- severe iron deficiency, which makes me fatigued if I even think about exercise
- aging, which makes me not care one bit about whether I have the most toned body on the planet because other things seem far more important
- building a business, which takes up a lot of time and intrinsically feels more satisfying than spending an hour each day listening to testosterone-heavy muscle-heads groan and yell at the gym I belong to
- my yoga mind, which knows without a doubt that the appearance of my physical body is perfect just as it is--however that may be on any given day--and its lack of muscle does not have one tiny bit of impact on my status as a lovely/loving/lovable human being.
The items in the above list have undermined the major belief that drove me to exercise obsessively for the first 10 years of my professional fitness career: my body was really messed up from scoliosis and other health issues, and I had to work really hard to make it appear "perfect" or I wouldn't be respected, successful, or loved. I think perhaps a majority of women are led to believe something very similar, and that is what countless "love your body" campaigns and groups are designed to help defuse.
So here I reveal the strategies that work to ensure that I don't fall into the "trying to appear perfect" trap again. If you recognize yourself struggling with anything I've mentioned so far, maybe one or more of these can help you, too.
- Practice some form of meditation or internal awareness exercise on a daily basis, no matter how briefly. Turning inward has an incredible impact on my sense of well being and my awareness of what's truly important in life: a mind-body relationship built on mutual understanding and admiration.
- Question everything, and choose which option feels right. When I walk past the mirror and see loose upper arms, flapping along beside me, my first, fleeting reaction has been "Oh, man, I should go lift weights!" But then I learned to pause and think, "Why? Is it hurting me at all to have floppy arms?" I quickly acknowledge the deep feelings of "should" and contrast them to the much more important knowing of "want to"--and the "want to" part of me just knows that lifting weights would be profoundly worse for me than simply accepting my body's current condition (see list above) and realizing I'll get excited to lift weights again when my body and mind are screaming in unison, "Yay, now we want to!"
- Do what I can to stay healthy and feel good. That means taking my iron and vitamin C and D on time with lots of water; doing at least one foundation move from the Hauber Method™ a couple times a week so I maintain a pain-free back; walking or biking to my appointments when I feel up to it, but taking the bus when I don't have any energy; getting a massage when I can, and using my magic tennis balls when I can't; and balancing my precious work time with measured amounts of high-quality social time with people who mean a lot to me. (I'm a big believer that social support and sharing have a huge impact on health and well being.)
- Participate in EMDR. What's that, you ask? Well, this little acronym has probably gone the farthest, after my yoga training, to help me defuse any remaining delusions that my body's shape and appearance determine my value in life. The acronym stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming, although newer research has shown that any bilateral stimulation of the sense organs (eyes, ears, hands) brings the same beneficial results. The technique is too complex to explain in a paragraph, but in practice with a qualified therapist, it's simple and utterly profound. I participated in it, with Chicago-based therapist Vanessa Ford, because it's got decades of support from high-quality research studies, especially on its benefits for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I can tell you, though, that it worked wonders for me and my seemingly small (when compared to military combat or rape, the two most common causes of PTSD) problems. In combination with my Buddhist and Yoga meditation practices, EMDR has given me a new life. And I can tell you without hesitation I'll simply never go back to hating any part of my body ever again. Or lifting weights when I don't want to. Or feeling like a failure for having floppy upper arms. The effects of EMDR are lasting, and treatment takes mere weeks or months, not years and years like often-ineffective traditional therapy.
When faced with the choice to "look perfect" or "feel good," I'm opting for feeling good from here on out. What about you?
** I had so many wonderful, heartfelt comments to this post on its original Wordpress page. It's too bad I could not preserve them when I moved the site. Perhaps new readers would like to add some helpful comments of their own?