Connie’s posting today again – I hope you guys enjoy!
I haven’t always had a healthy relationship with exercise. Not at all. Maybe some of you can relate?
In fact, I used to be a compulsive over-exerciser in my eating disorder days and then I became a fitness instructor in college. Both of those points in my life were points were I used exercise in an unhealthy manner. Eating disorder Connie used the hill next to her house to sprint off food she felt guilty for eating and fitness instructor Connie used exercise as a way to perpetuate the people pleaser in her. It was only once I realized exercise was something that only had to please me, not diet culture or a room full of people, that my relationship with it began to heal.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved teaching fitness for a while and still love bringing out the old Zumba songs for my campers every summer. Having been a dancer my whole life, wearing a full blown smile is my favorite accessory and I love people, a lot. Zumba was calling my name. I was actually good at it too. I enjoyed it so much the first year I got a AFAA group fitness certification to also teach strength classes. For the most part people enjoyed my classes (thankfully) and they were something I looked forward to doing too. It wasn’t until about 3 years in that I realized it became more for other people and not myself. That’s where things got messy.
I would feel personally responsible if someone didn’t have a smile on their face or even worse, if they walked out of my class. The student in me knew it wasn’t my fault when that happened but the people pleaser was crushed. It may sound silly but I totally had a few times where I cried after class because I felt like not enough people filled the room or I felt like I had messed up. Talk about PEOPLE PLEASER PROBLEMS. I was carrying this weight and burden that wasn’t mine to carry.
So near the end of my senior year I knew I had the option to continue teaching at the YMCA in LA like I had been during the summers at home or I could just call it quits. Thinking of trying to make up new Zumba dances while studying for nutritional biochem my first summer in grad school sounded revolting. I called to cancel the monthly payments I made to stay a member and said a polite no to teaching at the Y. I felt a mix of sadness, relief, and confusion. Hard no’s even when you know they’re the right thing are still hard.
Sad because I had closed a fun part of my life for the time being. Relief because the PRESSURE WAS OFF! Confusion because being a fitness instructor was part of my identity and I didn’t know how to be a student again…or I thought I didn’t.
I took my new found freedom to the Y, looked at the schedule, and decided on trying different class in the spare time I had from school so I could find my new favorites again, even if they were outside my comfort zone. I found that I loved step aerobics, yes, that thing from the 80’s… I took a total break from Zumba for a while because I swear if I heard one more Latin pop song my head would explode. I also found a new yoga teacher that slowly taught me how to flip upside down and hold myself up on my forearms while balancing. That was fun. To be honest, I had no idea my body could even twist like that and yoga really helped me calm my anxiety and all the newness with grad school and leaving a city I loved.
Aside from the Y, I fell in love with walking. Now I take a walk almost every day and have found that fresh air helps ground me into my values and realized that moving my body has benefits that have nothing to do with calories or changing my body. I move to sleep better, to appreciate the beautiful California mountains, to thank my body for supporting me, to help my energy levels, the list goes on.
Back in the day walking wasn’t considered “working out” for me because I thought a workout equaled sweat. Once I made the perspective shift from exercise to movement I was able to give myself permission to consider walking a sufficient form of movement. I think we often look to others, especially social media fitness influences/health gurus for permission as to what’s “acceptable” exercise or body shape or food choices when the only permission we need is from ourselves. You are an expert of yourself and your body is the expert of your shape and size.
Now, if what I want to do in a day is take a stroll, so be it. Moving gives me a lot of happiness and grins now and it feels effortless. It doesn’t feel like an obligation. That is so FREEING. And I owe a lot of the happy grins to the place where I get to spend a lot of time moving. The Y is more than a gym, it’s a community – a very generous community. The Y is where I grew into a confident public speaker, where parents trusted me to watch their children every summer for 8 years and counting, where I found friendship and mentors, and where I continue to feel at home. I only started to realize how special the Y was when I made that perspective shift from exercise to movement because I could appreciate the community surrounding me when I stopped with all the rules around exercise.
I get to look over and see an 80 year-old woman dancing next to a 13 year old girl dancing next to a middle aged man who is dancing next to me in the SAME Zumba class all with the biggest smiles across their face and THAT makes me feel all sorts of happy + grateful. How cool is it that movement without judgment can bring such diverse people together to enjoy something? That’s cool.
So, who knows if I’ll decide that teaching is right for me again. For now, I’m enjoying moving for myself and enjoying watching others move alongside me in my group fit classes or enjoying the peace and quiet that a walk gives my soul.
What is your favorite way to move?! Please tell me some of you enjoy step!