A few months ago, May to be exact, I decided I would attempt to start running again. I use to love running and the feeling it gave me of flying. But I stopped once I started working full-time after college and my family required more of my time, at least that’s the story I had told myself.
A few years ago, I started incorporating Yoga into my life. At first I forced myself to do it, so instead I would go through episodes of not attending class at all. I decided I wouldn’t force myself into a strict structure or routine. I decided to attend one class a week, and I allowed myself the flexibility to try different teachers whenever I could. A few weeks later, I met an incredible Yoga teacher whose class I still attend to this day. About a year ago I also started to do Zumba once a week. Again, I didn’t hold myself to unrealistic expectations. As the universe would have it, I fell in love with my Zumba teacher, and I am still attending her class.
I feel great when I exercise. The physical exertion sometimes feels effortless though it requires so much energy.
What also changed, was that I began to feel that I was worth taking care of, not just physically, but in all aspects that make me whole – spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically as well. I remember always having an endless mommy-do list. And when I did have time, I found some other errand to run or room to organize.
As I consciously made time to spend time with myself, and reflect on the things my heart was yearning and healing for, I started to make better choices about how I spent my time, and increasingly began to do things that were profoundly transformational in my life. I learned to discern between the things that brought me superficial joy and those that inspired me to listen more intensely to my needs. So this past May I decided that I would add more cardiovascular activities to my life.
I’ve had a treadmill that I bought approximately eight years ago. Like my other attempts at exercising, I endured episodes where I wouldn’t even want to look at the guilt-evoking apparatus. My truth was, that even during the time of my life when I enjoyed running, there were always external measures that motivated me to keep running: weight, size, and social norms and expectations. I exercised because I had an unrealistic image of what my body needed to look like; an image I had created to feel accepted and loved. I was exercising, not because I loved my self, but because I was in search of the perfect me. All my body heard was that I rejected it, even though it was a part of me. The ironic part was that the more I rejected a part of me, the more I hurt myself. By constantly comparing myself to what I interpreted society to deem as beautiful and worth loving, I was further inflicting violence upon my self.
The following is a clip from the Movie, Real Women Have Curves, in which Ana, the main character who works at her sister’s sewing factory along with her mom, can’t take the heat and takes off her clothes, revealing her body to her mother who constantly insults her and criticizes her. This is a profound moment where Ana is firmly choosing to live life on her own terms, something her mother has not been able to do for fear of rejection and abandonment.
Watching this scene for the first time made me realize how much of my self-criticism had to do with my own fears of not being worthy. It also made me reflect on how much of my personal struggle with body image was impacting my daughter’s perception of herself and how she would interact with the world around her. Watching it again, I have learned that as long as I am focused on what I think the world expects or thinks of me, I will never be able to listen to the most important voice, mine. I will ultimately be stuck in a dichotomy of tyrant and rebel, where the tyrant in me will criticize me for not doing what I should do to “look” healthy, and the rebel in me will refuse to do it in order to protect the inner voice that says “I am perfect.” Ultimately I have learned that it is only within that I will discover what’s right for me. It is by accepting and loving every part of my body and following my intuition that I am acting on what is best for my body.
Now I trust my body to let me know when it wants to run and how long it wants to run for. I don’t set a time or distance goal, even though sometimes I think that maybe I’m not challenging myself enough when I don’t set a goal. This is also part of all those external measures and norms that seem to put so much more added pressure to what we do, taking away our ability to become in tune with the natural state and condition of our body (ourselves).
I use to control how much soda I would drink, or even worse, feel guilty when I drank it and fall into a cycle of self-loathing. Almost as if consuming that which was harmful to my health was a punishment for not having self-discipline. I don’t crave soda anymore, and once in a while, if I want a small sip, I drink it without feeling guilty. I’ve stopped listening to rules and behaviors that feel demanding and controlling. More and more, I can tell which part of me is reverting to old patterns, and which part of me is speaking my truth. This of course is something that I have had to practice and continue to practice.
My body has learned to trust me as well. I honor it, and I never abuse it by forcing it to do what doesn’t feel authentic. I have discovered that all aligns as it should, as it always was meant to be. I can’t do something on sheer will, if I’m not channeling the essence and loving energy of spirit. The more something is forced, the more resistance is created. “Ultimately, our goal is to create a body/personality that can fully express our divine creative spirit, a form that can do everything our spirit wants to do easily, skillfully, and beautifully” (Shakti Gawain).
On a side note, a few years ago, My grandmother, mother, daughter and I went out-of-town for Mother’s Day weekend. The first morning in the hotel room, my grandmother was sitting on the toilette seat drying her body; my mom was in her underwear getting ready to jump in the shower; my daughter was in her undergarments brushing her teeth. They were all laughing. I think my grandmother was making a comment about Carmen’s Tumbao’ (sensuous booty) as she often did. Carmen, being self-critical of her body, as many of us tend to be, usually complained about this kind of attention, but that day we were all comfortable in our skin. I realized when I walked into the bathroom in my underwear, and none of us were trying to cover our bodies from each other as I had often seen women in my family do when they were changing in front of each other, that we were having a Real Women Have Curves moment, and I was absolutely blessed to share it with the most important women in my life!