Running – strong mind
Cycling – wild heart
Swimming – free spirit
‘The strength and fitness of my body is simply a reflection of my state of mind. I train my mind first, my muscles second. In all areas of life, this is where the key to our power is held.
It is my mind that is the ultimate athlete.’
What makes life, and the way I think about life, better? Why am I mentally so much stronger today than I was a couple of years ago? The answer is so simple, and yet has had the power to transform my outlook on the world and what it means to exist within it. What exactly am I talking about then?
Well, it’s movement.
I know that to a greater or lesser extent we all have to move on a daily basis. What I mean when I talk about movement however, is the time you take to truly connect with the way your body moves, how it responds and adapts to the environment around you, and how in turn this makes you feel. For me, movement is both challenge and breakthrough, pain and joy. It can be excruciatingly hard at times, but being able to persevere in spite of this has taught me how to move my life forwards in other areas and not give up on myself.
It all began two years ago when I set out on a run. Back then, I thought of movement as exercise or ‘working out’ – an arduous and unforgiving task that I felt primarily duty bound to carry out. It certainly wasn’t something that I enjoyed. At the time though, my life was empty. My depression revolved around excessive rumination, a failure to accept the past, and a torturous skin-crawling loathing of the present moment which I desperately wanted to escape from. This scary and confusing internal world was all I had. I thought and I thought, until my thoughts started attacking themselves. I was on a path to self-destruction. I needed to try something – anything – that was different. So I did, and I ran.
That decision to get out and start moving was the beginning of the end of my deep suicidal depression. Just as motion creates momentum, turning small ripples into big waves, I had mobilised something in me that had the power to fight back against the stagnant confines of my mental illness. Movement, you see, is action: it is the literal embodiment of doing, feeling, persisting, changing and progressing. When I am moving I feel like I am driving in the right lane. I stop questioning myself and simply press onwards.
For me, engaging with movement is more an act of mental discipline than a physical one. Each time I set out- whether cycling, swimming or running- I make a commitment to trust in my own abilities and prevail against whatever challenges come my way, which has helped me to dismantle self-limiting beliefs and take charge of what I can achieve. My body is just the vessel for this: the control centre lies inside my head. By steadily pushing myself that little bit further than I thought possible, I’ve realised that the limits I face are mostly in my mind. Although I think it gets easier with practice, the truth is that I just get stronger.
‘Sometimes the only thing that is holding you back is the belief that something is holding you back.’
But it isn’t only about breaking boundaries. Physical effort and perseverance also bring new possibilities and an unimaginable richness of experience. This is because when we engage in movement we feed a tidal wave of information to our senses which allows us to experience the world in a very special and unique way. Movement engulfs the brain and body in an intense sensory rush where sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, feelings and emotions seem to flow through and around you. Even though I stay rooted firmly home in Winchester, movement takes me into another world entirely. I can unlock it simply by moving my bones and joints. Think how amazing it is to have a body that enables us to experience life in this remarkable way.
This is why I do not run with headphones in, or swim with a cap on. Movement is basic and raw. I need to feel it all, even down to the burst of cool water on my forehead. This allows meto tap into a primal, instinctive, natural and necessary part of being alive – one that sets my pulse racing and heart thumping. In fact, when I truly connect with how I move I feel more like a creature than a human being. I am set apart from everything, yet also completely at one with myself and my surroundings.In this way, being active has helped me to finally engage meaningfully with life and see myself and the world through a new lens.
Learning the true value of movement has been a transformative journey to a place of greater wellbeing. It has taught me a healthy self-respect for my body in place of my old self-hatred and abuse. I now swim, cycle or run every day. It has become a fundamental need for me, in the same way that food and sleep are. Through movement I can let go and feel what it means to be truly alive, rather than simply existing. have also realised that I am a strong person, a capable person and, perhaps most crucially of all, I can be a happy person too. Above all else, when I am out moving, I know that mental illness is not the end.
Together, the body and mind are the ultimate team. If you treat them both right, they will take you far.