Some metal power song was blasting inside the gym as I stood in front of the barbell, gingerly eyeing the weights stacked on either end of the long, cold bar. I had never been an athlete, nor had I ever pretended to be one, but that never stopped me from trying athletic activities. Lately something had been driving me to lift weights. There were so many benefits to doing weighted movements, that I decided it would be beneficial to at least try it out.
My friends shared an app with me that they loved called StrongLifts, and I had been playing with it 3-4 times a week. It was a pretty easy app to follow; 5 rounds of 5 reps of 3 different movements. On this particular day it was back squats, bench presses and deadlifts. And I was already tired.
You might laugh at me, for being so afraid of deadlifting 100 pounds. In the gym world, it’s really not that much weight. My friends use that much for a warm up. As I stood there, eyes wide, nerves awake and alert in my body, I wasn’t laughing. Moving this much weight would be a first for me. I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it.
Stalling, I started thinking about a video I saw of Gregg Braden. He was excitedly talking about a “new science,” namely what it was that separated humans from other animals—what made us “human”. One of the things he mentioned was this concept of mirror neurons.
“Mirror neurons represent a distinctive class of neurons that discharge both when an individual executes a motor act and when he observes another individual performing the same or a similar motor act. These neurons were first discovered in monkey’s brain.” -Acharya and
Shukla, Mirror Neurons: Enigma of the Metaphysical Modular Brain
We have neurons in our brains that fire when we engage in activities. They take in what we are doing and store this knowledge for later. It’s the reason why once you learn how to ride a bike, that information is available for you later and you can ride once again. That is not where the job begins and ends, however. These neurons also collect information about what you witness. So when you see another person doing an activity, your brain stores it in your memories as if it’s your own. This means that there’s no difference in your brain between you doing a thing or you seeing someone else do a thing. It registers and keeps it all in the same way.
In years past, running a mile in under 4 minutes was completely unheard of. There were many debates and schools of thought that discussed why humans were entirely incapable of this feat. Some said the heart would explode. Others said that the person would pass out. Among all of the reasons why sat the one consistent, underlying belief: it’s simply impossible.
Then on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister did it. He ran the mile in 3:59.4. It was a big race, witnessed by many, and of course, the news of this record-breaking feat spread like wildfire across the globe. Because of our fabulous mirror neurons, just like that, it became available to others. Suddenly, more people followed Bannister, and running a mile in under 4 minutes became the gold standard for male professional middle distance runners.
Mirror effect, anybody?
Standing in the gym, time ticking by, I started to wonder. How could I use this amazing piece of being human to my ultimate advantage? Could I pull this into my life right now, here, in this moment, while I was feeling weak and afraid of this 100-pound deadlift?
You know who wasn’t weak or afraid of a deadlift? My boyfriend. He has the strongest, most capable body of any man I have ever been with. While facing my barbell, in my mind, I dove into all the details of my lover’s delicious body: the hard ripples and waves of his muscles, and the strength, mobility and sheer ability they contained. I imagined how easy it would be for him to pick up that barbell, maintaining perfect form. It’s like I jumped into his body and felt him lift it up effortlessly. And then I bent over and did it myself. Easily. With perfect form. Five times.
Was this my mirror neurons at play? Was it simply visualization? Maybe it was a placebo effect…I believed I would persevere and I did?
I am not a scientist, and this wasn’t a controlled experiment, so I couldn’t really say why this happened. The truth was, it really didn’t matter to me. I got my desired outcome, and it wasn’t hard to do at all. I just had to let my body do what my boyfriend’s body already knew how to do very well. I just had to “access” it.
Since that day, I have “used him” again and again during my various workouts. When I’ve encountered something new, something hard, or when I’ve just plain run out of steam, I see my beloved cooly reaching my “little” goal with a smile on his face. I go into the knowledge and ability of his body and claim it as my own. And it works!
So now I’m wondering who else I could “channel” and access their stuff. Maybe I’ll dig in and try to reach Steve Job’s incredible mind? Or Jim Henson’s creativity? I don’t know if it works like that, but there’s no harm in playing, is there? The worst that could happen is I try new things. No matter the outcome, to me, that’s always a win.
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