I discovered Churchill Boxing in Santa Monica with a Google search last year when I heard that whisper in my ear that I should start to box.
It was so different from anything I’d ever done.
As a yoga practitioner and a former dancer (ballet, salsa, tango), I had conditioned my body for long fluid movements. I could never even catch on to the short movements that hip hop dancers do, so some part of me decided long ago that it was not in my DNA to do styles of movement that had shorter faster changes.
Boxing seemed to be the opposite of everything that feels innately built within me. But, when God whispers something into your ear, you need to listen—even if you don’t know why. I did not know why I got the urge to try boxing when I first heard the voice, but I know now.
I attended three classes at Churchill Boxing, and I remember leaving thinking, “This is it, I don’t need therapy, or anything. This is the answer.” My endorphins were pumping, my feet grazed the pavement, my core was solid, and my mind was lucid. I was having my own private, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” moment.
But then I got busy. The gym is kind of far from where I live, and truthfully, I just fell back on my yoga practice as that is what I know. Yoga, isn’t a challenge, because I always know what I’m going to get out of my practice.
When the yoga studios closed in March, I was not sure what to do. After 23 years of practicing, I knew I could practice on my own, but I still went to classes. (Three months later, and thanks to the quarantine, I do have a steady yoga home practice right now that is an hour-long. I do it on my terrace. It’s heaven.)
My quarantine experience was filled with a lot of self-care and self-improvement. Private boxing classes became part of that. The guy who gave me my Cassius Clay lightness in those first classes, soon became my private boxing coach.
This is what I learned (am learning) through boxing:
1. Boxing is about three things: Getting in shape, protecting yourself, and letting go of anger.
My pro-fighter coach told me this the first day. He said, “People forget that boxing is about not just getting in shape, but also learning how to protect yourself, and lastly, if you have anger issues, you punch it out.” Coming from the yoga world, I eat these sentiments up—how the physical affects the mental and vice versa.
Of course I want to be in shape, but it’s a different kind of physical experience from yoga. Yoga slows you down, but boxing amps you up and slows you down—just in a different way from my beloved yoga practice.
“You become strong. You know you are always able to defend yourself, so you feel confident and you don’t react. When I see that in a person, I think, oh, this person is dangerous,” my coach told me. Dangerous in the sense that you should not f*ck with this individual; they will outsmart you with their self-control, and inner strength. Sign me up!
I walked home slowly after the workout feeling proud and solid. Not in a cocky way, but in a self-contained way. Even though I knew I was awkward in my movements, since my body is not trained for the fast-twitch muscle movements, I still embodied his statement about being dangerous. And I wanted more.
2. Roll with it.
I tend to be hard on myself. Over and over when we trained, I would often throw the jump rope down with frustration if I could not maintain the jumps. I would stop and do like a “walk it off” kind of circle that athletes do, and I was constantly judging myself.
My coach finally said, “We say, ‘roll with it.’ You gotta roll with it when you miss, or don’t do it right.” He then told me that he noticed that about me from day one, that I keep stopping and that I don’t just roll with it. He continued to say that even professionals mess up and miss the jump, or make a poor judgement in the ring, but the point is that you need to keep going. Don’t get stuck on the mistake.
That blew my mind. Again, little does he know how what he was telling me, was being filtered—my brain was rapidly making the connections to how I behave in every other area of my life. I ponder, pontificate, process, and often dwell.
In some regards, I blame that on yoga. I love you, yoga, but it’s true. We are taught to flow, yes, but there is a lot of emphasis on getting to the root cause and processing. I will never stop doing all of that work—it’s in my cells—but this added element of “rolling with it” gives a whole new take on the ol’ letting go adage that we say so often in yoga.
Also, because we cannot show weakness in the ring, we have to roll with it or we’ll get punched!
3. Protect yourself.
Boxing is multidimensional. My kind, paternal-like Nigerian boxing coach constantly reminds me of this. Protect yourself!
In every session thus far, I am reminded that I keep myself wide-open. This is common, I realize, in boxing—that people will drop their hands and not protect their face. So, I am aware it’s a hurdle to overcome for most initially, but knowing that doesn’t take away my desire to analyze it.
Yoga taught me how to connect. I love yoga for that; we learn about ourselves. And then the philosophy and lifestyle is such that we practice self-compassion and forgiveness, so that we can extend that outward. We essentially understand the world better by understanding ourselves.
“An unexamined life is one not worth living.” ~ Socrates
What I did not learn in yoga was how to protect myself.
I came across a Bible verse a few years back (Psalm 4:23), which states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” When I read that, I had been going through a breakup with a guy with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and soon after had similar revelations about my family of origin. Growing up in that environment can go in a variety of ways, but for me, I believe, it produced a lot of sensitivity and empathy, and also an unguarded heart.
The journey has been a long one, but I am doing the work. There is no other choice. This added knowledge on a physical level about boxing—how we are not to leave ourselves wide-open—has that deeper meaning for me. I get that we don’t want to get hit in the literal sense, but as we go through life, it’s also important that we protect ourselves from the evil that does exist. There are people who want to see us down for the count, people who will steal our joy, and not appreciate our goodness.
In the end, there are no victims in the ring of boxing or the ring of life.
In some ways, I like the balance of yoga and boxing. I can still give my energy and have compassion, but I will never let myself be wide-open to get hit. And if I do, which inevitably will happen (I’m human), I will roll with it.
And punch out my anger on the bag (while simultaneously getting a revenge body).