Breathe and Focus

My brain gets out of control from time to time. Yesterday, I had an amazing evening with a handful of close friends, side-splitting laughter, and conversations that really resonated in my mind (not conversations that are worth resonating, mind you; things like, “Never sleep with anyone named Matt,” when there’s a fantastic person secretly named Matthew sitting at the table). My brain, in trying to process all of the awesome, as well as the stressors of normal life and the occasional downswing in mood, tends to start tripping over itself. I felt the bad thoughts start creeping in around 2:30 p.m.: the guilt, the confusion, the fear all began to take over my thoughts and snuff out the laughter from last night.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve taken steps that prevent getting stuck in these thoughts. One of those steps has been more conscious of sharing the positive aspects of my life with my mom. When I talk to her, I try to focus on the things that make me happy.

Another step has been pushing myself to get off the couch and be active. Just putting on running shoes and actually going for a run, or stretching, or doing a handful of exercises has helped me hone my ability to focus and be in control of my own mind.

Now, I definitely pulled a muscle I didn’t know existed on Monday, which has led to all sorts of body-contorting hilarity (standing, sitting, laying down, turning over, and breathing all hurt just a little bit; my dear friend Beth got a text from me saying, “I think I pulled my uterus”). Today, in spite of the pulled muscle, by the time I got through with my 200-meter jog, my mind was clear. I was focused, ready for the next task. The pain, both physical and emotional, felt like they belonged to someone else. My CrossFit coach, a cheerful gent named Andrew, pushed me to focus harder. Focus, breathe, focus, breathe, focus, breathe. The more I focused on getting my form correct (squats are the devil), the clearer I felt. When you’re pushing yourself physically and mentally, there’s no room for anything else to interfere. You’re forced to be in the moment.

My shining moment today was when Andrew told me that my plank holds were averaging about 10 seconds (on Monday, they had been five), so he wanted me to shoot for 2 15-second plank holds on the final round. I cleared my mind and focused on holding that position, and I made it. My last hold of the day was 17 seconds, a personal best.

By the time I got to the cool-down, my mind was in a meditative state. I was able to breathe and feel nothing but silence and the passing of time. There were no thoughts in my head other than to hold my yoga pose (good for stretching that muscle I pulled) and breathe. When I got home, all of the bad thoughts had disappeared. The guilt and fear and confusion were replaced with clarity and happiness. It was amazing the change that the one-hour of focus brought to me.

How do you focus? How do you conquer the bad thoughts on a day like today?

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