This month, I am excited to welcome Clark Depue to KineSophy. Clark is a CrossFit athlete and coach in Dallas, Texas, where he lives with his dogs, Allie and Stella. He spent the last three years writing and producing his first book, Meditative Fitness: The Art and Practice of the Workout, in which he describes how to include meditative techniques within your daily workouts to open your heart and cultivate feelings of strength and higher energy. In the following interview, we discuss his approach to a mindful pursuit of physical fitness and his thoughts on how this practice extends to other areas of life.
Greg: What is meditative fitness? What are the goals of this practice?
Clark: Meditative fitness is a way of engaging your fitness, a meditative approach, which can involve applying meditative elements in your workouts or incorporating meditation around your workouts. Part of what we want to do is build a foundation in meditation that helps us to incorporate elements during physical exertion, such as entering a meditative state (slower brainwaves, relaxed yet alert and focused). We’re talking about creating greater intention, presence, and awareness, connecting with our breath and energy, engaging our hearts and being really tuned in to our bodies and states of being. It’s also a powerful method for reaching higher performance in physical movement and athletics.
Another way to look at meditative fitness is that much of it is already happening. We’re bringing out qualities that are inherently found in fitness, meditation, and the nature of being human. We’re talking about the inner world of physical exertion; this practice simply makes it more conscious and deliberate. This applies to nurturing meditative elements in workouts and also the fact that fitness helps us lead happier lives, which is where I refer to it as the spiritual practice of fitness.
Part of the goal is to create meditative workout experiences, for the workout to become the meditation, and to set the intention to grow in more ways than physical, to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, to raise your state of being, to take ownership of your inner world and what you are creating for yourself, to be the most happy and fulfilled person you can be, to find a lightness of being, to deal with real life stuff like stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and whatever weight we carry in life, to be present, to experience the moments of your training, to treat your fitness as a spiritual practice and an opportunity for growth. It’s one of those things where you’re either doing it or you’re not. Each workout can be unique and have different elements blossom. There are no restrictions or limitations. It’s up to the individual to develop one’s practice, and we don’t want to judge or over-analyze. The goals of an individual’s practice are unique to them; the practice is there to help one reach their goals, which could be an indicator of one’s success in their practice. The results provide the feedback. If one is not reaching their goals, there are likely some things to be addressed in their practice. A big part of meditation can be about manifesting goals, clearing subconscious blocks, envisioning the change and believing in its possibility.
Greg: What does meditative fitness look like in the context of a given workout (for example, five sets of squats with a moderately heavy weight)?
Clark: That’s what I call the meditation of weightlifting, which I believe many lifters already practice, putting themselves in an energy of strength. The meditation might look like bringing yourself into focus and presence, gathering all of your energy with your breath, grounding, and breathing strength. It might look like clearing any weak energy and transforming it into strength. It might look like repeating a positive thought or mantra while executing. There are really two aspects: the rest periods between sets are ideal meditative opportunities, and then there’s the meditation of the physical exertion itself, which can involve body awareness, breath control, and more.
Greg: And would the meditation prescription change if the demands of the workout were different?
Clark: The practice definitely changes with the flow of the workout. Strength work is quite different than skill work, where often relaxing on the inside can help execution, or endurance training, where there is more of a rhythm and a different form of intention. Regardless of the different types of training, however, the overall elements remain the same. One of the quotes that shows up in the book is, “it’s all about the breath” and how it’s about “finding the breath to match the movement.” And the breath is connected to our energy and intention and many other elements as well.
Greg: How did you personally discover the insights that shaped your philosophy?
Clark: I had my first big spiritual awakening about 15 years ago when I first learned about meditation and spiritual practice. I knew immediately that was the direction my life was headed. For the next seven years, I studied all different kinds of meditation and personal growth practices, yet I still hadn’t really sat down to meditate. When I finally did, I had one profound experience after another. Around that same time, I began working for a psychology-based personal development training, a series of seminars where individuals have an opportunity to deal with their emotional lives and the weight that accumulates in life.
