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Squats, Spirit and Sense of Self: The Training Trifecta

It’s easy to think that changing your body starts with … well, just your body. So the idea of syncing your spiritual purpose in life with your sense of self while pumping out squats doesn’t exactly seem like a training trifecta. But the practice of aligning mind, body and soul can be an important first step in getting the physical — and emotional — gains you want.

For the average person, fitness isn’t really physical. “If you look at people who exercise consistently, if you ask them why, the very first thing they’ll tell you is how it makes them feel,” said Jenny Evans, speaker, resiliency expert and founder of Powerhouse Performance, as well as a coach for the Human Performance Institute. “It’s not about, ‘Oooo, look at my ass in these pants!’ Maybe it started there, but somewhere along the line it made them realize how it made them feel.”

Evans, who’s trained and coached hundreds of clients including top athletes, said the conversations she’s had always start with the body — improving fitness or changing it in some way. But it inevitably leads back to the spiritual aspect of people’s lives — their core beliefs and purpose, as well as their sense of self.

She asks them: “‘Why do you want to lose weight?’ ‘So I can look better.’ ‘Well, why do you want to look better?’ ‘I feel better when I look better.’ ‘Well, why do you want to feel better?’ You have to ask five whys before you dig into why they want to change.”

“People, I do believe, if you get them to stop and really reflect, they do know why they want to exercise,” Evans said. “But most people stop at that really superficial level, which is not enough to get you out of bed early in the morning to work out.”

So what makes people get out of bed in the morning? Activities like being able to run and play with your kids, being able to go on hikes and travel with your significant other, or being able to work longer hours to get a promotion.

“All of us want to feel we made a difference, whether it’s society at large, or how we raised our children or how we served to be a mentor,” Evans said. “Taking care of your health allows you to do those things at a much higher level.”

And not taking care of your health causes you to lose that.

“We see people come in who feel that they don’t have a lot of purpose in life. They have depression and anxiety,” said Anna Schott, a social worker who co-owns Renew Wellness in Gahanna with fellow social worker Cassie Starinsky. “There are very physical symptoms that go along with that.”

Schott and Starinsky, both also certified yoga instructors, came together when they worked for a mental health facility before opening Renew Wellness. The two quickly saw how healing goes awry when only one area — either mind, body or soul — is the only dimension being treated.

“The system was very restrictive in terms of modalities we could use,” Schott said. “We decided we wanted to start our own practices to offer the services we thought would help people the best.”

One of those methods is an evidence-based practice called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which employs a bar of light that your eyes follow back and forth. Allegedly, by combining therapy with the light, past negative experiences and emotions – from PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc. – can be reprocessed in the brain to help alleviate the associated feelings.

“It activates the changes where the memories are stored. Same as when you sleep and you dream and reprocess the memories and put them in long-term memory,” Schott said. “It addresses addictive behaviors as well.”

Renew Wellness also uses mindfulness and meditation as part of its treatment lineup, in addition to providing free yoga classes to patients. The practice offers traditional behavior therapy, as well as a holistic psychiatrist, massage therapist and holistic coach. 

“Spirituality is about finding that true self within you – who you really are,” said Schott. “Usually [people’s expectations are] attached to the material world, not the inner self, and they get lost in that. They got caught up in the ‘shoulds;’ in expectations that don’t really matter in the longterm. It’s that discourse between who they really are and what the material world expects from them. You’re not going to be who the media thinks you should be.”

And the reality, Evans said, is the average person is juggling a busy schedule, from work to friends to kids and family, all vying for your time. And whether or not exercise and fitness make the cut boils down to whether or not you make it a priority. 

“If it’s a priority, you will find the time,” Evans said. “How do you make something a priority? Make that connection between your values and being physically active.”

“We can be really active every day; we can do a lot of stuff. But the difference between being active versus being productive is a sense of purpose,” said Evans. “Just because you’ve checked off a few things doesn’t mean you’re any closer to your goals or your dreams. Look at it as, ‘What’s one thing I can do right now [to get closer to my purpose]?’Ask yourself that all day every day and you’ll get there.”

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