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Time to Buddha Up: Mindfulness in Training

mindfullness in training

I can see your eyes rolling already; “Buddhism and lifting? Give me a break!”  Everyone wants to talk about their finding Jesus moment…but that’s not what this is; in fact, it has nothing to do with religion at all. It’s all about mindfulness…or in other words, FOCUS!

I’ve been on both sides of the bar and I’ve handled some big weight. I know what goes behind the mental game when it’s time to get up on the platform; in fact, shortly after I found out I had severe heart failure, I walked out onto the platform against Dr’s orders, (that wasn’t focus though, that was just plain stupid). It was truly a lack of focus that made me go out there and continue lifting that almost ended my life.

ty phillips gorilla pit

Being mindful can influence every aspect of your life and when truly understood, it is what lies behind eating right, gains on your lifts and the success of people in business or other pursuits. Let me be clear though before we get into the meat of the issue…focus isn’t about a douche bag mindset that says “at all costs.” It isn’t sacrificing other people for personal gain. It’s about understanding where to apply your attention in each moment so as to be truly and fully aware of your human experience.

Part of the mindfulness process is about letting the irrelevant fall to the wayside and being fully present in the truly important. Sacrificing your family, friends, career and health so that you can say you squat over a grand…you’re just a moron. Being present with all of those people, while patiently striding forward to meet your goal, in the proper manner is mindfulness.

Now I know, the more I tell you don’t do this, do that, the mind automatically clicks over into “screw that” mode. I of all people know this. In fact, it was this mindset that cost me my career and health. I started Gorilla Pit in 2009 and in the same year, we were on every major news station in Ohio, in every major news paper in Ohio and in Power Lifting USA.

I had recently switched from Strongman and MMA into Power Lifting and was determined to climb to the top of the industry as a lifter and a businessman in record time..and I was. But I was climbing with my balls (ego) and not with any mindfulness. In three short years I was squatting (in the gym) just under a grand, 975, pulling just under 800, 785 and pressing…well..I don’t wanna talk about benching.

My clothing line had gone to 14 countries, I was starting an equipment line and was just getting my logo on some powerlifting gear when it all came crashing down. Just after I speed pulled 715, I was in the hospital and hearing “Ty, you’re dying!” Brain in my ball sac, I blurted out, “do I have to stop lifting?”

I kept pushing forward and got lots of support about “screw the Dr’s dude!” and just a few short months later, it was all over. My health had gotten so bad that I was essentially house bound and not expected to make it to 40. I spent the next span of my life wishing, regretting and wondering what if.

ty phillips monk

Ty “The Benching Buddha” Phillips

“What if” led me to a practice called mindfulness; a place of being aware of each process of living and paying attention to the simplest things. I would focus on my breathing. Just sitting calmly and watching as my lungs filled and emptied. The pressure on the bottom of my feet with each step, the sounds of the house, the way my new born daughter struggled to learn how to roll over, sit up, walk and speak.

As my health got worse, my mind got better. I started stripping away all the needless worry, chaos, empty chatter that jumps in and out of my mind and started trying to be simply aware of now. The more I left behind yesterday and tomorrow, the closer I got to friends, family and most of all, what was really going on in my ass…I mean my head.

Eventually I left behind my attachment to an identity and was simply just being; a process I am still learning and struggling with…but two years later, I am considered “normal function” again. Gorilla Pit will be reopening soon and I will feel the bar in my hands and on my back once again. This time though, I will really feel the bar. I will be aware of each step as I walk to it; the way the chalk rolls in the air like waves and being mindful of my in breath and out breath will take on a whole new meaning.

This process of failure and dying is what it took for me to really pay attention. It was a process of stopping and re learning. It’s a process not of being anything but aware. So when you lift, lift. When you are with your friends, be with them. When you are with your family, simply be with them. Let go of the next meet, the next meal, the next workout…they will be there waiting but the moment you are currently living in, won’t be.

I made it to an Elite level of doucheyness. Many of my fellow lifters did too. We lost friends and family, careers and respect because it was all or nothing. It was always about tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. Sadly, many of us also lost our lives too. Remarkably, I made it out of the dark end of that and I honestly believe, it was a shift in focus. It wasn’t a miracle, it was mindfulness.

I was at my cardiologist on May 21st. I had to get another echocardiogram and stress test for my two year check up. This time when he came in, he didn’t say I was dying…what he did say though was, “people don’t come out of the other end of this Ty, you should be dead! So, get the hell out of my office and kiss your daughter!”

Hopefully some of you can relate and these series of articles on mindfulness will help you…but hopefully more of you can’t relate and my experience is nothing like yours and something you would never push yourself to. My articles hopefully can be just a series of funny anecdotes from a fat guy that get you through your workouts in a new way. For those of you who can relate…maybe I can help. So until next time, remove head from ass and just breathe!

ty phillips


  1. tony ward says:

    very interesting article,very similar story !! 30 years of training to be physically big and strong led me to believe I was strong, but it was the sort of strength that can only bring suffering ,not the inner peace we need, physical strength hides the inner strength we need to develop to become truly happy and be of benefit to others. I now teach Buddhism ,and strength training, I teach people not to hide behind physical strength,but to work on the strength to overcome our delusions and realise their true purpose.

  2. Man, you nailed it…you nailed the goddamn thing so good…the struggle to *be* at all coasts instead of living the moment as “I”, it’s more like finding finally who you are, what you’re and what exactly do you need.

    Thank you Tony 🙂

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