The Body Eclectic

canstockphoto10785869Over three years ago, I began to meet with a personal trainer on a weekly basis. My working class roots resisted what seemed like a posh luxury, but this was an indulgence I could justify. Like many people, I am juggling roles as an employee, parent, caretaker and writer. It is very easy to let the caretaking of my body slip down the list of priorities. Now, it seems reckless and unacceptable to ignore the longest relationship I will ever have.

I am being taught how to strengthen, recover and challenge my body with deliberate intention. I want to honor this amazing entity that carries me through the day, that survived grueling marches in combat boots, that housed my child, that does a million complicated tasks within a single day.

Many years have passed since I tried to starve my body into submission or indulged in punishing workouts for eating too much. I no longer see my body as an enemy, a distant necessity which must be managed and controlled. Enough has been said about what culture dictates about women’s bodies (although I see some expectations trickling down to men as well). We know the body politics and the commercialization and the airbrushing outrages. I’m a bit tired of it all, because it has become irrelevant to my body.

My body exists as is. Torturing it to meet unrealistic standards, damaging my self-esteem when it doesn’t meet those standards and having it constantly in my mind as an issue is completely useless for my health. I am learning to block the noise and pay attention to what is important. I get angry when I start to write about this topic, because so much energy, so much time, in my lifetime alone, has been wasted on the issue of what we should look like and so little on what we should feel like.

Amazing things happen when you turn your gaze inward and stop looking in the mirror. Do you feel strong? Do you feel energetic? Do you feel appreciative of all the muscles, bone structure, nerves and blood required to just move you through your day? Some days, I don’t feel any of those things, but I’ve gotten in the habit of doing a mental once-over. What hurts? Where am I stiff or sore? Am I tired? How much sleep have I been getting? Does my body need more water? So often we take better care of the car in the driveway than of the vehicles that brung us.

I’ve always had the desire to feel strong, but that desire has met intense psychological resistance. I’m self-conscious about my body and an introvert. Workout DVDs were my gateway drug, done secretly in my home where no one could see when I tripped doing the grapevine or hear me grunting while doing lunges. My idea was to become completely fit before going out into the world to exercise, so that I wouldn’t look out of shape or silly.

It’s an objection that I’ve overcome, but one of the most difficult mental obstacles for people to get beyond. I used to be one of those people who would drive down the street and see someone overweight running and think “I would never do that, looking that way.” Here’s a secret: How you look is completely irrelevant to how you feel or what your fitness level is.

You cannot look at a person and tell how fit they are or how wonderful they feel with all those happy brain chemicals bouncing about in their heads. Their being is not about you or your judgments, just as your body is not about theirs. Now I see somebody working out and no matter how they appear, I think “what have I done today to take care of my body?” Some days, it will entail a nap, or a slow deliberate walk or just stretching out a bit. Other days, it might need more, but it needs mindfulness.

I return to the YMCA on Monday, after a hiatus.Β  My sole goal: get there. Once I’m there, I’ll worry about what I should do next. My insecurities will raise their ugly little heads and I will be tempted to be envious of tiny Ms. Lycra in front of me or feel smug when I see someone barely able to jog a few minutes. It’s all bullshit and like cultural dictates, irrelevant to what I need to be doing.

Areas of my body will be jiggling on the treadmill that hadn’t before. I will not have coordinated workout clothing. I will sweat profusely and look and smell not particularly delightful. I will not, well into my workout, even feel particularly good. I will appear graceless doing bench presses and lat pull downs and rows. People will look at me and wonder if my red face indicates a potential cardiac event. But I won’t care, because I will walk out of there with my happy brain chemicals, my sweaty head held high and the gratitude of a body that I’ve honored.

32 Comments on “The Body Eclectic

  1. My thought: There’s always going to be someone in better shape than you and there’s always going to be someone in worse shape than you. Keep the focus on you and how you feel about you and keep loving that body!

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    • That is exactly the key, but our culture fosters a competitiveness/comparison approach, so it’s best to be honest and confront one’s own thought processes. It’s taken me a long time not to think that way and on occasion, I still have to resist it!

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  2. Bravo!! This should be pasted on the wall of every gym. And tattoo’d on the brain of each and every one of us. Thanks. What a great, inspiring, motivating post!

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    • I thought my timing might be good, with so many people making resolutions. For me, it’s just about recovering after the flu, holidays and an assortment of injuries, but I had to be reminded how I talked myself into going “out” to exercise in the first place. Sometimes that out-loud self-talk is what gets me going, so I felt compelled to share!

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  3. That was timely. I think most of us are disgusted with ourselves after the holidays and needed to read your inspiring post. Thank you for the gentle push and reminder to take care of ourselves.

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    • Well, I would hope, too, to replace disgust with kinder regard for ourselves. We all overindulge during the holidays – it’s human nature. I should remember next year to think about what we can do during the holidays to lessen its impact on our well being, but I haven’t mastered that for myself yet. No matter how well I plan or cut back, I always feel wiped out mentally and physically after the holidays!

