Pushing Through ‘I Can’t’

I can’t.  Words are powerful.  The words we use inside our own heads are the ones that shape our reality the most.  As I listen to students I notice some fascinating trends in how they speak to themselves.


When someone feels confident they speak well of themselves.  When they are uncertain or intimidated the language changes to a darker, more negative direction.  Positive and negative are relative here.  Positive isn’t patting oneself on the back and negative isn’t ripping oneself to shreds in this case.  Instead this is more of an encouraging (positive, yes I can) and discouraging (negative, no I can’t) dialogue.


As a teacher I look out for negative phrases from students.  Especially if someone normally has a positive dialogue.  It highlights discomfort or distress that the student might be feeling.


By recognizing that the student is challenged, I’m able to offer them assistance, space or just a friendly ear; whatever they need.  This allows me to head off any potential issues with their training.


Beginner students are usually a little nervous but they come in with an open mind.  As they advance new challenges are faced and preconceptions can start to show up.  Preconceptions of what they are capable of, what they ‘should’ be doing and what they ‘can’ do.


In my experience, the preconceptions of ‘capable’ and ‘should’ are easier to break through.  Can’t on the other hand is a beast.  There is a great saying,


“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”  – Henry Ford


Can’t is rooted in fear.  Fear of failure, fear of injury, even fear of success.  Fear can hold us in a powerful and paralyzing grip, if we let it.  It paralyzes the student and gets in the way of them challenging themselves, their boundaries and their preconceptions.


Image courtesy of deeplifequotes    / Flickr.

Image courtesy of deeplifequotes / Flickr.

When students come up against this, there are many approaches that can be taken to help them work through this challenge.  One approach is to give them space, encouragement and support.  This gentle, caring approach works for some people as the support they feel allows them to release whatever is holding them back and start moving forward again.


For more stubborn challenges I have an approach I like to employ; push-ups.  I know it sounds odd, but it works, and here’s why.



Push-ups strengthen the body, especially the chest and abs.  This in turn builds self-confidence.



People running into the ‘I can’t’ dilemma don’t like push-ups because they are challenging and force them to work hard to meet the challenge.  Facing the challenge of push-ups allows them to face greater challenges with confidence.



Push-ups are easier to face than whatever else the person is facing.  Once they get into the push-ups and build themselves up physically and emotionally, they end up creating space in themselves to face any challenge they come up against.


As a student progresses through a push-up regimen, the confidence they gain changes their internal dialogue.  It’s easier to remove perceived obstacles.  The preconceptions that used to exist get moved, changed or even shattered.  ‘I can’t’ becomes ‘I don’t know but I’ll try’ or even ‘of course I can.’


The next time you feel you ‘can’t,’ stop, breathe, make space for that reaction and see what’s holding you back.  If it’s fear you feel there, you could get a hug, but you could also drop and start doing some push-ups.

Photo credit: myyogaonline / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: myyogaonline / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND


Post Workout Yoga; Restorative Is Not a Bad Word

Yoga itself is a great workout.  It stretches, strengthens, tones and builds endurance.  It can even have cardio.  But yoga is also a great way to rebuild and repair your body from a workout that is either more cardiovascular or weight based.


By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There are tons of studies that show working out at an intensive level seven days a week becomes detrimental to progress.  Sustained activity at that level begins to break the body down more than build it up.  So for those that absolutely must do something, restorative yoga is an alternative.


I agree that the majority of restorative classes are led with some male challenging language.  The level of open heart, inner goddess, restore your feminine power can be over the top for most guys.  However, if you can get past that, restorative yoga is a great way to revitalize your body.


Restorative yoga offers a less strenuous workout so those of us that absolutely can’t take a day off have a way to keep the body moving.  Since yoga is a body/mind/energy balancing form of exercise, it works with the body to bolster the immune system and promote healing as well as tone and strengthen.  The restorative variants focus on the energy, health and healing aspects of yoga.  What that means is it super charges your body’s healing power and gets sore aching muscles ready to go sooner with less chance of injury (I said less, not none).