Somewhere in there, I started practicing meditative techniques in my workouts on short rests between sets. I practiced engaging and opening my heart, which tended to fuel these powerful workouts and serve as a heart-level release. I started meditating at the gym after my workouts. I used my workouts to help me raise my state of being, to find happiness within myself, which is something that I struggled with throughout my life. I began to consider my workouts as a big part of my spiritual practice. Then, in the middle of my first CrossFit workout, after the seed was planted to teach this stuff for the performance aspects, the vision of the book and chapters appeared in a flash while I was practically dying through this workout. That’s where the first chapter of the book picks up.
Greg: What kind of person has the most to gain from practicing meditative fitness?
Clark: Those who have the most to gain are those who struggle to be happy or struggle with how they approach their fitness, perhaps dread the thought of working out, treat it as a chore, something they have to do, or those who suffer mentally through their workouts. Or, it could be those who obsess over it and make themselves miserable if they don’t get in their workout. This practice is about transforming these tendencies. It is about removing resistance, surrendering and embracing the challenge, and finding peace, whether in intense exertion or on rest days. I like to say that it’s for those who love fitness or want to learn to love fitness. Additionally, athletes looking to enhance their performance would have a lot to gain too. Meditation is a serious competitive advantage, which we have seen pop up more and more with professional sports teams that are winning championships.
Greg: How should someone get started with this practice?
Clark: The first step is to make the declaration that fitness is part of your spiritual practice, making the decision to treat it as such, to develop your practice, and setting the intention to create meditative workouts. Another small step is to start practicing any amount of simple meditation. Five, 10, or 15 minutes can be enough to start building the connections. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Focus on relaxing – tighten, then loosen. Tune in to your body, simply focusing on sensing your overall body. Scan your body up and down with your breath. Ask yourself what you feel emotionally at any given moment to start engaging your heart. Those are a few simple things to start building a foundation to take with you into your workouts. And here’s a simple formula to follow: Two-minute meditation prior to the workout, then nurture a meditative state and practice meditative breathing throughout the workout or on short rests, then spend two to five minutes in meditation afterward.
Greg: Is there a particular fitness philosophy (such as yoga or CrossFit) that pairs best with meditative fitness?
Clark: The practice can be applied to any physical exertion or workout regimen, whether going to the gym, studio, or CrossFit box. However, it pairs best with modalities that have a significant challenge to them with the opportunity to progress in movement and skill. I wrote the book from my personal perspective of athletic training, weightlifting, strength training, and CrossFit specifically. Yoga has definitely paved the way as a form of meditative fitness, and my hope is that talking about this stuff in this context will help deepen a yoga practice as well as offer alternatives with similar opportunities for depth, meaning, and growth. The performance aspects speak more to sustained exertion and the sport of fitness, and the workout stories in the book involve some well-known CrossFit workouts as well as visits to my local gym, where my own practice began.
Developing a mobility practice is also an important part of it all, what we call meditative mobility, listening to the body, flowing and breathing through a practice, developing the habit, regularly working on areas of the body to expand ranges of motions, activate muscles, reach positions, and live pain-free. This mobility work, like the original intent of yoga, can also serve to prime one for deeper meditation, aiding in relaxation and the flow of energy in the body. This (relatively) new style of mobility work is like a whole new form of yoga. At least I enjoy looking at it that way.
Greg: You mention yoga as having paved the way as a form of meditative fitness. Yoga is often tied to a particular philosophy or worldview that extends beyond the practice. Is there a similar philosophy expressed through meditative fitness?
Clark: Part of the philosophy behind meditative fitness is that each individual brings their own faith to their practice. I like to think of spiritual practice as the practice of your faith or the practice of being happy (which is definitely the greater heart behind it) for us to lead our happiest and most fulfilling lives. I would also say it stems from universal truths. The practice overflows and extends to all areas of life. One reader [of Meditative Fitness] commented that applying the elements found in the book have helped him to be a better chiropractor, and I believe that can prove true in many different practices. In many ways, it’s simply about being a better human and growing in the different aspects of ourselves and our lives.
You can find more information about Clark and Meditative Fitness by following him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and by visiting his website MeditativeFitness.com. His book, Meditative Fitness: The Art and Practice of the Workout, is available on Amazon.
For more interviews like this one, check out The KineSophy Library.