I woke up this morning and my body felt different. It is changing. I am running three to four times a week, trying something new and challenging my body. And I’m growing stronger, changing shape and composition.
As a gymnast for 15 years I exercised great discipline, learned intense mental focus and a singular commitment to the sport and my goals. Through gymnastics I developed great physical abilities and discovered the amazing capacity my body. But… each skill, trick and routine was an attempt to force my body to do things that I was mentally afraid of or that felt impossible to do. I trained, cajoled and pushed my body to do things it couldn’t do naturally – splits, over splits, jumping, twisting.
Running can also be difficult and painful. Running the hills of Malawi and Nashville is grueling and exhausting. But there are also moments that are rhythmic and fluid. There are entire stretches where one finds a groove, the mind can totally relax as the body does its thing. A runner’s high is that moment of unity. Where the perfectly executed floor routine or dismount is always a triumph of mind over matter. The mind must always be alert and controlling the body to keep it poised over the four-inch balance beam or tight in the midst of a twist.
Then there is yoga. One practice last week after three years and I loved it. The results of yoga and gymnastics are often similar – increased flexibility and greater strength. But the methods are radically different. In yoga practice I am supposed to listen to my body, stopping if I need, avoiding certain poses. In gymnastics I worked to ignore discomfort and push through pain in order to achieve and excel. I find when I listen to my body it responds over time – almost gratefully – with greater agility and even greater peace and clarity of mind.
As a gymnast, setting goals, pushing and achieving, the results were often beautiful, skilled and exhilarating. But often at a physical price and sometimes an emotional one. Always de-valuing the present moment in favor of the end goal.
I still want to be healthy, fit and attractive. But now I’m trying to listen to my body first and wait for the results. I walk when I can’t run. When I can’t do a pose that everyone else in the room can do I have to be okay with that.
I’m focused on the process rather than a perceived perfection that I need to attain. And I feel my body changing even though I’m no longer a gymnast.