The Religion of Strength

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting on a bench in my gym recovering between sets when one of the guys who regularly trains there (who also happens to embody what I would consider a more rigorous practice than most) asked, "Did you just write a book on training?" I smiled and said yes, pausing for a moment as I searched for the best way to talk about my book in this moment; he continued about a coworker who was talking about Strength to Awaken and he said my book was like the religion of strength training.

I had to take a moment to really consider this framing - I was hung up on the word "religion" for what is probably an obvious reason. Religion has a lot of baggage. But as I softened into the phrase, "the religion of strength," I said, "Yeah, I guess you could call it the religion of strength training."

We dove into a really cool, yet brief, exchange, right there in the gym. He said something to the extent of, "I never thought of training like that before, but I've started to see how this has been a center for me in my life for years." We continued on from there; two things are still lingering with me.

1. The Religion of Strength & 2. Practices that help us find our "Center."

The Religion of Strength has started to grow on me since it was planted in my awareness. The term Religion is rooted in the concepts of bonding, to bind together and to join or re-join. It is in this sense (moving in a similar direction with William James' orientation on religious experience) that my book is absolutely a religion of strength and this is indeed one of the larger purposes of strength training. It is to join you with your larger strength as a human being and re-join you with facets of your strength that have become forgotten, obscured or lost in some fashion.

Training in this context is significantly different from what we often think of as training to get stronger in the conventional sense. Religion, at least in my mind, implies some form of worship and rigorous practice. So, how do we worship in the most mundane of places?

This what my book, at least in part, is about. But let's dive into a substantive response to this question right now.

The larger maturity of who you are is always yoking together, joining and integrating polarities. The sacred and the profane, pain and pleasure, being separate and being connected, being and becoming as well as freedom and responsibility (naming several) are held in a spontaneous conversation, with one always informing and co-creating and mutually establishing the other.

Your conventional self typically prefers to attempt to establish a static position, organized around preferences, that is in conflict with the other polarity. In strength training, or any form of rigorous physical training, the classic example is to prefer pleasure which is in conflict with pain. The attempt to get stronger in this context involves avoiding pain, which, as my book unpacks in greater depth, turns into a habituated strategy to maintain as much comfort as possible.

This is perhaps the most inefficient way to become stronger because it is not strength that is worshipped, but rather comfort. 

As most of you are aware, genuine pleasure always involves some conversation or exchange with pain. These two are not as separate as our conventional selves often presume. So today, my invitation to you is to bind, join and bond your awareness with  the dimension of you that holds, embraces and participates with polarities. Embody the self that is literally larger than polarity, and thereby able to integrate and participate in their joining.

Perhaps it is precisely this ability - to embody and participate with the full spread of polarity - that is more connected with "strength" than our conventional orientations. Perhaps it is stepping beyond our false simplicity of choosing this over that where we can find our more true, complex and beautiful center.

Let's build and discover this strength together today.

Practice Strong,
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Do You Need More Muscle?

Building muscle should be a priority for everyone especially for adults over the age of 22 to 25. Around this time you started to lose muscle cells. When you lose muscle cells you lose muscle mass. When you lose muscle mass two important measures start to erode: 1. Metabolic Rate and 2. Muscle Strength. 

When your metabolism slows down, it becomes much easier to put a layer of fat on your body that you simply don’t need (or want). Worse yet you’re likely lining your organs with fat, which has serious long term health considerations. One thing you might not be aware of is that your body interprets the deposit of fat on your organs as a stressor. This stress in turn sets off a series of biological processes that make you more likely to store more fat (both the fat that you see on your body as well as the fat you don’t see on your organs). So fat triggers a stress response which in turn stimulates more fat storage which, you guessed it, produces more stress (Nice cycle eh?).

Here’s what you probably don’t know. 

Chronic stress shrinks your brain (yeah, read that again... your brain gets smaller and likely less integrated). Stress also shrivels the ends of your chromosomes in your cells accelerating cellular aging and predisposes you to anxiety and depression to point a just a few negative effects of stress. The physical stress of fat is obviously just one piece to a larger puzzle but for many this is a serious obstacle. Many live in what is now frequently being called an obesity epidemic, at least that’s what a broad selection of experts on the subject matter tell us. 

