It was 5:45am and D.J., a vegan yogi whose first impression would have contrasted sharply to the boxing coach stereotype were it not for his covering of tattoos, asked me to choose a color for my gloves and wraps. Learning that boxers wore wraps under their gloves was the first of many things I came to learn over the next 4 weeks of boxing bootcamp. I found the bootcamp online 2 nights prior, and in my usual impulsive style decided to sign up on the spot.
At work we were awaiting an impending rumored layoff, and the stress of being in an energetically failing and unhappy space for 8 hrs/day was weighing on me more than I cared to admit. Ultimately, the cause of my anxiety was the marathon-long holding of both discomfort and uncertainty. It was like having to pee while in a car without knowing when you’ll be able to stop; I had to just patiently hold it. I told myself to be patient and trust – in myself and the greater energetic forces that determine our paths – but I needed a physical outlet to alleviate my internal restlessness.
I hadn’t exactly thought through how I was going to manage 6-7:30am classes 5x a week on top of full-time work and evening fun time. My plan to bike to the classes each morning was quickly foiled by my inability to bike up hills following the 2nd class. I had a car and I decided to use it.
Boxing is all about grounding into your legs and maintaining a relaxed body while throwing focused punches. Relaxing into my body was especially difficult for me, and “smooth” was the main directive that D.J. would shout at me as I pummeled the bags with disjointed punches. “It’s like dancing,” he’d say, trying to get me to connect the technique with a familiar point of reference. I was startled by how difficult it was. What came naturally was jerky, disconnected movements with lack of awareness of my feet or breath. Having to focus inwards on my body instead of outwards on the bag took a lot of mental strain.
It then occurred to me why this was so difficult – because I had yet to learn how to act from a relaxed, grounded body in my general daily life. This was especially true for actions that were new or came with high stakes (landing a new job, making a good first impression, etc.). I was conditioned to focusing outwards instead of inwards. This realization was a powerful one. This habit directly impacted how I approached and managed life.
By focusing on the external world (other people’s judgements, actions, opinions, criticisms, worldly happenings, media, you name it), we can easily lose ourselves as our energy becomes outwardly dissipated. We lose our footing of how we feel, our opinions and needs, and ultimately lose touch with our own authenticity, since we are so focused on the needs, desires, and judgments of others. It’s these external circumstances that end up driving our emotions, actions, and perhaps sense of self-worth. We end up making flailing, desperate movements toward a goal while losing our balance. And we may not even know why we have chosen the goal in the first place.
On the other hand, if we approach our waking world with a firm pulse on our internal world (our own feelings, thoughts, emotions, breath) we can interact with outside circumstances while not losing ourselves. We recognize where we end and the outside begins. This helps us to avoid groupthink and stay grounded in our convictions. And if we become aware of the interaction between the two worlds, we notice how our internal world responds to external circumstances, and these responses become clues on how to navigate the outside – they tell us which people we should or should not engage with, what activities to partake in, when to eat and when to sleep, what choices to make. They become our inner compass. And the more we tune in and listen to it, the better able we are to recognize who we are and what we need, empowering the healer within.
It takes a deep trust and commitment to oneself to stay grounded in our bodies, especially in the current world that is a never-ending onslaught of external opinions, judgements, and imperatives. It becomes tougher still when facing a stressful or risky action. In these situations it is tempting to abandon all hopes of disciplined inner presence and resort to desperate, panicked flailing, especially if doing so is such an ingrained habit that it appears to be the easier choice. But in the end, whoever is left standing becomes the ultimate test for the better approach. And I can say with complete certainty that a grounded stance, steady breathing, and focused, fluid movements stemming from your core is the only way you’ll keep your balance and win.