Saturday, November 7, 2020

I Wish We Had Been BodyWise, not BodySmart

I felt a rush and an ache this week that wasn’t a mind-muscle ache as much as a heart-muscle ache and invitation. Basic gist: I come from a dearly beloved bodysmart family, and I have a felt-sense of grief (so, anger and sadness) that we were not more bodywise in all I/we have finally learned and am/are learning... CrossFit has a remarkable bodywise methodology and framework within which a steadiness and calm abiding can root, grow, strengthen. I'm thinking it has remarkable contributions to make to our civic ills, to be honest.

The first thing for me to honor and name is the sense of grief or loss about it for me, without blame or shame on anyone. I wish I had landed in CrossFit 15 years ago, but of course, I wasn't ready until I was ready. I wish I had known… is the phrase that comes, even though I come from a long line of beloved, wickedly smart and funny people. We are family that takes pride in what we know. I mean, serious pride. To know and to be articulate is family capital, spent in conversation and correspondence to build connection and a sense of belonging, resonance. I love this about my family, probably more than I should because for years, I’ve been really good at it. But I really wish we had lived a whole lot more into a body wisdom… We really are the best versions of ourselves AND doing a lot of work that needs doing for each of us. Yet this rush and ache have wisdom for me, I know it...even as I'm a bit pissy it took me so long to get here.

The easiest place to begin is simply about the food my body thrives on, which I did not learn until the last 18 months. Over fifty years of food struggles and weight struggles and body-image struggles (that persist, of course, because I’m me, after all)...which lessened to a ghost of themselves simply by cutting out sugar and lowering my carbs intake. The usual ‘location’ for this observation is in diet and fitness, which makes sense, but I want to talk about the emotional and spiritual impact of that body-decision, for me. I wish I had known...

The bulk of my feeling life, for most of these decades, was immersed in food-choices. I was choosing food to make me feel inside my body. Thankfully, I’ve had enough emotional support and body-smarts to curb the worst excesses of such things. I don’t have an all-out food addiction to speak of. But I would be driving home from a tough meeting at work, looking at the various restaurants or billboards, deciding what food choice would salve my tender soul about whatever just happened at work. Or I would leave the house in an angry burst, heading for whatever food-joint would calm my emotional weather with some ‘solitary time’ in anonymous space, with a beverage (wine or coffee, usually) that would soothe. The social times would vary depending upon the community. At a church potluck, food (and alcohol, sometimes) would become the buffer against all the unwanted assumptions or emotional interactions I didn’t want to have as a preacher’s wife. With friends, it would become the things to share together, splurging for the emotional festivities of it all. Food was intimately intertwined with feeling, to almost know I had a body.

The steadiness and calm abiding that I know now (to use a Buddhist meditation term, perhaps inappropriately ;)) are direct results of being invited into a bodywisdom path I had never known. A path no one in my family really knew, even though we were plenty bodysmart. My father is a physician, after all, and so created the healthy practices he knew at the time. I didn’t grow up on sugar-cereal (unless we could get Mom to buy it on the sly when Dad wasn’t around!). Dad baked homemade bread every week, so we had nutritiously-grained bread (probably protecting our guts from a lot of the GF needs in so many today). Both parents encouraged exercise, whether it was playing on the first ever girls’ soccer team (it WAS the 70’s after all) or going running. I remember going running with my mother, who would begrudgingly run her 1-2 miles because her "body needed exercise." She never has learned to love her body, but I think she wearied of feeling less-than alongside my father’s overly-active life. He’s always had more energy than she has, and I seem to have inherited his genes in this respect. But it was begrudging, an obligation, and boring. Even so, I was fortunate to grow up in a family with bodysmarts, to be sure.

Yet we were not bodywise, as so few of us my age might have been had we grown up in different decades of American market-economy advertising and nutrition-science, guided by lobby-corporate interests. Our food choices declined unconsciously from healthy-habits or what would make a body thrive. The nutrition pyramid got swiped by the sugar industry and the heart-attack scare’s focus on fat. High salt, high sugar is what I grew up on, landing in the cycles of cravings and hungry-shakes when the crash would come. Exercise was largely a repetitive-motion, achievement-focused thing on distance and/or duration. We were introverted bodysmart people, so learned exercise habits that were mostly solitary.

Still today, my father tracks his fitness by the number of miles on his bike, the total number of miles on his bike for a season. Can he top 2000 for this year? First, he was an avid runner, until he torqued his knee tendon. I’d ride my bike alongside while he ran, which was a great way for a daughter to be with her father, btw. Loved it. Then it became bike-riding, long-distances in Miami County. Some of my most treasured memories are from these rides--stealing pears from a farmer’s tree (not unlike St. Augustine, I might add), having to stop pedaling because I was laughing so hard over “an Alaskan robin’s” tweet/call (imitated by my father...long-story not worth trying to share). Each exercise option was a mountain to climb, a thing to be tracked and stretched, focusing on the end-goal much more than the movement or process. Injuries were more frequent, as a result, and increasing boredom that focuses on the shoulds of being in one’s body.

All this contrasts with what I’ve been learning over a period of years now, CrossFit methodology and bodywisdom. Dedication Health offers what I have called the “nutrition re-education” invitation, for those who are curious about learning food’s impact on their own body sensations, experience, steadiness. It’s still easy to think of it as a diet-program, but it’s not (in my experience). It’s an invitation to sensitize your own body to its messages and ultimately, its slower-paced and subtle needs amidst an industry honed to distract and confuse you/us. Bodywisdom here means walking a counter-cultural path, companioned by a community of practitioners, learning to stay in their own body experience, less and less distracted by the social and marketing needs of others, businesses, corporations. Counter-cultural means it’s easy to ‘fall off the wagon,’ but it’s also distinct enough that you get wise to your own negotiations and slippery slopes. You develop a bodywisdom that is yours alone, supported by fellow travelers.

