Life Lessons From the Bodybuilder Turned Yogi — Ben Pakulski

“The only true journey to happiness is within”

“I wasn’t happy walking on the stage of Mr. Olympia like I thought I would. I’d felt a sense of accomplishment but it was also very hollow for me. It was very empty.” “Consciousness is an unpainted canvas. The only colors that are there are the ones that I decide to put there with my perception”

Recently I came across Ben Pakulski (nicknamed the Pak-Man). He’s an IFBB professional bodybuilder and winner of the 2008 Mr. Canada competition.

Have a good look at the photo above. And then think about the first two quotes in this post — something doesn’t quite match, right?

It happened to me too.

When I watched his interviews, I was surprised. By his way of thinking and his world view.

But something clicked. I resonated with him.

He was passionate about fitness as well as yoga, meditation, and consciousness.

Being a regular practitioner of both, I knew I had to take serious notes.

My goal was to integrate fitness and spirituality deeper that I’d done before.

But in the process, I learned much more than fitness. That’s when I knew I had to share this with everyone.

Here are the top 7 things I learned from Ben.

1. Happiness Is Within

When Ben walked on the Mr. Olympia stage he felt great. He worked hard for the event. He gave it everything.

But something didn’t feel right. He realized that there’s so much more to life than that. His sense of achievement was hollow.

He had the best legs you’ve ever seen. But he was not happy inside.

External accomplishments only give transient joy.

Until you go inside and find that joy within, all the external success is useless. You need to turn the spotlight inward.

We all know this. But we don’t know this. Which is why we attach our happiness to things in the outer world. It’s conditional:

  • If I have 1000 followers, I’ll be happy

  • If I have X dollars, I’ll be happy

  • Once I find the perfect soulmate, I’ll be happy

But you need to remember — not all successful people are happy. Nor do they always have great personal lives.

It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. — Seneca

It doesn’t mean that you should not go after success. But it does help to think about the tradeoff.

What are you sacrificing to chase the false god of success? Will the tradeoff make you feel better in the long run?

When will you be happy? Why wait for something when you can be happy now?

True inner joy is eternal and ever-new. You can be happy no matter what situation you are in.

2. Calmness

If you hear Ben talking, you’d see how his tone is much different from what you’re used to hearing. I did.

He gives the listener a soothing sense of calmness when he speaks. Comfortable with himself, not anxious or distracted, he gives his undivided attention to the task at hand.

This comes from his daily practice of yoga, meditation, walking, and breathing.

People who talk fast are often anxious themselves and also make you restless as they speak. It’s great speaking with someone who takes it slow, doesn’t use filler words, doesn’t fidget and calmly listens to you.

In a recent post, Tim Denning writes,

We’re told to be loud. Social media teaches us to use caps, emojis, hashtags and big, bold captions on our videos to get people to listen. What if doing the opposite of loud was really the answer to being heard?

Calmness is inviting and relaxing. It is the unconventional key to amazing conversations.

3. Don’t Think About How Others Label You

Ben was a pro bodybuilder weighing 320 pounds and a shit load of muscle.

When he walks on stage for a keynote, you’d expect him to speak about diet, protein, the best training systems, sets, reps, and volume.

Instead, he talks about walking, breathing, meditation, yoga, consciousness, biohacking, and brain performance.

With his huge muscles, he walked into a yoga studio.

If you’ve tried doing yoga, you know some poses can be difficult. Now imagine doing them with a 320-pound body. Now add to it the judgments that people make while you practice.

You need strong self-esteem to remain unaffected by it.

Ben knew how others label him is none of his business. He’s not afraid to shift careers. Not afraid to push his boundaries, and reinvent himself.

We often allow society to put a label on us — I’m a doctor, I’m an employee, I’m an engineer.

These mental narratives are the cages that you put yourself in.

You have the keys, but you choose to be trapped. The only thing that stops you is the fear of failure and judgment.

It’s time to break free. Think about it.

4. Everything in Life Is a Mindful Endeavor

Life is about the integration of the mind, body and soul.

Take every action with full awareness

But it’s a tall order for most of us. We live in a state of constant distraction and anxiety.

To be mindful, we need to break this pattern. Because we’re often disconnected from what we’re doing.

For instance, working out is not about lifting heavy things and throwing them on the ground. It’s about consciously challenging the muscle and meditating on it.

That’s what gives the best return in the long run.

While doing our job, we let distractions peep in. While exercising we blast our ears with music. And while talking to people we let our devices pull us aside.

How would your life change if you live with a heightened state of awareness every day?

How would the world change if everyone did this?

5. Your Environment Has Everything to Do With You

We have a tendency to blame other people for their actions.

“I’m right, they’re wrong.”

“It’s not my fault. He started first.”

This is your immediate response. Because you’re operating at a lower level of consciousness.

How people react is nothing to do with them but everything to do with you.

It’s about how you perceive them.

Consciousness is an empty canvas. The only colors you put there is with your perception. When you get this, you’re no longer a victim of your environment.

How you react is your responsibility. You can’t blame it on others.

It’s upon you to work out your issues. Do the work necessary to make yourself calmer and less reactive. This can be anything like meditation, exercising, or journaling.

6. Don’t Be Dogmatic

Changing your mind, changing what you’re doing, and reversing yourself at an extreme is a sign of intelligence — Steve Jobs

We attach to what we already know. We want to believe that our world view is always right.

We close the doors of opportunity that come from being open-minded.

Just because people do things a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s the only way.

Back in the day, there were no refrigerators. People harvested ice in the winter from frozen lakes or ponds. Then came ice factories where we froze ice cubes and delivered it to people. And, finally, we had refrigerators to freeze ice in our home.

What’s interesting is that none of the ice harvesters became the ice factories. And none of the ice factories became refrigerator companies.

Why? Because they became too dogmatic. They defined themselves on how they thought things work. It was too difficult to break this dogmatism until a new company came and disrupted the market.

Be firm in your belief but change when you realize you misjudged.

7. Simplicity Wins Every Time

Most profound ideas in the world are simple. Like the golden rule — treat others like you want to be treated. It’s simple but it produces a massive shift in your life.

Ben’s system for training is also simple — Setup, Stabilize, Initiate.

  • Setup your body with proper form

  • Stabilize to lift the weight with the muscle and not momentum

  • Initiate the movement with the muscle you’re training

The Macbook I’m using is simple to use. There’s no manual, no confusion. It allows me to focus on what matters.

Complexity is the enemy of execution. Simple things are much better.

These were the major lessons I learned from Ben. I hope you use one of them to improve your life.

Let me know what you think down in the comments. Did I miss something?

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Written on June 11, 2020