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Chevy Rough: The Mindful Mover

You might know his face from the BBC One documentary Mind Over Marathon, which saw him coach ten runners with mental health issues in the run up to the London Marathon.

We sat down on a sofa with ex-City boy, performance and mindfulness coach (and CALM Ambassador!) Chevy Ray Rough to hear about his journey to coaching and find out what he means by mindful movement.

“My journey with movement began quite late in life, around 30. I worked in the City for about 17 years. I partied a lot, it wasn’t a great time. I was on the tail-end of a bender on Christmas Day morning, wrapping presents and taking drugs with my in-laws coming round. That wasn’t a good or healthy place –there were too many dark days, too much abuse and self-harm with alcohol and drugs, and destruction of relationships around me.

I knew I needed to make change, so I started walking. I had this book, London’s Top 20 Walks. I thought to myself, if I can commit to this every weekend it’ll keep me out of the pub. Having that structure gave me something to be accountable to. 150 minutes of walking a week can have the same benefits as an anti-depressant. I didn’t know that back then but I was getting a positive physical response, being out in nature having time to myself,disconnecting from technology. I’ve never had a positive routine in my life and that’s what movement and exercise did for me. It gave me a space to think. It’s like going into therapy, you start to learn a lot about yourself because you spend time alone.

“I was on the tail-end of a bender on Christmas Day morning, wrapping presents and taking drugs with my in-laws coming round.”

A lot of my issues come back to my relationship with my father. A big thing for me happened two months into hiking –I was half way up a mountain, thinking about the lack of his presence in my life. And I remember forgiving him. Movement helped me let go.

The walks weren’t the solution though, there was a lot of going back and forward, falling back into bad habits. After a while I wanted more. So I started running. Running became this really great thing because suddenly I was in control of my body. But it wasn’t all healthy because I was running with my ego, I was validating myself through speed and distance. And as a guy I wanted to be at the front of the pack with the fast guys. I let my ego takeover. I didn’t show any humility. I knew nothing about my body, sitting at a desk for 17 years. My ego was driving me and fuelling me. People would say you’re doing this positive thing, I was, but I was beasting myself, I was running away from myself, it was a distraction, actually a form of self-harm. I was in this turmoil of pushing myself too hard, getting injured – and then the mind starts to tell you ‘you’re not good enough to be out here, you don’t deserve to be in front of the pack’. I got into this negative conversation with myself and then you’d find me back in the pub ordering drugs. Back, forward, back, forward. That’s what I was doing for years.

Thankfully I found a community who nurtured me, Run Dem Crew, they helped me explore myself in a positive space, and how to socially interact with out alcohol and drugs. But I was still getting injured again and again. The injuries culminated in a realisation that I need to look after my body. So what am I gonna do? Go to the gym. And what do I do at the gym? Well the guys are downstairs lifting really heavyweights… so I walk up to the squat rack, I put it what’s probably more than my own body weight on my back, down I go, no idea what I’m doing, I stand up, and ‘POP’ I get a hernia.

“I don’t ask people to come run with me because if I do, a lot say ‘I’m not a runner’. But what if I just say ‘come move with me’?”

So I’ve done it again, damaged myself.I found something I loved but I didn’t respect it, I abused it, used it as a weapon of self harm. Now I was back not moving. That injury led me to being off the road for 18 months.

But it didn’t stop me. I got hernia surgery and I went back to the gym with the attitude of ‘let’s educate myself, let’s understand that I know nothing about me right now’. Ultimately that lead me to building a positive relationship with movement, and that led me to quitting the city couple years ago, retraining as a personal trainer and a run coach.

A huge thing for me is understanding why people want to move. So I have to start with why do I move? I used to say ‘I move because as long as I’m moving I’m happily, I’m a better version of myself, I’m escaping my depression I’m not doing drugs etc’ but there’s a layer below all that. Recently I found out through therapy the reason I move is that as long as I’m moving I’m not thinking about suicide.

We seem to define our movement by numbers. How fast did I go? How far? How much did I lift? But movement to me is the art of putting one front In front of the other. Through training or life. I don’t ask people to come run with me because if I do, a lot say ‘I’m not a runner’. But what if I just say ‘come move with me’? Let’s just go for a walk. If we’re defined by our personal bests or how much we lift that can mean that when we don’t hit our goals, this negative talk sets in. In this way the numbers and certain ideas around fitness can be barriers to people having a healthy approach to movement, or doing it at all, so we need to break that down. Disconnect from the numbers.

I think our visual representations of fitness are so off. Let’s say I’m a man and I want to try new things out. People are telling me that I should do yoga. OK so let’s Google yoga for men, what is my visual representation? Men with six packs doing handstands upside down. I go to a class, I can’t touch my toes, I’ve got really tight hips, there’s some lovely ladies around me on the mat and I’m having to get down to this position, I can’t breathe I’m sweating in this insecure and vulnerable position. Why would I want to go back? I want to hide at the back of the class, thank you. So I look at running, well it’s just people running fast and running hard and the first time I go out and run I’m just walking, my body is pushing back on me back I’m seeing that as a failure. If I join a run club, well I’m
running at the back of the pack and I don’t want to be there so maybe I should I do Cross Fit, but I go in and I see six packs… no way to I’m standing next to that guy! That doesn’t inspire me. The only thing that I know is going into the gym by myself. I don’t want to ask for help. I don’t want to get a personal trainer because I don’t want to give myself to another man. Do I want to ask a girl for help? I’m not sure. So I might as well just hide in the back by myself.

Sometimes I think we don’t know where to go as men.

But we need to have that conversation of ‘why don’t you want to look weak?’ What’s wrong with looking weak? Why do we have to put this mask on and look strong? Expose yourself, let me see you go through the pain of trying to open up your hips on the ground and not being able to touch your toes, and let’s own that movement over time and with good practice. Let’s not be fearful of it, let’s just see it as a process of learning.

“I think our visual representations of fitness are so off.”

I base my principles around three things: movement, connection and community. It’s about building a safe nurturing place for people to find confidence within themselves and then explore that confidence with like minded people. The guys that we do see coming in that stick at it, we see them fly. And that’s not on the road that’s off the road. I’m on an exploration of understanding what mindful movement is. I know that movement can help with everything, all aspects of your life. I’ve seen it in myself, with my friends and the people I’ve worked with on #MindOverMarathon and in my community. I’m not a fitness guru with all the answers, that doesn’t exist. If you ask me what mindful movement is in 12 months, I’ll give you a better answer.”

Follow Chevy @chevyrayrough

Get moving for CALM and join our very own runners crew coached by Chevy himself! Head to thecalmzone.net/events

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

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