Enjoy the movement is the mantra I say either to myself or quietly to those around me as the clock gives the 10 second countdown to a WOD (workout of the day). Just get better, as you decide ‘better,’ is another mantra in the community. Any WOD can be scaled, so to maximize challenge level and intensity of effort within a reasonable (decided usually by the coach) amount of time. Each WOD has a best “window of time” expected, by wise coaches, so that we all finish within shouting distance of one another, in terms of time. Reasonable is the key. I’ve come to trust the coaches in my ‘box’, even though their sense of reasonable sometimes makes my eyebrows rise a bit. More often than not, I’m the one who underestimates what will challenge me. And not all CrossFit coaches are wise. I read about CF beginners who are still trying an Rx version of a WOD, finishing twenty minutes after seasoned athletes in their own gym, struggling to get better but succumbing to injuries and shame...all because their coaches are not wise, or are unwilling to scale the WOD appropriately. When scaled well, every WOD becomes an event on a playground, a fun experiment with how your own body moves and loves movement, getting fitter and fitter.

CrossFit’s bodywisdom also centers on intervals and diversified planes of motion over several days of workouts. Not only is the body movement continually varying, it is set in short-spurts of focus with short rest-periods in between. Warm-up is probably the biggest gift to myself that I never could receive when I was a solitary runner. I learn that my body can and does love to do a wide variety of things when she’s warmed up!! Seems obvious to me now, but it’s not obvious to a cognitive-oriented woman like me. I could never ‘take the time’ to truly, properly, warm up by myself. “Good enough,” I’d say, trusting I’d get warmed up in the first mile.

The wide variety of ‘planes of motion’ also protect my body over sequential days, moving in ways I love to move. It’s a remarkable gift in my own box that one of the coaches is a doctor in physical therapy. I joke with friends, as I used to say about a personal trainer I worked with for nearly a decade, “She helps me not injure myself!” Which is true. Thinking about body movements is vastly different (for me) than moving my body in healthy ways as those movements are intended, with joints and muscles in proper alignment for the movement.

I live in my head most of the time--though less so than I used to--and would attempt movements at the fitness center that I thought I was doing ‘as specified.’ I’d then come home with a strain in my wrist/arm/shoulder muscles or a knee-tendon or some such...learning
after the fact that I had not been in alignment in the movements my body could do well, healthily. I would get disheartened and sometimes even afraid. I easily injured myself again and again, whether it was planes of motion or choosing the same exercise over and over again, landing with a repetitive motion injury--plantar’s fasciitis or pulled hamstrings or inflamed IT bands or whatever… I've been CrossFitting for over two years now and have had maybe two slightly strained muscles or discomfort. I've learned more about my own core-muscles and how to protect my lower back. I've learned all about the QL muscle(s), though I could not teach anyone else 'about it.' I can tend to my body's need for care and healing of such slight things...all without having to formally pursue 'physical therapy.' Deepening bodywisdom means less dependence on others for bodycare, body-listening.

So I’m much more sensitized to my body’s messages now, knowing how to listen and how to tend sooner to a discomfort, rather than later. The biggest thing for me here is that I’m not afraid when I feel some discomfort or a slight twinge in arm or leg, hip-joint or shoulder. I used to land in a body-sweats-fear that I should stop all movement, period. Now? I listen. I pull back to let that muscle or area of my body rest. I trust that there will always be something else I can do to stay lively in my body, unafraid and well-companioned by those who are bodywise

This week spurred all these reflections because we had a “fun-Friday” workout that was largely “active recovery” and sociable while being bodywise and “just right” for physical activity in a full week of CrossFit WODs. The invitation to scale and listen was guided by the coaches, with humor and option to disregard… The movements eased muscles and strengthened form, i.e. doing overhead squats with PVC pipes after a lot of air squats. The movement remained, but the form became conscious and intentional again. Given there were a huge number of squats my particular hour class did, we were advised to do three minutes on the assault bike, “to get the oxygen back into your quads” and lessen soreness. Someone bodywise knew to invite us to become more bodywise.

The bikes were socially distanced, but we got chatty while taking good care of our legs, easing the soreness. One fellow has lost well over 50 (100?) pounds in his months of CrossFit bodywisdom, and we got to talking about how utterly cool it’s been to see his journey unfold here. I realized my own reaction was one of delight for him, and then a wave of anger, a wave of sadness...

...that so many of us fall down the hole of unconscious/misdirected nutrition and defeatist-macho-driven-athletics, that we never know there can be another way out of the hole. I wasn't conscious of the rush or the ache that I came to know, and now to write. But my body was angry and sad inside!!

So I got a bit pissy and over-active on the bike. A friend laughed at me, as I pretty immediately slowed way down, realizing I’d been attacking the bike...never a good idea. “You began like a maniac!” Kate said to me, laughing. 

Yes... I did. Most of us in American cultures today are maniacs because we don’t know and even resist knowing there is a better way to just get better. Or if we see it, and imagine it, we cannot invest enough in ourselves and our body to live into it for a long haul, to really feel that there is a better way to be human in this body we have. I’m realizing I love my body, just as she is, and I want to live in her for as long as she’ll keep me. That means continuing to grow in bodywisdom more than what I read-to-know or hear-from-the-experts-to-know. Listening to my own bodywisdom, surrounding myself with bodywise people. Bodywisdom is much more intimate and fun than being bodysmart...which, ultimately, is not that smart.

Let the years of adult recess and lovin the movement grow...

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