The Mental Health Benefits of Boxing with Cleveland Hughes - E025
Welcome to another episode of the What We're NOT Talking about podcast. This episode focuses on the healing through boxing, how you can get started, and why exercising is crucial to managing your anxiety or depression.
TODAY'S GUEST: CLEVELAND HUGHES
> Cleveland's mental health background and his passion for his work at Healing Mitts International Boxing (03:53)
> How Boxing is actually for everyone and what're some mental health benefits of doing it (05:43)
> How Boxing can help you manage your anxiety. Cleveland shares his experience and how it helped him (09:03)
> What's the first reason people want to start Boxing for and what are some of the principles of Cleveland's training system (15:43)
> Tips for getting started with Boxing and stop overthinking over new decisions you might wanna make (19:00)
E025: The Mental Health Benefits of Boxing with Cleveland Hughes
Did you know there are mental health benefits of boxing?
This episode is all about the mental health benefits of exercise. 2021 is around the corner, and I know you know, but exercise is very important when it comes to creating a mental health management plan.
Now, this episode takes a slightly different look at the topic. I sit down with Cleveland Hughes with Healing Mitts Intentional Boxing Training System. It is a boxing system that is endorsed by many mental health professionals. We sit down and talk about what his system entails and how it connects you to your best self. Hope you enjoy it.
Amy: [00:01:16] Welcome back on this episode of What We're Not Talking About. We're going to be talking about the dreaded topic of exercise when it comes to managing mental health and mental illness.
Now, I know there are a lot of mixed reviews on this. As someone who has dealt with chronic debilitating anxiety since the age of seven, I know how absolutely ridiculous it is to say that exercise will make it go away. To borrow a quote from Jim Carey, “I believe depression is legitimate, but I also believe that if you don't exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, and surround yourself with support, then you aren't giving yourself a fighting chance.”
Before I introduce our guest today, I want to make yet another disclaimer.
This topic can be perceived as an extremely ableist topic. There are millions of individuals out there struggling with their mental health where the exercise talked about in this episode may not be an option for them. The purpose of this specific conversation is to shed an alternative light on new year's resolutions and motivation that usually surrounds it.
If you are someone listening to this that can not partake in this type of exercise we're talking about, don't. But I do encourage you to find something that works for you. My grandmother, who is half paralyzed, does daily hand exercises to help with the cognition and flexibility of the limbs she does have a use of. This daily commitment to her health at this current COVID time is one of the only things getting her through the day.
That being said, boxing truly is for everyone. There are elements of this practice that she can do. We will talk about the mental health benefits of boxing. And don't worry, we'll be talking more about this during this episode. Now, without further ado, I am pleased to introduce today's guest Cleveland Hughes, founder of Healing Mitts Intentional Boxing Training and head coach of Mayweather Boxing in Chicago.
Welcome to the show.
Cleveland: [00:03:18] Hey, thank you guys so much. Thank you so much for having me.
If you guys hear any background noise, I'm just at the gym.
So, yeah, I'm excited to do this. Thanks for having me.
Amy: [00:03:27] Yeah, I'm really excited to chat with you today. Before we really jump into the topic at hand of boxing... I feel like I'm making all these really weird puns by accident.
I'd love it, Cleveland, if you could share a little bit about your background with mental health and why you're so passionate about what you're doing today with Healing Mitts International. And let’s move into the mental health benefits of boxing.
Cleveland: [00:03:50] Well, I actually got started in boxing when I was about 19 years old and I was actually dealing with some personal issues of depression. And I knew something was wrong. So, I went to a therapist. I was always into sports, but after high school, I didn't really have a sport to play anymore because I didn't go to a four-year college or anything like that, or university or anything like that.
So, I was kinda lost for some recreational activity.
My therapist suggested that I'd tried boxing, and the result of that was a tremendous change in my entire life.
It was unexpected. It wasn't something that I thought was going to become my lifelong passion and my lifelong mission. But, healing through boxing was such a powerful experience for me I created a whole system behind helping people heal through by. It shows the mental health benefits of boxing.
Amy: [00:04:49] That's so beautiful. And I completely understand that transition from being in a group setting of sports and the comradery that does add an element of support when it comes to our mental health. And as we mature and graduate from high school or college, if we're able to play in college as well. Losing that aspect can be an added, almost hidden, element that really greatly affects mental health. So, I think that's really awesome that you were able to find boxing.
Now, I know in my introduction, I talked a little bit about how it's an ableist perspective. Because we think that you need to be fit-ish and be on two legs with full use of your limbs. But I would love it if you could share with me and our listeners, how boxing truly is for everyone.
