The socks save my shins, or at least reduce the amount of blood and scabbing. This is the only outfit I wear: these black socks with the single, white stripe just above the knee, a ribbed tank, and a pair of matching split shorts, the kind runners wear, with a spandex liner.
I feel like Camille Leblanc-Bazinet. The outfit is functional, but I like the sporty, athletic nature of it. As I grip the bar, there is no room for this though. There is no room for aesthetic whims. In order for the plates to move away from the ground, lumbar stabilizers engage before my hands ever reach the bar. Muscles contract before my knees begin to flex. In this moment, I am not a woman reaching for some aesthetic baseline. I am a woman prepared to deadlift XXX pounds without hurting myself. This means full body activation, awareness, and precision.
#2 Connect to It.
Any time I think of connecting to myself, the word “center” comes to mind. Whether it is my physical center firing during a deadlift or my emotional center keeping calm on an intense climb, connecting to this part of myself brings a sense of ease and naturalness to my life.
The literal connection to my center is my ability to move gracefully and with ease. The first time I really felt this was while climbing, and I never wanted to lose it. Heightened awareness and muscle memory kicked in. The movements became the most natural thing I’d ever done. I didn’t bounce on holds – testing, re-testing – but flowed through moves confidently. There was a deep sense of trust within my body. The force of gravity eased against my body. I felt light.
This connection faded over the years. I felt heavy and lost that ease of movement. In part, this was due to digestive issues (more on this an upcoming post). Outside influence distorted my perspective, leaving me unattached to my Whys. My stomach became a target of judgment, scorn, frustration, and discomfort. I turned against my body: I blamed it for failing me, for not looking like X, for not functioning with ease.
Physically, the divide played out as discomfort in my body and loss of fluid movement and connection. Emotionally, the void led to resentment of parts of my body. When I began to re-connect to my center, both physically and emotionally, I began to connect differently to my entire body. Instead of a sum of parts to be perfected or sculpted, I saw myself wholly. My life became less trivial and my sense of self came into focus. It is not that I suddenly looked different, but I saw myself unclouded.
The few activities that helped me re-connect both physically and emotionally share a common theme:
Solitude. Space for reflection. A chance for bonding.
First, I spent time quieting external noise. This meant leaving or stepping back from unhealthy environments: my work setting, certain fitness blogs, even some Instagram feeds. This left room for introspection and opportunity to determine my Whys. It meant delving deeper and actually seeing myself as more than this hair and the thin pinch of skin over my abs.
We can be told our inner beauty exists, but if we don’t take time to look – to really see it – we’ll never know it for ourselves. Yoga is my time to take a look. I have practiced on-and-off for years in a physically therapeutic realm, but recently, it’s become a quiet space: a space to drop everything at the door, step onto my mat, and let myself be seen. I am strong. I am beautiful. At times, this is painful, because seeing the beauty you are and knowing how unkind and untrue you are behaving to yourself hurts. On the mat, I learn to be gentle with myself, play like a child, laugh at myself…..and push through barriers.
The physical challenge pushes my body to fatigue and breaks down mental walls. I can see patterns, behaviors I might want to change, but I also see compassion. When the metaphorical walls crack, they reveal strength within. In the literal sense, the rigorous postures that break down these walls build physical strength: the physical core.
I never cared for “ab” days at the gym. Ab days, like any other muscle group day, are for targeted muscle development, which never stuck. I strive to balance muscle groups, but “sculpting” isn’t my thing. The six-pack muscle, while pretty, is superficial and doesn’t stabilize like the deeper abdominal muscles. Knowing this, I couldn’t devote gym sessions to it. Instead, I preferred “functional” exercises. Obviously, my approach became distorted, but I am finding it again.
Turning ourselves upside down, moving through plank variations, lifting up through a pistol squat, deadlifting heavy weights…aren’t necessarily movements we find ourselves in often during an average day. The “functional” aspect for me emphasizes the full body participation – stabilization over flashy abs – it is a bonus if they end up looking pretty, but I am not happy when aesthetics is my focus. Flowing through a yoga sequence on my mat connects me to that strong center in a way that crunches or leg lifts do not. Similar to a deadlift, inversions and arm balances require a great deal of core strength as well as awareness. Otherwise, I fall. Usually, I fall, but it’s the practice I gravitate toward.
Yoga isn’t the only time I take for myself. I make room for myself in the evenings as well, taking time to unwind in the glowing light of our salt lamp. Ylang ylang, or jasmine, or lavender permeates the bedroom. Some nights I tear through the pages of poetry or biomechanics; others I write in my own notebook. Before bed I usually do breathing exercises and soft tissue self-mobilizations to address stuck stress from the day (and years). Breath is life. It feeds every cell of our bodies. To slow it – to take it in fully – is to offer ourselves life. Taking the diaphragm through full range of breathing re-connects me in a way I did not expect. Physically, I simply feel better. It heightens awareness, and helps me “see” myself from the inside. While I strongly encourage intentional breathing and gentle self-mobilization, there is no magical formula to this quiet time. Make it yours. Summed up, it’s self-care, which is simply expressing love and compassion for you!
Finally, climbing and deadlifting are worth mentioning because they tune me into the state of my core, but I am approaching these gently. My motivation for the gym has waned as my draw toward yoga increases. Inner passion to climb blazes, but outer motivation flitters. At times, climbing loses its appeal to abdominal discomfort and heaviness, and lack of core connection. So, I am listening to my body and trying to approach this playfully. It’s time to re-discover why I climb at all.
Ultimately, the point of anything is to be happier and lead a fuller life.
What practices help you nurture inner awareness, playfulness, and compassion for yourself?