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?