I have spent seventy years being consciously aware, and determinedly active, in building a strong and physically fit body. This penchant was introduced in Kindergarten when I won the ‘sack’ race and then went on to win the ‘egg and spoon’ race! Receiving my ‘medals’ I revelled in the attention and the praises given to me as to how fast I could run.
My schooling years reinforced my yearning to be the ‘best’, being just ‘good enough’ was not going to satisfy my need for recognition. I aimed to be the ‘best’. In High School I became the Sports Captain and this brought with it a high standing of admiration and ‘friends’ who wanted to be on my team! Competitive sports and the training that went with it were the adrenaline to my life.
I was living my dream – I had a physically fit and strong body which brought with it recognition and identification, albeit at the expense of my studies and, more seriously, it brought a total disregard of my inner-self. My whole life depended on outside influences – there was no living from the inside out, it was a total focus of influences coming from the outside in. However, in spite of that I had a ‘knowing’ that there was no balance in my life, there was no inner joy and there was certainly no harmony or feeling of peace in my body. I only related to my physical body and lost the true me in the process.
I continued playing sport and attending gyms throughout the decades until I was forced through illness to see how much emphasis and value I placed on having a ‘strong and fit’ body. Even up until I turned seventy, I was still gaining much gratification in the many compliments I received about how healthy and strong my physical body was – although it was getting harder and harder to maintain this supposedly physically fit body. I very much lived by the mantra ‘use it or lose it’ in regard to my continuous and unrelenting exercise programs.
Coupled with the yearning to be fit and healthy was also the desire to ‘look good’! Was my pride in physical appearance really serving me as a harmonious and well-balanced human being? At no time in my life did I truly put an emphasis on self-care and nurturing my body, instead it was always a continuous goal to get it operating at a high level of fitness. Alas, I was soon to discover how harsh, misguided and un-natural this way of treating my body was and through two very serious illnesses in my seventies this truth was finally brought home to me.
Even though I was suffering severe lower back pain I would override it as my ideals and beliefs about exercising the body were still a very strong motivator to continue at full speed. My spine surgeon managed to convince me I needed immediate surgery to avoid becoming a paraplegic. After a 9-hour operation and nine titanium screws in my lower back I commenced my physiotherapy exercise program and became hooked again on regaining my physical muscle strength. I returned to my old patterns . . . ‘use it or lose it’ and marvelled at how well I recovered physically from such a severe operation. I hadn’t yet learnt my lesson.
Three years later I was diagnosed with a melanoma in the same area as my back operation and after two more operations and a period of six weeks rehabilitation I came to the realization of the damage I was causing my body through the intense and relentless exercise programs I was forcing on my body. You could call it belting and bashing. It was time to take stock of my life, to make choices and changes to my attitude as well as the ideals and beliefs about my desire to have a physically fit body.
All of those ideals and beliefs that kept me in deeply ingrained and unloving exercise patterns needed to be discarded and, in their place, a new philosophy of looking after my body through self-care, nurturing my body in a more loving way and listening to what it really needed, would serve me well as I got older.
I knew that taking stock of my life and making different choices was a healthy thing to do but, even more importantly, I knew I had to become more loving with myself. By understanding my choices, why I made them, and how they affected my own body and health, I was able to dispel the energy I was in that was the root cause which was driving this extreme behaviour.
I began to look at my behaviour and exercise patterns with more awareness of caring for and nurturing my body. When I brought this level of self-love into my life, I was able to appreciate the value of gentle exercise. I could now exercise my body without the damaging drive of wanting to be physically fit but with a genuine caring as to the quality and flow of the energy moving through my body. It was a new approach to exercising that was honouring of my body, not bashing it into fitness!
I was gradually able to make the distinction between who I was as a person and what I looked like on the outside. I could see my exercising behaviour as something that was not natural for me but something I had adopted and brought into my life, so I could equally take it out of my life and I could return to the gentle and sensitive person I was as a young child before the accolades of sporting achievement took over.
And so, I travelled the long path of understanding what is truly meant by self-care. It is a way of learning to look after my whole body, connecting to, listening to and feeling the results of the way I was now learning to treat and care for myself. This is a vital and important aspect of any person’s health and wellbeing! Without taking the time to connect with our body, listen to and supply its needs, our health and wellbeing will eventually deteriorate, often quite slowly or in my case resulting in two very serious operations.
Taking responsibility for the choices that I had made was the beginning of bringing self-care into my life, and then taking the steps to change some of the bigger, and more obvious ill choices of my incessant exercise behaviour patterns, was the next step. This was difficult in the beginning; however, I gradually felt the beauty of my body, the beauty of loving the quality of the flow of energy that came with my new gentle and loving exercise program; thus it became my everyday choice.
Changing my attitude and my ideals and beliefs about exercise and fitness has been about reconnecting to what feels true for me in my body and living in a manner that is not only honouring of this but supports the ongoing deepening of this relationship. It has also been about looking beyond the ideals and beliefs I had grown up with regarding exercise and having a physically strong and fit body and allowing myself to feel and express the tenderness, sensitivity and vulnerability that I naturally am.
Self-care for me now is about ensuring the quality that I exercise in is supportive for my body and that I do each and every exercise in a loving manner that nurtures me from the inside out.
Ruth A., Australia
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