Why Restorative Yoga Works

The base principle of a restorative set is to fully support the body so that it can fully and completely relax.  I’ll say it again, fully and completely relax.  This is why it works so well and why it gets a bad reputation as not being a workout.


Image courtesy of andreasivarsson  / Flickr.

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson / Flickr.

Think about the last time you really truly relaxed.  I’m talking about the complete surrender to the point you actually felt that knot in your neck/shoulder/back/jaw release.  For most people it’s been quite some time.  I like the feeling of being able to let go and not worry about supporting my body in any way.


A restorative set is designed to move the body in ways which encourage it to relax.  At the same time, the mind is gently encouraged to a quiet state.  This combination of a still, supported body and a quiet mind is a genuine rarity in today’s constantly connected age.


In any class I teach, Tae Kwon Do, yoga or meditation, I encourage my students to take our time together as an opportunity to set all distractions aside.  For the time they are practicing with me I ask that they forget there is a world outside of the room we are in and simply be present.  If they can let go of the outside world then they can relax more deeply.


Entering a deeper state of relaxation frees the flow of blood and energy within the body and removes blockages.  This in turn promotes healing and health, both mental and physical.


While a restorative style yoga class may not be a muscle shredding sweat infused work out, it does provide a great deal of value in rejuvenating tired muscles and ligaments and it quiets the brain.  Even if you don’t think it’s for you, I encourage you to try a class.

Image courtesy of Hartwig HKD h.koppdelaney \ flickr.

Image courtesy of Hartwig HKD h.koppdelaney \ flickr.

There is Nothing to Fear, Not Even Fear Itself

A good friend of mine got all gung ho on me and started a rant about how men aren’t men anymore and real men fear nothing.  The good news, he is a dear friend and completely understands when I openly laugh at what he is saying.  The down side, I have heard this from different people over the years, and I believe it’s totally wrong.


In my experience, fear is kind of like our Spidey sense tingling.  It isn’t there to keep me from acting, but rather an early warning system.  When mine goes off, I hear a little voice in my head that says “Hey!  You are about to do something stupid/dangerous/both, try not to get us killed ok?  Oh, by the way, I think >insert name of whoever I talked into doing this insane act with me< is primed to buy the first round.”  Okay, so now you know that I’m likely both a little crazy and a beer predator.


Bottom line on this, fear happens.  It’s a defense mechanism that humans have developed over time to survive.  But like I said, it’s not meant to paralyze us.  It is there to let us know we are about to do something that may get us…well, dead, and we should be a little careful.


I bring this up because fear is one of the greatest enemies of growth.  I hear it often; I can’t.  Which typically means, “I am afraid.”  And that’s okay.


I understand fear.  I’ve felt it.  A few summers ago I (at the ripe young age of 40) flew to Korea to train with Olympic level athletes in the fine sport of Olympic style Tae Kwon Do sparring.  For those that don’t quite understand where the fear part comes in, I will explain.  I was 40, very close to 41.  They were 18-21.  Three of them went to the Olympics.  One of them won a medal.  The others lost just out of medal range.  I have a full time job, a wife and a daughter and I teach Tae Kwon Do.  They have nothing better to do than train; a lot.  Three hours into a training session and the coach says now is the time to start the full contact (no pads) portion of the day…..remember the don’t get us killed voice?


So yeah, I get fear.  I also understand that while it hurt training with them (sometimes a lot), I didn’t die.  In fact, I got better.  A lot better to be honest; I grew.  Had I hid or run away from this experience, I wouldn’t be where I am today.


When students have this come up, I like to have them stop and take a moment.  Ask themselves if this feeling of fear is from a genuine threat to their safety, such as the road up ahead ends at a cliff, or if it’s something else.


If it does fall into the something else category, I encourage them to take a risk, face their fear and maybe grow in the process.  Fear is a limiter if and only if we let it be.  The next time you feel you’ve reached your limit, that fear is telling you to stop, whether it’s starting a new workout regimen, trying a new posture or technique or some other life event, take a breath and take just one more step forward.  Growth awaits.