This weekend, I was reminded of how amazing the human body is and how grateful and priviledged I am to exist in mine.
My legs and my feet carried me through mud, rocks, grass, and water. My lungs and my breath powered me up and down hundreds of metres of rough terrain, all the way to the finish line of my first endurance trail run.
And this all happened despite my lack of self-punishment.
Instead, I chose to fuel my body with self-compassion and mindful awareness as I ran along the coast of Wales. Rather than getting frustrated when my knees started to ache, I stopped to sip some water and take photos of the gorgeous scenery until they felt better. I laughed as I ploughed, slipped, and flailed through the mud whilst other, more experienced, runners seemed to glide past me with ease. I smiled as I crossed the finish line with my friends cheering me on, because they had all finished long before me. But you know what? I genuinely enjoyed every moment.
Especially because my relationship with movement and my body hasn't always been so kind.
Growing up in a culture where I was bombarded with messages about how my body 'should' look and what it 'should' be able to do resulted in years of battling with it. I used to believe that self-punishment and criticism were acceptable and necessary forms of motivation, especially when it came to running. A mean internal dialogue would often drive me to the treadmill or outside for a run, despite what my body was trying to tell me. My chronically injured knees spoke volumes about how I had been running for the wrong reasons and neglecting my body's signals and needs. It's no wonder I hated going for runs.
In the past few years, however, I've made a conscious decision to try something new. I've chosen to approach running, and movement, with mindfulness and compassion instead. I started by giving myself permission to stop running and to try different forms of movement until I found some that I truly enjoyed. What followed was a journey of self (and body) enlightenment.
I connected with the joys of walking, hiking, swimming, hula hooping, and yin yoga. I learned that I prefer to move my body outdoors, in nature, as this has the added benefit of easing and clearing my mind. I realised that, when the weather doesn't permit, I have more fun when I'm moving my body in a class with loud music and other people. I discovered that certain forms of movement have the power to either energise or relax both my body and my mind, and I started to trust that my body can tell me when it needs one or the other. And when I let go of all the 'shoulds' and really started to trust the wisdom of my body, strangely, I found myself genuinely wanting to run.
The first time that I strapped up my shoes and went outside for a run, for no reason other than just feeling like it, was beyond liberating - it was transformational.
My experience at the weekend was so powerful because it really solidified how running is so much more enjoyable now that I have given myself permission to listen to my body instead of criticising it and punishing it when it tells me to rest or slow down. I might not ever be that person who glides up the hill through the mud or finishes ahead of the pack, but that doesn't mean that my body is any less amazing or deserving of gratitude and respect.
Exercise and movement can be enjoyable, fun, and empowering once we let go of the 'shoulds' and start trusting the wisdom of our bodies. It can also be a way of connecting with others, if we release any toxic self-comparison and criticism that often gets in the way. Throughout all of this, however, it's critical that we accept our individual differences instead of punishing ourselves for them, because every body is unique and has its own needs and preferences for movement. Also, our bodies all have stories to tell, as they have each endured their own fair share of battles. It's so important that we find a way of honouring and respecting this, because it's part of what makes us all so unique x