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“I hear the words in my head as I read this sentence.”
What did you just hear? Those 12 simple words that appear above, right? But did you also notice another little voice that was busy providing color commentary? Maybe it said something like, “Oh, yeah, that’s true. I do hear the words as I read the sentence.”
When Rina Jakubowicz asked us all to open our eyes and read this sentence from the flip chart at the front of the room, that’s when everything she’d been saying about “mind” vs. “intellect” started to click.
I, along with about 15 other Yoga Journal Live attendees, had registered for her class entitled “Sweet Surprises,” a two-hour workshop designed to help us “break repetitive patterns safely by experiencing creative poses, visualizations, and little sweet surprises.” Before hitting our mats and launching into our first sun salutation, Rina engaged us in a conversation about the three primary faculties that each of us is born with: the body, mind and intellect. We draw our emotions and preferences from the mind, while the intellect gives us the ability to reason, rationalize and think for ourselves. And we need our body to take action.
While our class explored this concept within the context of yoga, the idea of mind vs. intellect is one that can be useful for keeping any health and fitness goals on track. When it comes to those small, daily decisions that add up over time, are you listening to your mind or your intellect?
Decision 1: Skipping a Workout.
What it sounds like when your mind is telling you to skip a workout:
“My bed is so warm and comfortable.”
“Today was stressful. I deserve a night on the couch.”
“Skipping just one workout doesn’t really matter, right?”
What it sounds like when your intellect is telling you to skip a workout:
“I think I was too aggressive in planning my cardio this week. My body needs an extra rest day.”
“I feel under the weather and need to pay attention to hydration today. I’m going to cancel my workout.”
Notice the difference? There are times when skipping a planned workout is absolutely the best decision for the health and well-being of your body. The key to differentiating those occasions from all the other times you simply just don’t feel like working out is determining whether it’s your mind or intellect that’s telling you to take it easy.
Decision 2: Pushing Through Pain.
What it sounds like when your mind is telling you to push through pain:
“I’m determined to run a marathon, and I don’t care what it takes. If I ignore that shooting pain, maybe it will just go away.”
“Stopping now will just make me look weak. I have to show everyone how strong I am.”
What it sounds like when your intellect is telling you to push through pain:
“I’m tired and my muscles are burning, but I know this is temporary. I’ve got another mile in me.”
“I’ve been here before. This sucks, but I’ve trained for this.”
Any trainer will tell you that gains and progress happen when you step outside your comfort zone. But, there’s an important distinction between challenging yourself and risking harm to your body, and we tend to creep into the danger zone when we let our pride and emotions make decisions about pushing through pain. Soreness and fatigue are to be expected, but any sharp, shooting or worsening pains are your body’s way of telling you to back off. Let your intellect interpret those signals and tell you what to do.
Decision 3: Backing Off or Lessening the Intensity.
What it sounds like when your mind is telling you to back off or lessen the intensity:
“This pace is good enough.”
“I already know I can lift this much, so I’m just going to stay right here.”
What it sounds like when your intellect is telling you to back off or lessen the intensity:
“My form is starting to suffer. I’m going to reduce the weight so I can lift safely”
“I’m running these first two miles faster than what I’d planned. I’m going to ease up so I can get through the hilly sections and finish the last mile strong.”
This is the flip side of decision number 2. Yes, you should lessen the intensity when it’s a matter of safety or strategy. But,your mind also has the power to sabotage your progress by allowing you to get too comfortable. In order to keep your body from plateauing or adapting to your standard workout, you need to keep upping the ante and challenging yourself.
Listening to our intellect isn’t always easy. In fact, an increased awareness of the mind can often make it harder to hear the voice of our intellect. But the pursuit is worth it. Our intellect can help us break free from repetitive, sometimes detrimental patterns and lead us to accomplishments, goals and personal records, aka, the “sweet surprises” in our everyday lives.