoga and mobility, and feeling its weight drag my arm down, was a surprise.
“Trust the process, Kat” I told myself “you have done everything right”.
Two minutes to go before my set, I chalked myself up, sat down by my platform, closed my eyes and did my basic awareness of breath and thoughts meditation. That’s when you enter the present moment and let all the unrelated stuff go. Including any thoughts of a ‘self’ or a ‘self image’. I noticed that letting my attention get tangled up in habitual, looping self-referencing thoughts is the biggest distraction and mental block in fitness, sport and life. There is a special time to attend to those thoughts (I personally use 10-30 minutes in the evening and in the morning nowadays), but in the middle of an event is not that time. By then, all the mental and physical homework that could have been done is done.
My meditation by the platform only lasted 60 seconds at most, but 15 months of daily training of meditative states seems to now allow me to clear the mind more quickly than when I first started. When I started I couldn’t focus on anything for longer than 30 seconds. Now the longest I’ve achieved has been 30 minutes. Disciplined and intentional attention is an aspect of the ‘fitness of the mind’ (of which there are several) that I believe meditation helps us train.
When I got up, it was just clarity and purpose, there was no ‘Kat’.
On the call of 3-2-1-Go, I didn’t feel any urgency to grab the bell, just a calm acceptance of reality, and when I picked up the 20 kg kettlebell, I was surprised at how light it felt. I actually had to look down and make sure it was still a 20kg bell and somebody didn’t come by and swap it for a 12kg! It felt like all my muscles just turned on, all my mental energy leaks disappeared and my entire being was channelled to one objective. You see, the thinking ‘self’ is a heavy burden to carry. It’s pointless to hang onto it when you also have a chunk of steel hanging over your head for the next 10 minutes.
I could feel my face splitting in a huge grin, high on the power of focus. Every time it happens it blows my mind. The flow was on, time disappeared and I was in the ‘zone’. That was how the new National Record got set, on a total high.
Later in the comp, another surprise was lasting the entire 10 min in a Double Kettlebell Long Cycle, an event which I haven’t directly practised for and where the very first repetition already felt terribly uncomfortable. Again, becoming ‘one’ with discomfort and removing the self really worked. And so that was a horrible, but immeasurably valuable sort of fun. The sort where you emerge on the other side with a new understanding of what ‘challenging’ truly means, plus realising that everything you thought about your limitations before was not quite true.
For the past 3 months, our Courage Corner kettlebell classes have been ending with a 5-15 minute guided meditation. Our current meditation series focuses on changing habits through mindfulness. Members have been reporting greater calm, clarity and awareness. Some have even taken up a meditation habit outside of class time.
Kettlebells and mindfulness seem to be a match made in heaven after all!