Remember when you were a child? All wild and free doing whatever felt good? I do. I remember swimming being the most exciting, wonderful thing ever. I looked forward to Summer all year, daydreaming about spending the whole day in my grandparent’s pool or going to swim at the local college. I remember frolicking through the woods behind my great-grandma’s house running as fast as I could and then exploring the plants and animals slowly and with care. I remember dancing wild and crazy in my room to the Aerosmith CD my Dad gave me. I remember the first time I rode my bike without training wheels when I was 4-years-old. My Dad right behind me holding onto the seat and telling me “Go for it! You got it!” looking back and realizing he wasn’t holding on anymore and I really was doing it! I rode my bike all over the neighborhood, to the corner store, to my friend’s house. All smiles and freedom in the sunshine. I felt powerful and able. I felt free and relaxed.
Then I became an awkward teenager…I remember a shrinking feeling when I looked around and realized I was not very “athletic” when it came to team sports or “talented” when it came to dance. I didn’t try out for the dance team or anything else because I didn’t feel good enough. I was confident in my intellect. My body? Not so much. I dislocated my knee dancing when I was 9-years-old and suffered through a 7-month recovery period. Ever since that day, I distrusted my body. I wanted to keep it safe so that I wouldn’t be injured again. I was just “not the athletic type” so I shunned physical activity except what was required to pass gym class or work my Summer and after school jobs.
After the birth of my 2nd son when I was 23, I realized I had to get into the gym or let myself go. Two choices. So, I joined a gym and pushed myself to the limit running, lifting weights, eating a low-carb, high-protein diet, tanning, etc. I became a typical “gym rat” and didn’t listen to my body or enjoy what I was doing at all. I did enjoy the endorphin rush from running and I enjoyed listening to music while I ran, but this wasn’t about body love. It was all about subjugating the body and pushing through workouts with force and anger to look a certain way rather than trying to have any amount of joy or fun. I pushed so hard, in fact, that I injured my knees, my foot, developed heart palpitations, etc.
So, I had to take a break from that. I started going to a yoga/Pilates class because it was all that I could do other than walk. I loved it. I ENJOYED it. Wow, exercise could be…fun? joyful? something I look forward to? That started me thinking….what if I went back to enjoying moving my body like I did when I was a little girl? What if I did what my body enjoyed? What if I cut out the nasty protein shakes and low-carb protein bars and ate food that both nourished my body and tasted good? What if I started swimming again? Riding a bike again? Going to yoga/Pilates and Zumba dance class instead of the “Pump” weightlifting class I hated? What if I followed my body’s wisdom?
My sons and I have discovered that swimming is “our thing”. We go at least once per week to swim at the indoor pool at the local aquatic center. We swim in the lake and outdoor pools in the Summer. It is a way to be active that we all enjoy rather than suffer through. We also enjoy racing each other down to the lake behind our neighbor’s house and back to our house. We play. We have fun. I dance around the house wild and free when no one is here but my kids. They join in. I can’t afford a bike right now and don’t know where I would ride it in my town where I wouldn’t get run over anyway, but one day…one day….’
And you know what happened ? By listening to my body, moving it in ways that feel joyful, fueling my body with delicious and nutritious food I’m still physically fit (although no longer a stick figure). I am healthy. I am happy. I am joyful. I no longer pressure myself to suffer through 2-hour workouts and eat food that tastes like chalk or cardboard.
The body is pretty wise. It often tells us what we need to hear but don’t want to hear. Our mind can justify pushing ourselves to the limit and white-knuckling it through life, but the body screams “No!” in many ways we often ignore until we are physically debilitated. For so many, exercise is something they have written off because they don’t want to join a gym, push through workouts they don’t feel any joy doing, and they don’t feel like a “gym person” or “the athletic type.” The truth is, all the human body requires to be healthy is movement and good nutrition. That movement can be any type of movement. We just gotta move!
How did you enjoy moving your body as a child? What would joyful movement look like to you? Just for today….let’s wing it without a plan and try to soak up some fun along the way.