• I grew up in the “no pain, no gain,” “feel the burn” generation.  This truism was presented as the way to health and fitness. The body was something to be whipped into shape, to be conquered. Additionally, as a girl raised in the Bible-Belt South, taken to church every time the doors were open, I repeatedly got the message (sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle) that my body was something to be subdued, controlled, ashamed of, and, of course, covered up.

    I never played sports in school, mostly because I was ashamed of my body and didn’t want it to be on display. I have no illusions that I would have been a great athlete, but still, a part of me wanted to participate and I now wish that I had given myself the opportunity. Even though I was not an active teen, I began a regular exercise program in my twenties and have continued for decades now. But, alas, old lessons run deep. Whether I was walking, running, doing aerobics or yoga, I pushed myself, always believing that more was better. I would ignore the messages my body sent me, having been trained to push past them. I had been taught that my body could not be trusted.

    I spent years trying to make myself eat things I didn’t like, while forcing myself to forgo foods that gave me pleasure (which, of course, would often backfire on me). I wouldn’t allow myself to rest when tired, because what kind of a wimp gives herself the day off? Self-control must be maintained at all costs. When I began doing yoga in earnest, I started trying to force my body into positions its bone structure wouldn’t allow so I could “do it right,” to stretch my muscles past the point of comfort to “increase my flexibility,” to do strength work way too often so that I could hold up my body weight in contorted positions.

    And then, a little over a year ago, it happened. An injury I couldn’t ignore, deny, or push through. I went to doctors who simply said, “Take Advil and stop exercising,” not a diagnosis I was willing to live with. I asked for and received a prescription for physical therapy, and under her care, I slowly began to heal. I regained some mobility. My pain level lessened. I changed my diet for all the right healthy reasons, not to deprive myself or control my body, as I always had in the past. These were all good things and impacted my life in positive ways. However, my wonderful PT’s advice to modify my activities sounded like failure in my ears. I felt like damaged goods, as if accepting modifications was like getting the consolation prize, like aging before my time.

    I believe, however, that life happens for us, not to us, and I had to reconcile my injury with this belief. Slowly, slowly, it came to me that my injury was a gift. For years my body had been whispering to me, then speaking to me. Finally it had to shout to get my attention. “YOU’RE OUT OF BALANCE!” it screamed. This truth was something I already knew but had refused to address. This injury that I couldn’t ignore, ironically a muscular imbalance causing a misalignment in the pelvic structure, was a literal manifestation in my body of what was going on in every aspect of my life.

    Because I believe in the body’s innate ability to heal, not fatalistic hopeless diagnoses, I began to research my condition and how to reverse and restore it.  What I found, after wading through a lot of misinformation, returned me to myself. I learned that my body has a wisdom of its own, that modifications, rather than being a weakness or a surrender, are actually powerful ways to honor the integrity of your own body—its messages, its abilities and weaknesses, its inherent structure and needs. I also learned (or admitted) that exercise is not the only aspect of my life that needed more balance. I began to acknowledge how often I pushed myself, multi-tasking my way through the day. I had even made my spiritual practices stressful, treating them as just more items on my already-too-full to-do list.

    I needed this wake up call, this forced slowing down, to really see how unkind I had been to myself, especially to my body. In a recent yoga training, the instructor explained that as we design our exercise/activity regimen, we need to stop looking at sensational Instagram yoga stars in their impossible poses and start asking ourselves, “What do we want to be able to do as we age? What activities to we want to keep participating in? What kind of health do we want to maintain?” and then choose actions that support that vision instead of those ultimately damaging to our bodies. This makes perfect sense to me. I’m grateful for this attitude adjustment, this new way of seeing and being, and day by day I’m making choices that are more kind to myself, less controlling, less driven.