I started swimming competitively when I was seven. I learned to ski and started doing gymnastics that same year, and from that point on, I don’t think I’ve gone more than a week without doing some sort of physical activity. This means that, for better or worse, my understanding of my body is inextricably tied to the belief that a normal day includes a vigorous workout of some sort.
As you can imagine, this is mostly a positive thing. I’ve spent my life seeking out steeper slopes, longer races, rougher waters, and other ways to challenge myself and broaden my idea of what I’m capable of. I’ve gotten to take exceptionally good health for granted, and I’ve used exercise-induced endorphins to boost my spirits through rough times.
Here’s the downside, or at least a strange side effect: My concept of how I use my body is so tied up in the idea that I can and should do some sort of physical activity every day, I somehow got to the point where I believe that’s the body’s most important purpose. You know this feeling: it’s the part of you that wants to wrap your legs in bubble wrap in the weeks leading up to a marathon, eschewing all other activities (camping, backpacking, having wine with dinner) to make sure your body is ready for that all-important race day. It’s the part of you that feels fat and lazy during a taper, even though you know you’re still doing more exercise than the general population.
I found tips on how to change that thinking in a surprising place: a blog post about body image. It calls for accepting the way things are now–something I do rather infrequently, it turns out. Think about it: How often do you pause to appreciate where you are right now before striving for a better marathon time, a faster tempo run, a harder cross-training workout? Here are some of the takeaways I’m planning to practice this week:
Self-acceptance means acknowledging where you are now, and not repeating the mantra “I’ll like my body when…” For me, that’s “when I can be active again.” Why not appreciate my body now, rather than abiding an overriding feeling that I’ll suffer through the next few weeks until I can next go for a run?
Think of all the amazing things your body can do. Gary, the race director and marathon runner who’s recovering from almost the same wrist injury I am, put it this way: “This month off was different from just slacking for a month. My body has probably been putting a lot of energy into healing. I had surgery just a little more than two weeks ago. And all these crazy drugs I’m not used to…” As much as I feel like a lazy slob for being on the couch for a month, my body is actually probably pretty worn out from doing things like healing wounds, building bone and getting used to the fact that there’s a piece of titanium in my wrist now. And yes, the crazy drugs…
Ask yourself: What are some of the feel-good things I can do now for my body? By nurturing your body as it is now, you can begin to feel comfortable with yourself. Now this one, I’m not having such a problem with. Here are some of the ways I nurtured my body over the past few days:
By enjoying an awesome Italian dinner before seeing Avenue Q on an impromptu trip to New York …
By soaking in the spring sunshine on a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge …
And by relaxing in Rock Creek Park with Steve when we returned home. We packed a picnic lunch (mine: a sandwich with multigrain bread, cheddar cheese, and apple slices and fig jam procured from the Silver Spring Farmers Market on Saturday), and spent hours lazing by the creek and reading (my book: the excellent What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami).
I can’t help but think that this perspective will help me once I start running again — which could happen as soon as tomorrow, depending on how my doctor appointment goes. Wish me luck!