This lowering of your metabolism is one of the major problems because week to week you are likely to eat about the same amount of food. If you are losing muscle cells week in and week out you don’t need as many calories. Those extra calories, as we all know, end up in places that you don’t want - especially if you’re biologically functioning in chronic stress. Oddly it appears that the larger the belly, the greater the duration of stress and thus the smaller and less integrated the brain becomes. Yes, all this just from losing muscle mass and this is just a sliver of the impact of losing muscle mass.

Take a deep breath and liberate yourself from your habits of mind around what you prefer and how you relate to your lifestyle. You need muscle mass. Muscles are like a sponge soaking up nutrients that you consume. Simultaneously they are like a furnace creating immense amounts of heat burning off stress through movement. Generally speaking the more muscle you have, the greater the effects. As such, your life and the quality of your life is in many ways dependent upon your muscle mass.

Your life and the quality of your life is in many ways dependent upon your muscle mass.  

If you’re concerned about getting big and bulky muscles, remember muscles are the engines of what keeps us all lean. Adding 2 lbs of muscle will burn about 10 lbs of fat over the course of the year. That’s losing 8 lbs the healthy sane way. The interesting truth is that if you’re trading in fat for muscle, you get smaller, not bigger. Muscle is immensely dense, fat spreads out and takes up lots of space. Lose fat and gain muscle and you will see your measurements go down. As a long term strategy (I am talking about spread out over 2-10 years you can augment training methodologies that heighten the cultivation of size or avoid size gains. Most elite athletes avoid size gains like the plague, yet they train rigorously. If you don’t want to get bigger over the long run (once you have gotten most of the fat off your body and organs), there are many intelligent approaches to keeping your muscles powerful and efficient without gaining size. 

If you are like most adults though, you need more mass right now. 

Muscle strength cannot be reduced to a “macho” thing that you may or may not not be attracted to. The larger truth relevant for everyone is this: You need muscle strength, this is a pragmatic fact. 

If you don’t believe me go volunteer at a nursing home for a week. It will dramatically change your perception of strength and what happens to your quality of life when you can’t move around freely. Muscle strength determines freedom of movement perhaps more than any other single factor and science tells us that strength is positively correlated with quality of life. When you lose strength you also lose quality of your life. It’s that simple.

One of the questions everyone is wise to address is this: Does your day to day lifestyle increase your capacity to move about freely with greater ease and more flexibility? If you can not say yes to this, consider breaking out of your conditioned lifestyle that presently holds you. If you are not moving towards becoming more, then you’re slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, eroding the quality of your life. 

Strength and metabolism do not have to decline with age. In fact, it appears that these decline more in concert with lifestyle than with your chronological age. Strength training is a massively (perhaps the most) powerful way to reverse both of these measures as you grow older.

Strength To Awaken is the most integrated approach to strength training you will find on the planet. Greater integration means greater results. Train smart, learn to engage whole-heartedly into the discipline of strength training as this book does and you will enjoy multifaceted adaptations that will likely serve every facet of your life.


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When you Should and Shouldn't Train for Size

Size, it's a major focus point in the field of strength training. Unfortunately size is not properly understood so I am going to chime in on a few things.

1. You need more muscle mass. 

If you haven't followed my blog on why - you need to read it here. Muscle mass generally makes you smaller until you have gotten your body fat down to fairly low levels. So for most people, training to gain more muscle mass means you'll trade very dense muscle tissue for very dispersed adipose tissue (this is especially the case when you refine your nutrition to support muscle growth and fat loss). Get bigger muscles & you get smaller. This is the kind of size that's good for most people.

2. Athletes, slow down! 

If you happen to be a aspiring athlete who wants to get bigger and stronger... slow down!

I remember coming back my senior year in college and telling my lacrosse coach that I had gained 10 pounds of muscle. He was sitting in his office studying game tapes and here was his two year captain rolling in telling him that I gained 10 pounds of muscle since last season. What do you think his response was?

