Honoring Yourself Through Movement

The second week of the 21 Day Body Love Challenge is in full swing and our big focus is adding movement (a.k.a. exercise) to our daily routine.  Movement is such an incredible way to honor your body.  I think sometimes when we hear “exercise” our mind automatically goes to an intense workout, a trainer breathing down our neck or the anxiety of having to attend a group workout class.  The vision automatically has us coming up with excuses not to do it.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  I know I can get stuck in that mindset!

So, as an alternative to triggering an automatic “no” to exercising every day, let’s continue to focus on the idea of intentional movement.  The goal is during the Challenge is to carve out 30 minutes of your day to get moving, get your heart-rate up and sweat a bit (or a lot) to get those endorphins flowing.

Why movement?  How will this help you love your body?  Well, there are a few different reasons, but before I get to that I feel it’s important that I share the story about how I found confidence and beauty in my body through movement.  Not going to lie, there’s a lot to unpack here.  But please try to stick with me, because I think you may relate to portions of my journey.

Throughout my life I have always been athletic.  I would bounce from sport to sport, loving each-and-every one of them differently.  When it came time to narrow down which ones I wanted to focus on in school, it was a tough decision because they all served a different purpose.  Regardless of what I decided, being active and working out continued to be a constant in my life.

Until I let comparison, stress and insecurities take it away from me.  While I loved sports growing up, at a young age it was made very clear to me that my body wasn’t like my peers’.  I had eyes, I knew I was built larger and weighed more.  I developed curves earlier than my classmates, some of whom praised them while I felt shame.  On athletic teams it was known that I traded speed for strength.  I may not have the fastest mile time, but I could lift heavy, push my muscles and I took pride in it.  Sometimes.

In middle and high school one of my coaches would point out that I was bigger than my teammates and say things like “you’re a big girl, use that to your advantage.” Now, to give him credit he may have meant that I had a bigger frame and more muscle than my teammates. While he would make it apparent that I was the slowest, he would also point out that I was one of the strongest.  On the other hand, maybe he meant it exactly how it sounds.  Regardless, to a young woman struggling with an eating disorder I picked out every negative and took it to the deepest level.  To me, this just meant “you’re fat*” and “you’re only useful as a human wall.”  It stuck with me.  It got in my head and messed with me.  I would think “Is that what I’m worth?  Did everyone just see me as the slow, heaving ‘big girl’ on the team?”

I knew I was “overweight.”  Society, media and certain doctors impressed upon me that because of my size, I would never be enough.  I was fed this idea that I needed to lose weight in order to be accepted.  Unfortunately, this is the case for many of us.

However, my Mom never aligned with this idea.  As a parent she only ever reinforced that I was perfect, just the way I am.  She never pushed me to lose weight or made me feel pressured to change my body (for which I am eternally grateful).  She never told me I needed a “diet.”  But as almost all teenagers are known to do, I didn’t listen to her and instead let the ideals of others set an unrealistic standard of beauty and happiness in my mind.  As a result, I was always trying some new meal plan or fad to lose weight.  My Mom would do it with me, make my protein shakes and cook healthy meals to support me.  She saw me in pain and did her best to help.  When something wouldn’t work or when I slipped into a dark hole of self-deprecation, frustrated and discouraged, she would hold me while I cried and tell me how beautiful I am.  My mom would point out how every bit of me is perfect and that I didn’t need to change for someone else.  But I wouldn’t let myself believe her.

Once I moved onto college, I didn’t have a watchful parent monitoring my habits.  I wasn’t forced into structured workouts by organized sports, no one was making my meals, nor watching my day-to-day for red flags.  I had this freedom to do whatever I wanted (or didn’t want) to do.  I struggled with balancing my priorities and keeping my eating disorder in check.  Part of that was learning how to make time for exercise amongst stress and the typical college lifestyle.

I knew that exercise kept me sane – it was my release, my “me” time.  It was my church.

