As a mental health counselor, I believe that moving our bodies is a key element in restoring and maintaining both our physical and mental health. Please note that I did not say that I believe “exercise” is a key element. I often find myself steering clear of that word because for me, it conjures up a plethora of bad memories of things I’ve done to harm my body in the name of “fitness.” Often the word “exercise” is equated with weight loss, and to me, that equation misses out on the joy of body movement and to listening to what movement our bodies - and our souls - are longing for.
I remember several years ago I had just moved to Seattle and joined a new gym. I noticed they had a Kickboxing class and everything about that sounded good to me. I had just started doing my own personal therapy work and the thought of getting to kick and punch something (non-living) and sweat and feel my heart race sounded perfect for what I needed at the time. So, I bought some amazing pastel-purple-colored boxing gloves and was set to go. For many weeks I loved the class. Having been raised as a very “nice girl,” I had years of unexpressed anger stored up in me, and it felt unbelievably good to pound my fists and feet into the punching bag. Every blow seemed to release something fierce in me.
Unfortunately, as the weeks went by, the over-zealous, weight-loss-oriented instructor became the one I really wanted to punch. He started pointing out how great I was looking. At first, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he meant my punches were looking great (which I honestly didn’t care about so long as I wasn’t injuring myself). But one day I overheard him telling a new lady in the class that she should look at me, that I was a “good” example of how she could lose weight in the class. He continued to tell me how “good” I was looking, until I finally took my good-looking body out of the class. “Good” was the very thing I was trying to work out of my system. I was tired of being a “good girl,” and I had no interest in looking “good” by someone else’s standards.
Many years later, I joined a new gym, and I now have the courage and words to let any of the “fitness professionals” know that I am not there to lose weight. I am there because I love the way my body roars when I push it, and I love the way my shoulders move to the music without me even thinking about it. I love how sweaty my hair gets and the warmth that fills my cheeks as I move. I love the way my heart laughs with gratitude even if my muscles sometimes groan the next morning. It all reminds me that I am alive and my body is gloriously well.
Quiet your soul for a moment and listen to your hips, to your forearms and your ankles. Are they sighing? Or giggling? Or maybe creaking? What movement does your body need? Do your fists need to feel the thud against a sturdy bag? Do your feet long to pound the dirt trail? Do your hips ache to swivel and thrust as you Latin dance? Are your shoulders longing to shimmy? Maybe your hamstrings are asking for a bike ride? Your body needs you. Not for weight loss or sculpting or toning. It needs you because it’s alive and it wants your soul to feel the fullness of its glory.
As a consultant, educator, and poet, Tracy delights in inviting others to live soulfully in their bodies. She has been described as “a wild woman of awe” and believes that experiencing the awe of life is what brings us most alive. Tracy has a particular passion for working with men and women who struggle with body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. She focuses on helping clients unearth the deep impact of shame in their stories as they work toward developing a more whole and alive self. Tracy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.