Cleveland: [00:05:46] Yeah.
The thing about boxing is boxing is very much like life.
And in saying that in boxing, it's just you and the other person, you know? So really what it is, it's a fight with yourself for the most part. This is a battle with anxiety, it's a battle with stress. It's a battle with anxiety and all those things, you know? It's everyday life.
Like, we have to deal with all these different things. And that's what I feel is the real secret sauce to boxing training is the fact that we all have challenges. And boxing helps you face those challenges. That's basically what I'm trying to do with the Healing Mitts System is create a more inclusive boxing environment for people of all different shapes, sizes, heights, weights, and abilities. And it helps show the mental health benefits of boxing.
Amy: [00:06:34] That's really beautiful and awesome. Because, I mean, I've done a bit of boxing myself and interviewing you actually reminded me that I really loved boxing when I was doing it. I actually signed up for an introduction to boxing starting in January. So, thank you for giving a little kick to my tush as well, even though you didn't know. But yeah, I really like the benefits.
When you first started, what were the first few things that you really noticed or changed about you?
Cleveland: [00:07:10] Well.
There is an exercise in boxing that we call shadow boxing.
And it's where you stand in front of the mirror and practice your technique, study yourself, see what you're doing, and look at what you can improve. As a young man, I never spent that much time in front of a mirror before, other than brushing my teeth and brushing my hair, getting ready for my days.
This exercise opened up a self-reflection, an introspection, that I had never practiced before. So yeah, that was the first thing is that my self-awareness that'd be the awareness of myself came to the forefront, actually started to look at myself in the mirror, look myself in the eye, and get a feel for who I really was. This was one of the mental health benefits of boxing.
Amy: [00:08:00] And that's so integral when it comes to unpacking our own individual trauma or experience when it comes to our mental health and our mental illness. So, I think that's really beautiful that that's what that first step was. It's very complimentary to what happens when we really commit to working on ourselves to find some peace within
Cleveland: [00:08:30] Yeah, definitely. And so that was the first step for me was self-awareness.
Amy: [00:08:35] So, what came next? What was one thing? Because sometimes self-awareness comes up and you're like, “Oh crap. There's a lot of stuff here that I don't want to deal with.”
Cleveland: [00:08:46] Yeah, totally. I totally understand what that feels like. Man, there's a lot of things here that I don't really want to deal with.
But that was the reason for me to continue to keep going and try to get better because there were so many things I needed to improve on.
So, that was the first thing. Self-awareness was the first thing. The second thing was managing my anxiety, managing my fear. Because boxing is a contact sport, high contact, more contact than most sports. I mean, it's the only sport where the object of the game is to go out there and punch the other guy in the face.
I recognized very soon that being in a sparring situation, you needed to control. You need to calm down, relax. Not get angry, not get excited, but stay calm, relaxed, and work from like a zen-like state. And it was kind of counterintuitive because I imagine that it was more so about being the bigger, stronger guy, and being more dominant in the ring. And it was more so about being relaxed and being more responsive to what energy your opponent was bringing to you and what energy you were bringing in the ring. This shows the mental health benefits of boxing.
Amy: [00:09:58] Mm. Yeah, I really liked that. That's really interesting. I have such a different relationship with exercise that it hasn't really brought a lot of self-awareness to me. And that's just because I was personally like, kind of forced to do exercise as a child, which I'm very thankful for because it was an outlet for me because I was very anxious as a kid.
I had depressive modes in high school and exercise did help me. But, I really liked that insight on it.
At what point did you decide, or did you clue into the fact that you're like, “Wow, this is life-changing. Something shocking is happening, in a really positive way.” What was that moment for you?
Cleveland: [00:10:50] You know, it was probably a few months after practicing. Everything had changed. I had just become so much more calm, grounded, and confident in who I was and what I was doing. It’s kind of like a tough guy effect. There's some guys out there that have this persona, almost an act of being tough. And it kind of makes them a bit obnoxious, but the guys that are physically fighting each other all the time have a more relaxed Zen-like - What's the word - energy to them. It’s one of the mental health benefits of boxing.
When I started, my tough guy persona shifted greatly, and I became a lot more magnetic, a lot more attractive. People enjoyed being around me. I became a better person and that was after just a few months. My confidence had changed and then my circle of friends started to change. I started having more friends and things like that.
So, I mean, it was really a really huge thing for me to just-
Amy: [00:11:56] Yeah.
