I am very happy to present September’s This Body Can post from Louise. I met Louise when I was attending an Iron Grrls Clinic and I saw her benching, I think. She had a Cat Town Cafe shirt on (based in Oakland, CA) so of course, being the cat lover that I am, I had to go tell her how much I loved her shirt. Over the months of training at BodyTribe I found out Louise is a cat lover as well, made a really great documentary about the Historic Rose Garden in Sacramento and loves & appreciates movement just like I do. I love her story and can relate to the “can’t” feeling she had in P.E. Shit, I failed P.E. in high school and had to take it again my senior year – so there you go; finding a love for movement and appreciating what my body can do is new to me, with in the last 5 years. Age doesn’t matter when you are on this journey. Sometimes it comes later in life, and that is okay. Thank you, Louise for sharing your story.
Like many women – heck, let’s go ahead and include all genders and say many people – I’ve struggled in thinking positively about my physical being. My earliest thoughts about sport/exercise/physicality were all some version of “I can’t.” I remember the horrible realization I had, in grammar school, as I tried so hard to “try hard,” watching the backs of all my fellow students grow farther and farther away, as they raced to the finish line ahead of me. I remember the exact moment: the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Here it was, the measure of us all. Who could do a pull-up? Who could jump far enough? Who could run fast enough to meet the time? I watched as our class sorted itself into the Cans and the Can’ts, generally corresponding to boys (Can) and girls (Can’t), and me – the very last of the Can’ts. I had been good at things up until this: I could read well, liked math, could draw. But this? I was bad at this. It made me feel terrible physically and emotionally. Of course, I learned later that the PPFT had a worthy motive – to encourage the physical education of children, and I’m very in favor of that. But for me it was a crusher. My takeaway: I can’t, and I hate ALL this stuff.
I don’t want to pin it all on President Kennedy, but it took a long time to turn this belief around. For me, the legacy of such a bad start including years of self-hate, disordered eating and mental health problems. I’m so very grateful I’ve been able to change this pattern, even though it came later in life for me. When I was around 40, I started going to a gym for the first time – a dumpy, inexpensive place with beat up equipment, chosen because it was the least intimidating place I could find. I booked a few training sessions, so I wouldn’t look like an idiot on the machines. I forced myself to shop for workout clothes until I found something that didn’t make me feel hideous and uncomfortable. My motivation was simple: I was under a lot of stress at work, and needed some way to handle it. I began meditating at the same time. I set some reachable goals: for a long time, my goal was just to get to the gym, just enter the building and change clothes. If, at that point, I just couldn’t… well, I didn’t. But that almost never happened. Once I got there, I generally felt like doing something. I started to look forward to this part of my day. I realized how effective the stress relief was.
Flip a tire 20 times and then beat the crap out of it with a club – stress relief!
I started really enjoying the feeling I had as I walked home, tired and in the mood for dinner. I started to feel strong. I noticed that I was not out of breath anymore on the stairs. My back pain disappeared. My tricep became noticeable. It was a new start, a much better start. I began to think, “huh! maybe I CAN.”
And now, even though I’m 52 and definitely noticing the changes that come with age, I am more able and confident – physically and emotionally – than I have ever been. After my first gym closed, I was lucky enough to land in a great place, and get access to an extremely talented and generous trainer. She has patiently worked with my fears and issues, always teaching me, always challenging me in both physical and mental ways. She has gently steered my thinking away from negativity toward empowerment and exploration. The gym I go to now is a haven of sanity and support, focused on hard work and proper form, and always filled with laughs, sweat, dogs, babies, music and friends. At this point, I actually seek failure at times, as when maxing out a lift. It’s just another tool to measure progress – my own personal progress, not someone else’s. It’s a joy to own that feeling so completely. Changing the way I think about success and failure has made a big difference to life in general, not just life in the gym. I am much more concerned with progress, momentum, and consistency than I am about numbers (my own or others’). This way of thinking allows me to try hard, and to be happy.