Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Fresh Start

So, I ran today. Today begins the Florida running season—at least for me.

I know plenty of runners go year-round here in sunny Florida, but not me. If it’s before dawn and I am still hating life, the humidity, and the rising temperatures, then it’s not time for me to run. This morning was a balmy 73 at 6am, so off I went!

And it felt fantastic! I loved it! I wanted to run ALL THE MILES!!!

I ran one mile.

Why? Well, this is part of my new revolution in thinking. I’m truly over punishing my body. I grew up in the old school gym mentality that rewards natural athletes and judges clumsy kids as less than. I really internalized those categories. I’ve spent my whole life thinking some people rock at athletics and everyone else sucks, but if the sucky people try really hard to be like the people who rock, they can at least hold their heads up.

It’s been a long journey to get from there to here.

It started when, at seventeen, I finally got my coordination. My body synced up during my senior year in high school. So I had reflexes at that point, but still a twisted point of view. I thought of all exercise as something that hurts, humiliates, and bores me. Naturally, I did none of it in college!

At twenty-seven, I finally had the financial stability and opportunity to try martial arts, something I’d always wanted to do. I loved it! I learned to value doing better than I did yesterday and forget everyone else. I learned I could practice to meet goals of my own.

We got a new sensai when I was about halfway to earning my black belt. And I’ll never forget our first workout with him. At the end of class, he said something like, “I don’t see any natural athletes in here. That’s okay. Natural athletes aren’t always the best martial artists because they pick things up easily. You all already know how to keep going when things don’t come easily. That’s what makes a martial artist.”

For the first time, I saw a positive in my physical nature. In at least one way, I was not a “less than” striving to be equal. I might actually have a “more than” quality.

I’ve written a lot about how training for and completing the Tough Mudder affected me—just go back to Fall 2012 on the menu!—but one moment of the event stands out more than anything. In the middle of climbing a thirty-foot wall with nothing but a rope and a tiny toehold every five feet or so, I had a clear, distinctly worded thought, “I can do this. My body’s not broken!”

For the first time ever, I felt I had a whole body, not a lemon. I felt equal, not less than. If I put in the effort, I will get the result. My body works! That moment should have changed my life.

It didn’t, though, because I chose the wrong path leading away from that moment. I chose to prove that my body works—to others. And THAT didn’t work at all. I tried to train for a half marathon. I tried to plan for another event—a bigger, harder, showier event. And I couldn’t do it. My motivation decreased week by week…because I was doing it to prove I belonged in the club. To prove to the elusive “them” that I am equal, not less than.

Then about a year ago, I discovered the body love movement. I had an outrageously hard time with that. And when I say I had a hard time with that, I mean I could write several months of blogs on what a hard time I had getting my mind around the concept.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the basic premise of body love is exactly that—loving your body as it is, no apologies or modifications required. Many, many philosophies, groups, and schools of thought fall under that umbrella. I don’t know them all and certainly am not issuing a blanket endorsement, but…

And really, that’s the key word here: but. I read all these beautiful essays about moving because it feels good and eating because you enjoy it and loving the shape that gives you and I said, “But!”

I read these beautiful, loving thoughts over and over, saying, “But…” over and over until the science hit me. The Epiphany of SCI-ENCE!!! (Read that with reverb, in a Bill Nye voice. ‘Kay? Thanks!)

What kills modern Americans? Stress, for crying out loud!

How can it be healthy if I’m losing sleep to participate in a grueling physical activity that leaves me feeling exhausted and beat up so I can change my body into something it can never be (because there’s always another goal to meet if you’re proving you’re as good as Insert Name Here) and still hating myself? That’s pretty much the opposite of health, if you ask me.

So, I quit exercising this summer. Oh, I walked the dog a mile or two every day, but my only goal this summer was to sleep more. And I made that a loose, Hmm, let’s pay attention to this kind of goal, not a demand. I ate whatever I wanted. I ignored everything else.

Strangely enough, my food cravings backed off. My two-year weight climb paused. Huh. How ‘bout that?

When school started a month ago, I nervously resumed my three days a week of exercise class. To my total delight, they ended up being a perfect mix—live PiYo, cardio kickboxing, and live Cize. I’m not trying to pitch PiYo and Cize here (they are Beachbody products), but holy cow they’re good and fun! And that’s the point—they’re fun! I felt good moving—moving seems more like a treat than a punishment. My new goals are to stretch, work off my tension, and move. That’s all. That’s everything.

And that brings us to today. I ran for fun. I set a boundary—one mile—so I’d stop before I got to the body-punishing, soul-crushing “Let’s see how good I really am” state of mind. I didn’t want to test myself. I just felt like running. For fun.

I had so much fun that I can’t wait to run again!

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