Cleveland: [00:11:57] relax.
Amy: [00:11:59] Yeah. And it sounds so simple, right? Like just to relax? But there's so much more that's happening than that.
Cleveland: [00:12:06] Yes. Yes.
Amy: [00:12:07] So, you mentioned that your circle of friends started to change. Now, I'm curious to know something.
As you started to partake more and more in boxing and change your perspective and lose a bit of your anxiety and depression, did you find that your circle of friends just grew or did it change?
Were there people that weren't comfortable with the change that they were seeing in you?
Cleveland: [00:12:35] Well, it definitely grew. The people that were around before, watched me struggle and then they got to watch me thrive. I made a lot of new friends being in the boxing gym. Friends that have athletic accomplishments that I had only dreamed of accomplishing national champions and such. So, that confidence and having friends is one of the mental health benefits of boxing.
It just felt really good to be in that circle of people and have the respect of those guys.
Amy: [00:13:05] Yeah, absolutely. And that's really awesome because there are people that when they go through changes, some other individuals, like individuals that are also suffering with them, they don't like that. They see it as a slight against themselves. And it's really great that you were able to bring everyone with you as well. Because that's so powerful and in itself because you're positive, you're experiencing more ease in your life. And then that's ricocheting and reverberating around your community and family.
Cleveland: [00:13:42] Yeah, totally. And I did experience some people being not so excited about the changes that were happening. But I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn't really react to them. I just allowed them to say what they wanted to say and feel the way that they felt.
A lot of the people just stayed around.
It's like, “Hey, I'm very happy being this person and I'm not going to make any changes because it makes you uncomfortable. If you want to keep hanging around, please do. But if not, no problem.” I just became a whole lot more self-sufficient.
Amy: [00:14:20] Yeah, absolutely. I'm a little jealous. I wish I had that ability to talk like that to my friends, but... That's really cool. That's really awesome. I'm curious to know, at what point did you go from just being a boxing…. Is it student? Is that what you call yourself when you're just-
Cleveland: [00:14:37] Yeah, you're a student. You’re a student. Yes,
Amy: [00:14:40] Yeah. From being a student to creating Healing Mitts Intentional Boxing Program?
Cleveland: [00:14:47] Well, that would be... I think about eight years later when I created the Intentional Boxing Training System. But I started coaching probably about a year after entering the boxing gym. Cause that’s all I really wanted to do was be at the boxing gym. And I was like, “Well, can I get paid to be here?”
So, it was like, “This all I really want to do. I just want to hang out in this environment with these people, how can I get paid to do this?”
And I became a trainer and coached people there. I continued to coach people, and it sort of became almost like a fitness thing. Like, I was like just a fitness trainer. Well, fast forward a little bit, like seven years later, and I was doing more like fitness training, doing bootcamps, and those kinds of things. I was doing weight loss with people and such.
Actually, I'm originally from California. Then I moved to Chicago a couple of years ago. And when I came to Chicago, I said, “All I want to do is be a boxing coach.” And that's when the mindset shifted.
I started talking to people more so about the mental health benefits of boxing. I mean, because I asked people why they wanted to do boxing in the first place, and it wasn't because they wanted to lose a few pounds. They did it because they were suffering from some sort of mental weight, something that was weighing heavy on their psyche and boxing gave them an outlet to express that. And so. When I recognize that that's why people started. And I was like, “Man, well, that's pretty easy because I know the whole process because this is exactly what I went through.”
I actually went and I created a system that focuses on the pieces of boxing that seemed to be so therapeutic.
Not just the exercise portion, because we all know that the benefits of endorphins and all these other great things that happen when you exercise. But what specifically cognitively what happens in a boxing situation that could help somebody with their mental health.
And so that's why I came up with the Healings Mitts Intentional Boxing Training System. Now I get to help people learn the mental health benefits of boxing.
Amy: [00:16:49] That's so cool. So, I won't get you to like give it all away, but what's one aspect that you focus on that isn't just about the endorphins? Like the mental health benefits of boxing?
Cleveland: [00:16:59] Well, there are several things, but I've broken it down into four principles and we'll just start off with the first principle. The first principle is what I call the art of relaxed intensity. And it's basically you just... I mean, the words almost explain it enough, right? It's being in a state where you are relaxed and ready to react, but not overreacting, only reacting to real threat. Like, if somebody is actually trying to throw a punch at you. And what I found was like I said. And the saying is, “Do nothing until you're doing something,” right? Until it's time to act, do nothing. And until then, because if not, you'll be thrown off your game.