He got angry.

He knew all too well what this typically means. To him, I was telling him something along these lines, "Hey coach, I trained really hard and got slower for you... but I look good on the beach."

What was my response?

I said, "Coach, I gained 10 pounds of muscle and...I got faster. I am faster than last season."

That's when he got excited.

Gaining muscle in the conventional sense typically slows you down. Training methodologies that are designed to just build muscular size (these have become the most popular and wide spread) are not the exercises that likely you should be doing. You want to build muscular power, joint integrity and your ability for something I was talking about yesterday with a young athlete - progressive acceleration.

If you gain muscle, make sure you're doing it in a way that builds more starting power, better joint integrity and higher measures of progressive acceleration. If you're doing this your coach will be happy with what happens come competition. Athletes, whenever possible consult with seasoned experience working with athletes at the highest levels of your discipline. Learn what they are doing and employ these methodologies strategically.

In most cases you will find out that you want to avoid size like the plague, unless size is also making you neurologically more powerful, explosive, dynamic, flexible and more insulated from possible injury. If size is slowing you down, chances are you're training yourself out of being competitive.

3. The real size everyone needs.

Here is what 99% of the discourse on size is missing. While you may or may not want more physical size, you should be training to inhabit more of your psychological size. That's right you want your sense of self to be bigger, broader, more inclusive and integrative.

You need a bigger self.

Training can grow your sense of self such that you are larger than culture. This means that you are bigger than social conventions. Social norms don't drive you, your larger intelligence directs you. The self that's smaller than culture is directed by culture. The self that's larger is the one doing the directing that stems from a larger integrity. This self is big, but to be perfectly honest it's not big enough.

If you're interested in training to become larger my book Strength To Awaken is perhaps the most nuanced discourse on the subject matter. I show you how to cultivate a self that is bigger than polarities. A self that is larger than the dualities of pain and pleasure is a massively large self that is capable of an elegance that smaller, less integrative selves can not even dream of.

The next time you dive into your training I recommend focusing on what size of self you are training. Are you "exercising" your self that is smaller than your socially constructed habits or are you training the self that is larger than your habituation? Are you playing inside the conditioning of pain and pleasure or are you playing in a self that is outside of this conditioned box?

And for those of you who are worried about having a big self, or a "big ego" as it might be referred to... relax. We are not talking about inflating the ego's sense of self importance to monumental proportions. We are instead talking about growing your ego functions to massively powerful and refined levels such that you can regulate social pressures, personal habits that may hold you back as well as unresolvable polarities. These become facets that you participate with, manage and regulate instead of being managed and regulated by them.

Expand your sense of self, train to grow a larger more capable self and you will likely be served in every other facet of life.

Big Love
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The Evolution of You & Integral Practice

In my book Strength to Awaken I outline a system and philosophy of practice that steps beyond much of the current formulations around integral practice.

The old school model, whether you're talking about Ken Wilber's ILP (integral life practice) or Michael Murphy's ITP (integral transformative practice), they are both rooted in a sequential engagement of all of your major faculties. Both approaches totally rock and they have been robust approaches that are genuine strides forwards in the technology of evolving human complexity. And one of their central limitations is that neither explicitly in a rigorous way engage the integral nature of who you are in the immediacy of this moment.

How do you train this?

That's what my book is all about.

Sequence is an inherent part of life, and the natural unfolding of your schedule takes care of the sequential nature of practice. Pick up an integral framework and take it to heart and you will find an integral practice much like Wilber and Murphy propose organically forming in your schedule. Whatever you genuinely value, you will see it showing up in your schedule.

However, If you're like most people then you are likely in need of an upgrade from a sequential approach to integral practice to the robust discipline of the full unmediated participation with this immediacy.
This my friends is where your mature integral consciousness resides and as long as you temporally project your aliveness and complexity through time - or sequence - you're playing in the integral minor leagues.

From what I can tell we need more people inhabiting, embodying and participating with the honors curriculum of human development and this brings me to the maturation of integral consciousness and ultimately the maturation of...You.

