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MEET ME IN THE RING
Cathy Brown, 45 is a former British and International women's boxing champion. A flyweight and bantam weight fighter for almost 20 years she is more of a soul trainer than a personal trainer at The Third Space gym central London. She combines Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with mindfulness alongside teaching boxing technique in a ring. Things not to say to Cathy: 'I can't do this" 'will it hurt?'. Things Cathy likes to say: 'concentrate' 'just a few more' 'there is no point hitting some one if you don't want to hurt them, otherwise it is a waste of time.' I like her a lot.
Boxing, she explains early on, is a medative process. I find this hard to believe and alarm bells ring. I have failed to learn to meditate despite downloading apps, attending classes and even having a personal meditation coach. But the ability to be in the moment and forget everything else stressful going on in your life is a gift boxing can bestow she tells me.
She'll also introduce weights (which I have never done) and get me a full body medical MoT with the help of Dr Eric Asher and herbalist and acupuncturist Steve Kippax. And there’s the ‘touchy feely forms’ as I call them to fill in. They ask questions like: “what triggers your anger?” and ‘how did you react to a specific stressful situation?’. I am all for the hitting but the talking not so much. Besides it's difficult to concentrate when you have Rocky's 'Eye of the Tiger' playing in your head however I take the forms and do my homework because as I want to stop the feeling that an invisible bear is chasing me through my day and waking me up most nights at 3am. I am searching for some calm.
I’ve already taken on board Cathy’s recommendations from last week and my previous running schedule has been banned. Cathy is a quietly serious person who I feel obliged to obey, especially when I witness her with a punch bag. She’s got me a gift: my own boxing gloves. I’m ready.
And after an hour's chat, or therapy by stealth, she tells me I need a more focused, less manic approach to exercise.
Short and intense runs on the Woodway running machine at the gym because she thinks reducing the levels of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) in my body will have a calming affect. Plus quick bursts of intense training are also more helpful for my body at my age, 48 this year, she advises. Before you can say ‘ninja warrior’ Cathy hands me my weekly schedule and I check the level of commitment. Change is hard, it doesn't happen over night and you get out what you put in so this won't be easy.
When it comes to exercise I would say the level of need is what drives the motivation. I am to box at least twice a week one to one with Cathy plus try and fit in a boxing class. I will also weight train with her once a week including 10 minutes interval training on the running machine and once on my own in the gym. And I can swim on a Sunday. I am to take an assortment of vitamins from Pharma Nord including magnesium and vitamin D. It’s overwhelming but as Cathy reminds me my toughest opponent in this fight for a stress free nights sleep and less fury is the one inside my head.
DAY TWO RINGSIDE
I’ve never exercised indoors before and until I step into the boxing ring I’m out of my comfort zone. But something magical happens between Cathy showing me how to execute the ‘jab’ and the ‘cross’ and me learning where to place my feet, I lose my mind. Not as in I go mad but I become so focused on what I am doing, concentrating so hard as she holds up the punch pads, quietly issuing instructions in that 16 by 16 foot square ring that I cannot think about anything else. This my friends is the definition of meditation, being truly in the moment.
Boxing isn't about fighting it is about thinking, it's fluid and gentle not aggressive and violent as I thought. It is of course a great anger release but it's more about being quick, precise, ready and full of endurance. boxing is often described as 'the noble profession' and I am beginning to see why.
It is the most exciting 10 minutes of 2016 so far. And it only gets better, physically harder admittedly but ever so enjoyable. In between the punching I do some planks (30 seconds is my limit at first) and some press-ups. I can only do one proper press up, this is exceptionally disappointing but Cathy sees it as a positive. “We’ll know how far we’ve come as we increase the number of these through the weeks,” she says. I leave the gym more energized than I have felt for weeks and with a real spring in my step. And that night I sleep through to 7am for the first time in months.
Over a two week period: I learn jabs, crosses, hooks, slips, rolls and to parry. It’s like choreography and you need fierce concentration to keep up. You need to be light on your feet but strong, fast but not rushed. Your shoulders need to relax and your mind has to stay sharp. Progress feels fast and I enjoy every minute. I even attend a mixed sex lunch time class in the ring. The weight training, I have to admit, is dull but after just 10 days I am finding I can go up a weight on all the machines I use and my arms are stronger. I manage an increasing number of press ups. This people is a miracle.
I fill in my CBT forms and realise gradually that writing things down often takes the emotional heat out of them. But will I be able to keep up this pace - I am exercising five times a week - and manage the work/home diary? What's going to give? And what will happen when some one actually hits me?
Clockwise from top: 1. Louis Vuitton gloves! Who said boxing couldn't be fashionable? 2. Packing for the gym got an awful lot more complicated. 3. Start them early, Mabel, aged four.
My main aim is for Lorraine is to find sanctuary in training. Blocking off the rest of her stressful life to have time for the mind to regain control. Running gives you time to think about your life and whirl over different life scenarios, however, in boxing you have to concentrate so there's no time for thinking who’s going to pick up the children and cook them tea. Too many women who have high powered careers AND are looking after children are running themselves slowly into the ground. Mindfulness is important to your wellbeing.
Also, when at the gym, pushing too hard and rushing to get a workout in instead of enjoying what you’re doing and to get some REAL benefit out of exercise. I’m trying to get Lorraine to not run herself into the ground mentally or physically and find a better more healthy way of keeping strong and in control of her life.
At first, having to slow down was a big challenge for Lorraine and I could see she was struggling, especially because in boxing you have to learn technique slowly. After a few sessions she started to punch much more effectively and is now starting to hit like a truck – watch out now if you ever cross her! Boxing isn’t about anger, it’s about getting the technique perfect and relaxing so that explosive power comes without wasting energy. It’s a thinking game and if you are led by emotions you lose clarity. It’s about channelling anger and stress into a much more creative outlet. This can be transferred onto the rest of life, socially and work; not letting decisions be determined by emotions and having control over your reactions. That’s why in my opinion boxing is the perfect way to get strong and fit for Lorraine.
I am also trying to find a good way to help Lorraine enjoy a weights program as its essential for women to do a strength program, its helps prevent osteoporosis and improve bone density.