The other day a good friend invited me to take her favorite yoga class with her. So I did and I enjoyed it...for the most part. I was happy to see my friend, of course, and I liked the instructor. She gave good cues and took us through a proper warm up followed by a challenging workout, great! There was plenty of room in the class, not overcrowded, but not too empty and the space was a typical, mirrored-wall, group exercise room with bolsters, blocks, bars and towels in tidy, designated spots. The regular class participants were welcoming and seemed happy to be there, also great! But, there was a part of me that didn’t enjoy it and I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until I was on my run the next morning that I had an epiphany.
As the class instruction progressed us from a warm up into the workout portion with various vinyasa and challenging poses, I became mad. Wait, what? Mad? But why? Continuing on my run, as each foot contacted the pavement, more clarity was emerging. During the class I felt pain and limitations in my body. I was mad because my body would not do what I wanted it to do. WOW! I allowed that statement to sit in my head for a few moments as I kept running. So, here I am, outside, running where I see colorful leaves, smell fresh air, feel warmth from golden sunshine and as my body moves, each foot making contact, I am mad at my body? That’s just not right.
I had quickly forgotten about all of the poses that my body DID during the class and how great that felt. So, again, I asked myself why? As I recalled the pain and limitations I felt, I realized this was not the first time I had felt this resistance from my body. Then, the word acceptance was the next thing that popped into my head as I pounded my way into mile 2 (good thing this was a short run, right?). What does acceptance truly mean? I knew what it meant where others were concerned, but I wasn’t showing myself the same kindness and I certainly wasn’t showing my body any gratitude. Self-Love, fail!
As an instructor, it was fine for me to accept that others couldn't do things with their bodies. Some clients are not good at balance poses and others do not have great body-awareness. Sometimes clients require adaptations or alternate movement patterns in order to train their bodies to perform a certain exercise or achieve a specific goal. That’s what training or teaching truly is…helping others to safely experience success with exercise and realize what their bodies CAN do.
After a client works on deficiencies, my job is to safely motivate and move her on to other challenging exercises. We have a saying in fitness for this, “meet them where they are.” In other words, start with what they can do and build from there.
I soon realized that in this yoga class I was attempting poses that I neither regularly practice nor teach. How could I possibly expect to do them and NOT feel limitations or pain and why was I so mad at my body? Feet still pounding the pavement, the words again come...because I am not honoring MY body.
This realization doesn't sit well with me. I spend a lot of time and energy, helping, encouraging and oozing positivity, yet, I wasn't doing that for myself. When I am teaching, consulting or training, I do my best to create an environment that is supportive and motivating yet challenging and tough, in appropriate ways. That’s what a good fitness pro does, right? So, why was my acceptance of other's limitations given freely yet I was completely resistant to my own? (UGH, won’t this run ever end???)
Listening to clients, taking them at their word and trusting them to communicate what their body is telling them, is the environment a good fitness professional creates for her clients. If a class participant says to me "I can't do that," or "when I do that it hurts,” I give them instruction on how to safely handle that issue. I offer an alternative pose or exercise or show them how to work the muscle a different way. And, sometimes, it’s as simple as giving them permission NOT to perform the exercise if it hurts. That is always my response. No problem.
Recently, I was listing to a famous writer give a lecture about his latest book. At the Q&A, he was asked what his favorite part of the book writing process was. He answered, it was the feedback he received from his editor. He liked constructive feedback because it made him better. BOOM! There was my “ah-ha" moment…as a participant, I forgot all about honoring my own body by listening to and accepting the feedback it was giving me and using it to make myself better.
True constructive feedback comes from a place of kindness and helpfulness.
So, I asked myself (continuing to pound out another mile), was the feedback I was giving myself about my own limitations kind? Was it helpful? Yup, the next word that popped into my head was, “no". I was mad during the class because I was being challenged and my body was telling me to slow down and to ease into a certain pose or not to do it at all. I was not being kind to my body nor was I listening to the feedback it was giving me. So, instead of listening and working towards getting better, I felt pain and limitation.
Finally (at the end of my run), came the resolve to listen to my body the next time it tells me to go slowly or to scale back the intensity. I honor my body by listening to it and doing what I always say to do in my own classes, “go at your own pace.” Acceptance truly is a pathway for constructive feedback to make me better.