Following yesterday's post - the vast majority of people relate to integral practice and state training from a conventional stage of complexity (or below). Let's look at some of the meaning making around these conventions.

"I am meditating"
"I had a non-dual experience"
"I am working on stabilizing my Witness"

These are just a few brief examples of conventional stages of interpretation regarding state-training and in the context of integral practice we might find someone saying,

"I am going to work on my body line tonight in yoga and I've got a shadow session tomorrow afternoon with my therapist and I'm going to try to meditate tonight before I go to sleep."

"I am doing a surrender practice following my strength training session, then I am going to do some journaling. This evening after work I'm working on my cognitive line of development by studying this amazing author's Blog. It's Rob McNamara, ever heard of him?"

Shameless promoting, I know ;-)

This kind of discourse happens all the time in the integral community and it is likely to happen within your own private narrative as well.

This is all conventional because it presumes that you - your sense of self - is distinct, whole and complete from the various objects that you are negotiating. Meditation times, contemplative states of consciousness, the physical, emotional, relational, and mental parts of an integral practice. This is through and through conventional.

Ok, I'm going to let you in on a little secret… ok so it's a BIG secret. Mature Integral Consciousness has an entirely different relationship to Integral Theory and Practice than the vast majority of people are participating with. Shhhh, don't tell anyone.

…. that was exciting wasn't it?
Ok, now that we had our exciting secret you can tell anyone you want :-)

The vast majority of the integral movement has been enveloped by conventional stages of meaning making, I know… take it easy - it's OK. Ask yourself this question, Have you used integral theory to "evolve" or "develop" a more distinct, more distinctive, more complete sense of self?

Next, look around your integral circles and take note, Are they using integral theory to create, establish and fortify a more distinct, separate and complete sense of self? Are the constantly yearning to grasp the whole of integral theory by reading all the books, taking the advanced trainings and coaching with the supposed brightest minds?

This is often the landscape… Chances are you're doing this on some level and so is just about everyone else around you. For those of you who are sympathetic to the whole integral notion of being lonely in your developmental vantage point, float your rib cage gently forward, allow your crown to lift, soften your belly and allow this to penetrate through every facet of you.

Part of this is true, good and beautiful & the part virtually nobody talks about (because few people see it as an object in their complexity) is that your perceived isolation stems from your conventional stage of development. Yep, that's right, this felt sense largely stems from your conventional stage, not from your post conventional stages. Think of it as a symptom of "Integral Infancy."

The job of your conventional stage of development is to cultivate and establish a separate, distinct, complete self that is functionally autonomous. You can set your own boundaries, take stands for what you value most, clearly communicate, be loyal to who you are or who you can become depending on the circumstance. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

You are a complete, distinct self that interacts with the world. Oh, and if you do this really well with a high degree of competence, you feel alone, isolated and wondering how to bridge the gap between where you are - you "separate, discrete" self and those other people over there. Take this implicit conventional drive and jack it up on something like AQAL and of course you're going to feel even more "isolated" and hungry for community.

If you happen to have already established some sense of mastery over the "autonomous, discrete and distinct self" then it's time for the "honors track" as Robert Kegan calls it.

Right now your greater emergence is embedded in participating with the larger complexity that is here holding you and working you. Feeling isolated is only one pole of the larger truth that participates you. The dialectic of separateness and connectedness is fluid in your novel emergence into your larger more beautiful maturity. In fact, the interconnectedness of the immediacy of this moment is interpenetrating throughout you in an alive dynamic way. While your separateness and distinctness flowers into an even greater fullness, this is no longer a fixed consolidated position but an open interpenetrable incompleteness that's born from an uncommon intimacy with everything.


Your sense of self that embodies your larger complexity is not distinct, not separate, not complete. Your search for greater wholeness - when not ejected into transcendent states of consciousness - actually inhabits your unconditioned incompleteness. The larger complexity that is holding you, working you, co-creating you is fundamentally incomplete, partial, open and a unique flux of interpenetrating unresolvable dialectics.

BAM!!! always, more to come :-)

Big Love

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