On the other hand, workouts could easily turn into a place of punishment instead of empowerment.  I battled gym anxiety like many of us do. I would walk in and instantly compare myself to the thin students around me.  I would push myself to look like them, doling out some internal “tough love.”  I would use workouts as penance for the food I ate or for skipping sessions earlier that week.  When I walked in there, I became my worst critic and suddenly that “church” was purgatory.  It was just another layer of my eating disorder.

At some point or another, I decided to leave the school gym and try hot yoga.  Initially, I sought it to sweat more and burn extra calories.  I saw the svelte yoga teachers in the media and thought “yes, this is the answer!” What I didn’t realize is how connected the mind and body were.  It turns out that yoga would be my saving grace.

Through yoga I realized the beauty in my body.   The teachers at Savannah Yoga Center (which to this day is still the best yoga studio I have ever been to) taught me that through movement and choosing to show up on the mat I am honoring myself.  By doing what I could, I was enough.  Being able to move through the poses was a privilege and tuning into my body I saw the resilience and strength I couldn’t take for granted.  In time, I realized that loving myself meant allowing space to release, regroup and refocus.  Yoga was the breakthrough in my eating disorder that I desperately needed.  It is truly where my self-love journey began, and I am eternally grateful for it.

My practice has continued to be a nurturing, safe space for me.  Whenever I start to feel disconnected or that negative dialogue creeps back in, I go back to it.  My “ah-hah moment” through yoga slowly spread into other parts of my life, including helping me find joy in working out again.  Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I learned through my practice:

  • When you can’t find perfection or if you stumble and fall, smile and laugh at yourself. Then get back to it.  You can’t grow without making mistakes.  Practice is never perfect, so why not have fun with it?  Let go and thank yourself for being there.  Praise yourself for showing up and enjoy the moment!
  • Your body reacts to what you feed it emotionally. Instead of beating yourself up for a mistake, take a step back and regroup.  Take a deep breath, shake it off and try it again.  If you keep feeding it negativity, that’s exactly what you’ll get back.  Instead, feed it positivity so you can grow!
  • Each body is different and that’s part of what makes us beautiful. Every pose will look slightly different as a result.  Don’t look at what others are doing because they aren’t you.  Focus on your own practice because this is for you, your mind and body, no one else.
  • Listen to your body. Honor it with whatever serves you.  When you need a break, take one.  If you need to push yourself or want to reach a goal, go for it!
  • Your strength, no matter what level that may be, is beautiful. Remember that it’s not just physical, but emotional and mental.  Choosing to show up for yourself, on the mat or outside in the world, is a sign of that strength and resilience.  Recognize it, feel it and let it fuel your confidence.
  • Confidence starts from within. You must heal that relationship with yourself before you can truly feel confident on the outside.

You don’t have to practice yoga to understand the mind-body connection or to have a break-through in the relationship with your body.   It’s what worked for me, but there are so many other forms of movement that help can do the same thing.  Whether it’s making time to go for a walk each day, taking a dance class or lifting weights in the gym it’s all about showing up for your body and practicing self-care.  There are so many benefits!  Movement increases flexibility and help keep our hearts healthy; it gets endorphins flowing, improving our mental and emotional health, which is key to any progress we want to make in our body love journey.

Which brings me back to the second week of the 21 Day Body Love Challenge.  I know that finding 30 minutes a day to get moving may be tough, but that’s why it’s called a challenge!  Remember to listen to your body and do what feels right for you.  There will be times when you want to skip, when you don’t think you can possibly force yourself to do it but remember that each time you show up you’re choosing YOU.  In time it will get easier, so stick with it.  If you need help finding motivation, reach out on Facebook, Instagram or shoot me an email.  I’m here to help you out!  We are all in this together, cheering each other on!

*Please know that I do not use the term “fat” as an insult or a derogatory description.  In this story, I’m speaking from the point of view before I ever saw “fat” as anything but negative.  I’m actively learning to be comfortable with that word and use it as a term of empowerment.

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