Look, I really don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive, you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. ― Mel Brooks
I was an only child for my first decade of life. It suited me well as a content introvert. I was the kid who preferred bike riding solo, stomping through the woods alone, or making forts for one in the dunes at my grandparents’ house in Maine.
Even though I was always in motion, I was not athletic, graceful, or team oriented. I ran cross-country but never pushed myself. I spent my teen years too self-conscious to truly commit to any sport and spent way too much time hating my body.
In my early thirties I became a jock, although still preferring solo sports like running, biking, and weight lifting. It was the first time since childhood that I listened to the voice that reminded me that movement is my preferred medium.
My twin daughters have always been physical. From their first tumbling class, they were both hooked and continued on to competitive gymnastics. A couple of years ago, after an injury, G switched to competitive dance.
The worlds of dance and gymnastics are often called out as breeding grounds for negative body issues. Fortunately, I’ve found the opposite at my daughters’ studio and gym where healthy body awareness is the norm.
Somehow my daughters and their teammates have managed to deflect much of the numbing photo-shopped perfectionism that screams at them from every screen, billboard, and magazine. I give a lot of the credit to their coaches who emphasize creativity, strength, and discipline over size and shape.
By my early teens, my body was an enemy to battle rather than a partner, beginning the unconscious unraveling of the natural mind-body connection. As I entered middle age, I believed that I had patched that relationship.
The co-owner of my home yoga studio has a welcoming smile, laughs easily, and wears her body effortlessly. She incorporates what she call a shaky meditation in ALL of her classes. About thirty minutes into a traditional practice, she switches gears and leads the class in enthusiastically dancing around the studio.
Yes, in the middle of practice.
The first time it happened, I thought it was a one time thing and awkwardly went along with the group. The second time, I was so annoyed that she interrupted class again – to dance – that I wanted to roll up my mat and go home.
I love her yoga instruction enough to begrudgingly tolerate the dancing. Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t mad but afraid.
Afraid of looking stupid; afraid of being too old to dance in front of strangers; afraid to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t as comfortable with my body as I had thought.
Another reminder that life is about re-working the same issues over and over. I’m still not thrilled about the shaky break in practice but I’ve made it a tool of discovery.
I’ve learned four simple truths:
1) The relationship you have with your body will be the longest, most intimate relationship of your life. Treat your body like a trusted friend, even when it’s injured or ill – especially when injured or ill.
2) The thoughts that you feed your body are EQUALLY important as the food you choose. Self-loathing and body shaming are akin to living on Twinkies and Big Red.
3) When you find yourself holding your breath, or breathing shallowly, it’s like losing the internet connection between your mind and body. Most likely you’re checking out of the present moment. Explore why, with curiosity, not judgement.
4) Remember that for most things in life, we’re all just one inhale and exhale away from a new perspective.
There are no prerequisites needed to reclaim your body except for an appreciation for being alive. You do not have to wait to be thinner, stronger, or more flexible. You do not need special clothes, take a class, or find a guru. You do not need permission.