The way that I found that that transferred to everyday life was just being in a relaxed and intense state.
It's almost like a tender aggressiveness where you're ready to listen and negotiate, but you're also ready to go on the offense when the time is right.
Amy: [00:18:14] Hmm. I think that's such a beautiful metaphor for... life almost.
Cleveland: [00:18:19] Yes. I mean, that's why I call it the Intentional Boxing Training System, because the intention is to help you be a better person in life, to give you tools that you can use inside and outside the gym, in your practice as a boxer and in your practice as a human navigating life and its challenges. Because of all the mental health benefits of boxing.
Amy: [00:18:43] Yeah, absolutely. So for individuals that are looking to get started in boxing, maybe not with your system because they're not able to access a gym or get out and about because of this dreaded pandemic that's happening, what are some tips that you have for people to get started?
Cleveland: [00:19:05] The thing about when people think about doing things is...
I've noticed because I asked my clients, “How long have you wanted to do this?”
And the average answer is usually over one year, and sometimes I hear something like 10 years or 20 years. The biggest obstacle I think is overthinking. Action kills anxiety.
If there's something in your heart that you really want to try, it may be boxing or something else, don't think about it too long. Try to try your best to make a decision soon and take action. And you will know. I mean, because I think that people are really bad at predicting what's going to make them happy or what's going to make them feel good.
We all have these ideas and these ideals. And a lot of times they're not what... The things don't turn out to be what we thought they were. But if you never start, you don't give yourself an opportunity to see whether this is a good thing for you or not. So, think about it from that perspective, get started, and see if this is good for you or not.
And then if it's good for you, keep doing it. If it's not what you’re looking for, reassess and try to find something different.
Amy: [00:20:21] Yes. I love the mental health benefits of boxing I’ve heard about.
I really like what you said about the biggest obstacle is overthinking. As I said earlier, I've been struggling with anxiety most of my life.
And you just get in this cyclical, horrible loop of like, “Oh, I want to do something.”
Then you're like, “Okay, but then this and this and this and this and this and this.”
And as you said, it kills the action. You end up saying, “Yeah, nevermind. It's too much. My brain is exhausted. I don't actually really want to do it.” Then you'll put it at bay. And then, maybe in six months, you'll do it again. Or in a year. Some of us just get stuck there without being able to get into action for so long.
So, I think that's really great that you said that that's so key to putting your mental health and your health in general at the forefront of your life. The mental health benefits of boxing have been great for you!
Cleveland: [00:21:20] Yeah, I know. I was scrolling on Instagram, which is not a good habit, but I was scrolling on Instagram. Somebody had posted something that said, “My wellbeing is the only thing that is urgent,” and it really struck. It really struck something in me because I think that what we really need to be overthinking is our wellbeing, like, “Yeah, we need to get started ASAP. We need to get started yesterday.”
If it's something that is not in alignment with our life's purpose and we're not feeling right, we need to get started as soon as we can.
Oh, and then one more tip for overthinking. Get a coach, even if it's virtually. I think that it'll help ease your anxiety if you help put some of the burden on somebody else. You hire somebody to be there for you. And all you have to do is show up.
Amy: [00:22:12] Yes, that's perfect. Yes. I think when we have someone to hold us accountable, that adds such another layer of healing and processing that you can't get when you're there by yourself.
Cleveland: [00:22:28] Yeah.
Amy: [00:22:29] Yeah. So beautiful.
Well, Cleveland it's been so nice and wonderful talking to you about this. I know that the listeners are going to take a lot from this.
Now, I always… Well, actually, before I go into the last question, I just want to say that you, or you as in the listeners, will be able to find all the links to Cleveland and how to connect with him on social in the show notes in the description below.
So please, if you'd like to connect with him, go there, click the link and you'll be directed to the right place.
Now I love to get the guests to leave, to end the conversation. So, what I'm going to do is I'll ask you one question. With New Year's coming up, this is live as of the mid of December, and with everything that's going on, all the stress of 2020 coming to an end, what are your words of wisdom when it comes to starting 2021 off on the best foot possible?
Cleveland: [00:23:35] That is a good question. And the best thing I could advise anybody to do is to stay in the moment. Put your feet on the ground. Don't think about what happened yesterday or what could happen tomorrow. Deal with what's right in front of you. And you will find yourself in a powerful position to make changes to any and all situations, healing any and all wounds, and accomplishing any and all goals, if you stay in the moment and stay focused on what it is that you want to accomplish. That's my best advice for people.