It’s been coming up a lot lately, do you push too hard? Or are you not pushing hard enough?
Tim and I were just talking about this in the context of yoga and I was remembering that when I was new to yoga, even not that new, I was always looking for the hardest variation, to hold the poses longer, to strive for ethical perfection, to have the stillest mind. I was always trying to push harder. My teacher used to say that honesty means being honest with yourself first, and that the most advanced practice was someone who knew when they needed to push harder, but also knew when they needed to back off. It took me ages, probably 11, 12 years? To actually understand this. That doing the most isn’t always the best.
Now that I coach other runners, I think about this a lot. It almost seems like the easiest way to categorize athletes, whether my job is to push them harder, or to convince them to back off. It’s the most individualized problem in the world, but it’s also very simple. What is going to be best for your performance? How much can your body take? Your mind? What’s helping you progress toward your goals? Working harder isn’t always better. But less isn’t always more either.
“The way you do one thing is the way you do anything.” That’s an old zen saying and I couldn’t find if it’s attributed to anyone in particular. I was already thinking, I don’t think that’s true. When I googled the phrase and read someone else’s blog, where they talked about doing an 80% job on small tasks that didn’t feel important to them, and how that meant they were living in laziness and mediocrity. Really it just confirmed to me that it’s not right. Because everyone categorizes their activities and determines what’s more worthy of their limited and valuable time. If you committed 100% of yourself to EVERY SINGLE TASK you do in a day, you’d have the daily life equivalent of overtraining, aka sympathetic dominance.
So what is the answer? I’m pretty sure it’s balance. I’m no spiritual expert here guys, but I think it’s that thing that my yoga teacher used to say, that the most advanced practice is when you can tell when you need to push harder and when you need to back off, and that can apply to everything you do. If you do anything obsessively, you probably need to back off and find some kind of healthy balance or you’re going to end up overtrained. But there’s plenty of stuff you’re probably slacking on because you don’t feel it’s important. I can run 100 mile weeks (when I’m healthy, obv) but I can never seem to put everything away. If that “the way you do anything is the way you do everything” were true, I’d either be way too intense and obsessive about every single activity, obsessing over cleanliness and cooking just as much as I obsess over strength training and running, and I probably would’ve died of a heart attack, OR I’d be just as sloppy about training as I was about cleaning and I never would’ve made any worthwhile gains at all in my life. If I didn’t devote all of my time and energy to running (when I’m healthy) I would have more time to spend on the other stuff, like I am right now, cooking and drawing coloring books and practicing elaborate breathwork. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to describe myself with words like “balanced” or “well rounded.”
So I assume this persistent adrenal fatigue is trying to teach me this, right? Because after I recovered from OTS, I eased back in slowly but ultimately was doing way too much too soon and caused the relapse. The important lesson of balance being left unlearned, so here I am again to learn it. The most advanced practice is when you can tell when to push harder, and when to back off.
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