Movement is a form of healing. Movement is a metaphor for life, teaching us valuable lessons about ourselves, giving us a means to embrace, endure, and overcome our deepest internal struggles and pain. Also, Movement illuminates a path to self-acceptance, giving us permission to rewrite our stories and to build stronger connections with our bodies, our minds, our spirits, and our communities.
I struggled with an eating disorder for over ten years. It started in high school as anorexia and morphed over time into various forms of exercise addiction, orthorexia, and bulimia. Each form of the eating disorder served a different purpose in my life, providing me with a means to cope with what emotions, sensations, and beliefs that, at the time, felt impossible to carry. Each transition from one form to another merely represented reconfigurations of ways to survive the deeper pain I was trying to numb and to run away from. My anorexia gave me a feeling of self-control and self-discipline. It gave me a very real way of making myself smaller, taking up less space in the world. It physically embodied the internal feelings stemming from that voice telling me I was never enough or never doing enough.
The exercise addiction and orthorexia continued the theme of control, more deeply engraining that self-criticism, self-doubt, and shame. It was giving me a “socially-acceptable” way to change my body in hopes of getting rid of that voice. Healthy eating and an active lifestyle are “good” things, after all, right? The bulimia was the most wretched part of the journey, the journey that eventually led to self-discovery, giving me a way to literally and figuratively purge the toxicity in my life.
Ironically, the bulimia then functioned as a gateway towards healing, letting go of the superfluous details to allow light into the dark cracks.
As someone who knows how much control food, exercise, purging, and really any behavior taken too far, can have over our lives, it can be challenging to navigate the messages put forth by certain areas of the health and fitness industry. I am a firm believer in the duty we each have to ourselves and to others to take personal responsibility for our own emotions, actions, triggers, and reactions. I have also experienced and observed first-hand, however, some of the severely damaging effects that the diet culture, the “no pain no gain” mentality, the extreme focus on external appearance, and the idealization of unhealthy bodies can have on the developing mind.
This is why, I argue quite firmly that it is becoming increasingly important to learn the art of mindful self-compassion, so that, we each are able to navigate the world with both freedom and respect — to both express ourselves and not infringe on others rights to do so.
The turning point in my recovery came, not from changing my behavior, but, instead, from changing my mindset and the intent underlying the behaviors. Learning how to reframe and redefine what movement meant to me was a core component of my recovery process because it required me to dig deep in order to understand both why I was using “exercise” to run and hide and what needs “exercise” was fulfilling. I put the word “exercise” in quotes because the first step was reframing “exercise” as movement. We were meant to move our bodies, and, to move our bodies in ways that allows us to fulfill our needs and inhabit our experiences, rather than detach from them.
The world as we have created is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. —ALbert Einstein—
The answers to most of the questions in our lives usually lie underneath the surface. And it requiring us to pause, to step back, to observe, and to simplify. I can tell you from personal experience that it is incredibly easy to make it “look” like you are ok, to make it “seem” like you are making healthy changes, to create a facade of happiness and perfection, all-the-while going home at night to a date with yourself, some ice cream, the toilet, and a lovely friend called shame.
So, how do we begin to re-write the narrative of our lives? To re-write our stories?
I believe this starts with movement. Movement can be used as a means to reconnect to our bodies, to accept ourselves for who we are in our hearts, and to fully inhabit all aspects of our inner and outer worlds. To move is to heal. To move is to begin the process of change. Also, to move is to give our bodies a physical means of processing our psychological pain. To move is to live out the metaphor of our lives in reality. To move is to give ourselves a foundation on which to practice mindfulness and self-compassion. And to move is to build our sense of personal responsibility.
Just as each form of an eating disorder can provide a coping mechanism for different challenges in life, each form of movement can serve as a tool to work through and overcome these challenges – a tool that allows us to heal and to grow, rather than a tool that destroys us. Strength training may teach us how to carry the weight of our life on our shoulders, no matter how heavy. Riding a mountain bike may teach us how to trust. Hiking and running may teach us how to endure pain. Walking may teach us how to be grateful and aware of the surrounding environment. With each moment, with each step, with each rep… we gain both physical and psychological strength. We gain the ability to challenge ourselves to greater degrees. And we gain the self-determination to know that we can handle whatever life throws at us.
No matter how fast or how heavy… we gain resilience.
The beauty of movement, like the beauty of human existence, is that it is unique to us all. It is like a fingerprint, and comes in near-infinite forms. Some may like powerlifting, some may like dance, some may like gardening – we are all different and that is OK. Let go of the concept of “should” and “must” and begin asking yourself…
What does movement mean to me? What do I need in this moment?
And the rest becomes history…