Looking Perfect or Feeling Good?

Looking perfect or feeling good. That struggle has been on my mind a lot lately as I welcome a host of new internal and external conditions that have a direct impact on my identity as a “health and fitness professional”:

  • 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 is infinitely 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 (read my history for more about how that belief came about), 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.

But as anyone who has made a major shift in her life knows, old beliefs and thought patterns die hard. Really hard. It takes more than a simple ad campaign or a support group to change our core beliefs. Especially when every bit of advertising and social conditioning in our society says, “Women are their bodies, nothing more, and we demand that those bodies appear PERFECT!” And as a professional in the fitness and wellness industry (and, sadly, also in “Westernized” yoga)? Forget about it: We are ALL supposed to be perfect icons of bodily perfection: no body fat, no cellulite, no structural malformations, no outward appearance of aging, perfect curves in exactly the right places, and energy so abundant we work out hours a day without a care in the world. Hmph. I don’t think anyone can adhere to those expectations without being sick and obsessed.

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, 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. If you’re on the “feeling good” bandwagon, I hope you find my workshops and products to be right up your alley, because they are designed precisely for the “feeling good” population.

Am I on the right track? What else can I offer that can help you make the leap from feeling bad to feeling great?

About the author

Written by

Sara Hauber, M.A., holds a masters degree in health communication, is a certified yoga teacher and wellness coach, and specializes in functional movement and back care. She has helped clients achieve physical and emotional wellbeing since 1999. She teaches yoga, empowerment, and her signature back-care methods throughout the U.S. and Italy. In 2012 she released The Hauber Method™, a 6-week at-home program to relieve chronic low-back pain.

13 Responses

  1. Sara, thanks for sharing this lovely post. I love the idea of moving past perfectionism to embracing a healthy mind, body and spirit in all its stages and phases. I’m honored that you would mention my practice in your blog. Thank you!

    • Thank YOU, Vanessa. Seriously, I hope my little post brings more people to you for help. As you know, the difference in my life is pretty profound.

  2. Sara, I too am going through a transformation (must have something to do with our age). I started QiGong 4 weeks ago and already feel the benefits of the mind-body-spirit connection!

    • That’s fantastic! I was thinking Tai Chi might be the next energetic-awareness thing for me, but QiGong is fascinating as well. I’m so excited that it’s working for you!

  3. Thanks Sara. I think we all feel a bit pushed by the sales & marketing community at times :). Judgments based upon past experiences & interpretations prevent us from seeing our present condition(s) clearly; and can miss direct us in engaging in the actions that would serve us best. I am in agreement that meditation and the information (in both proprioception and interoception) gained from a yoga practice (asana, breath & mindful awareness) may promote a more unclouded view of our self: physically, emotionally and intellectually. Thanks for mentioning the westernization of Yoga. I think its OK, that we in the west have yoga “fit” into our culture. In order for something to have benefit, it has to have meaning within the context that we live. But personally I feel it is also important that we maintain the core reason yoga evolved as a philosophy & lifestyle, and not adulterate it so much it no longer has purpose as it was intended.

    • Martha, I couldn’t agree more. Your post was so eloquent, and the ideas you express so important and meaningful. The philosophy and lifestyle of yoga are truly its greatest gifts, and sometimes it just hurts me to see those things getting lost in a culture based on visual perception and the attainment of bodily “perfection.” It makes me so happy that a huge number of people in the U.S. are now attending yoga classes regularly. It does make me a bit sad, though, if they continue to do so compulsively for the sole purpose of getting a “yoga butt,” and then mentally berating themselves if that butt does not appear as they expected it to! I sometimes even feel guilty presenting my yoga workshops for back pain and tight hamstrings, because those are really “fitness” topics in my opinion. But I know that people need the tools I’m presenting, and if the word “yoga” helps encourage them to come to the class, then I guess the end result is the same. Of course, I slip in a lot of philosophy, lifestyle, and mind-body education as well. :) Our physical pain is simply so much more emotional/spiritual than it’s typically assumed to be. And really, can one change one’s body without changing one’s mind first? Thanks for getting me thinking (“out loud”) even further about this topic, Martha!

  4. Hi Sara,

    Are they fitness topics or therapeutic issues you are offering information to help heal? So much revolves around language. Fear, loss, uncertainty.. love, happiness, grounded…always ends up in the body some how, somewhere. But when out of touch or disconnected with the sensations of the body and it interaction with the activities of the mind, its tough to make change.
    Where are you located?

    • Yes, I agree with you. In all of my workshops, the focus is on healing and therapeutic issues, simply because I know how strongly the mind affects the body’s function. It’s that disconnection between mind and body that I try to help people bridge. As you likely know, it’s a constant practice for each of us, too! I’m located in Hillsborough, but I travel a lot and have spent several months in Chicago this spring (which is where I moved to the Triangle from a couple of years ago). I really look forward to being back in NC in a few weeks!

  5. My daughter just moved from Chicago to NYC, I love Chicago, a favorite city. When you get back in town, perhaps we can connect. If you get a chance visit my website. I am in Smithfield which is about 45 minutes East.
    Sounds like we have some shared perspectives.

    • Sounds great! I will!

  6. Excellent post, Sara. I have struggled with this “feel good or look perfect” challenge as well, especially now as a teacher of yoga. I’m lucky to have had yoga teachers in the past who were strong, healthy women that did not fit the fat-free, size 2 image and I admired them for that. Two things I personally work toward are maintaining healthy eating habits and the cultivation of a spiritual practice. Eating well, in addition to exercise, lets me know that I’m treating myself right. If I weigh more or have cellulite, so be it! That’s where the spiritual practice comes into play: taking care of one’s body, one’s temple, is one of the steps on the path to liberation, while taking care of one’s image is not. Cheers!

    • Antoinette, I think you hit the nail on the head: Taking care of one’s body is the goal, taking care of one’s image is not. Beautifully stated. It’s that socially-created confusion between “body” and “image” that I think causes so much angst and self-hatred, especially among women in this country. I’m really glad you had teachers that helped you make that distinction! Thanks so much for your insight.


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