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  4. Well this has certainly given me some motivation to get off my ass! Excellent from beginning to end. Thank you – I needed that. πŸ™‚

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    • Just thank your ass – it provides padding for sitting and houses the large muscles that impact your legs and your lower back! It would, on occasion appreciate a stretch and maybe even a relaxing walk. Mine is begging for exactly that today!

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  5. Good luck on your ongoing journey; it is a lifelong one in which we not only care for our bodies but also learn to nurture the heart, mind, and spirit.

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    • Thanks! Sometimes that seems like a very tall order – thank goodness heart, mind, spirit and body are all connected or else I wouldn’t know where to start!

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    • Thanks! Hitting middle age has made me a little more circumspect. Things aren’t going north at this point, so it’s important to figure out what really matters. Motion, rest, good food and water seem to be the magic combination to feeling good. I think, too, when illness hits, as it inevitably does, we can give our bodies a fighting chance!

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  6. I really appreciated the balance here. I’ve always taken care of my body, but never considered the reasons why I shouldn’t think of it as low priority.

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    • You’re one of those people – good habits right from the start! I’ve been more like a roller coaster which has finally evened out, so it’s taken me a lot longer to learn how important self-care is.

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  7. I do superficially admit, though, that sometimes buying a new running accessory or some fun new running shirt helps motivate πŸ™‚ — plus the tech material is so much more comfortable than those old cotton tshirts when you sweat, helps keep you warm/dry, etc (and can even help hide those jiggling parts — I love my running skirts in the summer !!!) A great reminder after recovering from the bug I picked up while traveling over the holidays I fell off the running wagon and need to try and get out there again today now that I am feeling better, if only for a nice walk! ~ Kat

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    • It does help motivate, but for some of us, it can also be a delusional trick. If I just had the right running shoes…if I just had the right piece of equipment, then…I’ve too often gotten caught up in that (and my not-so-secret addiction to running shoes). It’s taken me awhile to realize that I have everything I need to take care of my body and with the exception of an exercise burka, those jiggly parts aren’t really staying hidden. You move, your body moves, your clothes move…walking is a great recovery exercise, though. Enjoy!

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      • So true — never use it as an excuse not to get out the door. Walking can be done anytime, anywhere, with no special equipment or clothing, and I will almost always take the good round of outdoor air (cold or warm) over indoor exercise machine! ~ Kat

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        • I’m anxious to try out my new Yaktrax for walking on the snow and ice. We need all the sunshine/vitamin D we can get during these Minnesota winters!

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        • Yaktrax are GREAT! I have used them running on ice/snowpacked roads and trails with my dog. Actually, I am hoping to get out the cross-country skis this weekend, as I haven’t been out yet this season and it is a beautiful day! Cheers to sunshine! ~ Kat

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  8. So true! After my knee surgery, I realized how much I wanted to get up and move around…. even though I had ignored that urge when I was healthy. Aquacize begins again for me Monday and I will be there. Thanks for the motivational post!

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    • Swimming is an awesome exercise, which I am starting up again next month once I get my endurance for running back up to normal. Bronchitis really took a toll on my aerobic abilities!

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    • I use the Y since it’s close to my house, but when I worked downtown, just getting out for a walk for the lunch hour made a huge difference. Of course, in downtown Minneapolis they have a huge skyway system, so weather didn’t make as much of a difference.

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  9. Way to go! I have always thought to myself, I can’t spend the rest of my life just trying to look good. I want to be healthy and feel good about my body on my terms.

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  10. Thank you for this. Still trying to come to terms with the 10 lbs I’ve gained since we started travelling (aaaarrrrrgh!) but making progress.
    There’s a Japanese scientist (Masaru Emoto http://www.masaru-emoto.net/english/water-crystal.html) who discovered that the crystalline nature of water literally changes according to what is presented to it. Since the body is 98% water, when I catch myself feeling unhappy about it, or feeling negatively towards it, or feeling tired, or achy, or have a persistent pain I send the words love and thank you to the body. It’s a direct focus on the body and saying the words over and over in my mind. And often I go into it deeper and connect with the *feeling* of love and gratitude towards the body. It makes a huge difference to my state of mind, and my state of health.

    What an amazing instrument we have, and we spend so much time at best taking it for granted, and at worst hating it 😦

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    • I think too, so much is about balance. My injuries, my aches and pains, my exhaustion are indicators that things are off-balance in my life – not just physically, but mentally. Sometimes it’s all about allowing our bodies to find that balance again. Traveling is definitely one of those times and you have to be kind to yourself as you find your equilibrium again.
      This is one of things I really like about yoga – they talk about breathing into parts of your body and visualizing sending it kind messages and messages of gratitude. It really relaxes and connects me to my physical presence.

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  11. Right on!!!

    As they say, we’re all so busy worrying about ourselves, nobody is paying attention to you. And if they are, they’re probably thinking something you’d never guess.

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    • That’s absolutely right! I like to assume everyone else is as self-conscious as I am, so there’s no way they’re even noticing me!

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  12. Michelle,
    Good for you. The biggest obstacle to fitness is just going. The commitment is to a healthier, happier, more fit person. Your focus is so true, and you never know who you may inspire along the way….
    Enjoy the feeling!

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