I may be a nutrition school grad, a health food enthuse, and someone who has seen the powers of healthy eating first hand (I healed my Hashimoto’s disease with food an have witnessed clients do the same), but exercise has NEVER ever been something I actually enjoyed. Sure, I felt better after a long walk — more energy, better sleep, better mood, more confidence. But I did it because I felt I had to, not because it was ever actually enjoyable. Plus, I have pretty sizable foot and back problems (thanks to scoliosis and genetically flat feet) so movement can actually be painful for me. And in all honesty, for most of my life I could get away with being thin but out of shape. Do you know how many clients I hear this exact same thing from? Alot! Like many of my clients, I was never strong, I never had muscle tone, I suffered from muscle tightness and spasms and back problems, and could barely support the weight of my body without needing to sit down and use a chair for back support. But hey, I was thin back then so what did it matter?
Well a few years ago I gave birth to a nearly 9 and 1/2 pound baby. My body shape changed and like all new moms, my postpartum hormones dictated where and how my body wanted to store fat. I was left with a “new” body that felt foreign and for the first time in my life, like something I was going to have to work at to change. Even though I had gained a substantial amount of weight around 2007-2008 due to my Hashimoto’s disease, once I changed my diet to a therapeutic nutritionally-sound way of eating, I lost the weight pretty effortlessly. Having a kid and a new HIGH stress level on the other hand — weight loss was suddenly very difficult.
Just like I encourage my clients to work through their mind-body issues, I am also always on a journey to self-improve and work through past trauma. It may seem like a stretch but my distaste for exercise in part stems from the way I was raised. I was grew up in a strict Southern Baptist home in southwest Florida. One of the tenets of this faith is suppressing movement because the way a female moves can be interpreted as sexual and make a man “stumble” in his faith. Because of that I have always been hyper-aware of my clothing choices, the way I move and speak. There is a huge burden placed on women to keep everyone “pure”. One of the running jokes of the church is that even fathers and daughters can’t dance together within the church at a wedding reception (because it’s ridiculous but true — if a daughter wants to dance with her father at the reception, they need to host the reception elsewhere). The culture of the church, for me, was about suppressing everything within me for a greater good. I realize not everyone has had this experience and in fact many people have had positive experiences. In those cases, I’m so happy to hear that and support you in your religious beliefs. Unfortunately for me, the trauma from this religious organization has extended far beyond just basic religious ideals like heaven and hell, the existence of a God, and how to act morally. It created a deep deep wound of shame in me. And because I was made to be ashamed, I learned to hide.
Shame and hiding are the entire reason I wanted to open up and share this post. Because I am not the only woman who has ever been shamed for years and years on end, who then creates her own shame, and then does everything she can to hide who she really is to avoid all future shame. Shame can arise from any circumstance — not only Western religious indoctrination. One of my former clients is an Indian woman who had internalized years and years of her mother and father, aunts and uncles, and grandparents shame about being Indian — their food, the fragrant spices, their clothing, their jobs, their immigrant status. Why? She realized it could be because her entire family was still living as if they were part of the caste system and needed to hide who they really are and elevate only the parts of themselves that would impress other people. This client told me a sad story about her mother being so ashamed of her father’s job as a janitor that one time when friends dropped by unannounced, her mother made her father hide in a closet because he still had his janitor clothes on. Shame leads to hiding. Always.
Recognizing all of this is how I found a form of exercise that I actually enjoy. For me, I hated movement because it triggered deep, childhood trauma — SHAME. I wanted to be still, be sedentary, be calm and motionless because of the years of humiliation I faced when I moved a wrong way — when I could, inadvertently, become a temptress and be corrected and punished in front of everyone. And guess which forms of exercise I have always hated? Slow, calm, and sedentary ones. Yoga? I had to force myself to like it. I did get benefits from yoga, but I never loved it. I walked often but always found it boring (unless I had a girlfriend to chat with along the way!). I swam but with my head in the deep lull of the water, I always felt still. I realized the type of exercise that I needed was exactly what I had been avoiding all those years — movement! BIG movements. HUGE crazy frenetic movements. Movements I had never actually done before — kicks over my head, punches, fast and intense and sometimes what may even be perceived as violent. (Gasp!). Very unladylike.
This is how I arrived at kickboxing. I had never even considered other forms of exercise aside from yoga, walking, and swimming because I wasn’t familiar with any others! I fell into kickboxing thanks to my daughter’s martial arts school. They just so happened to offer adult classes too and kickboxing is one. The first class I walked into tentatively, feeling totally out of place, like I was going to be found out for being an impostor. I thought I may have an emotional breakdown in class because I had so much pent up frustration and shame from not ever being able to fully use my body and put my strength and effort into anything physically. I realized how many women go their entire lives the same way — holding back, not only mentally/emotionally but physically. How often do women even get chances to punch and kick things? Rarely. Foolish men may get in fist fights and punch walls when they’re angry but women internalize anger. I mourned how many years I went without ever putting my full physical effort into my life.
Every class I attended, I still felt a bit nervous. I have a learning disability that prevents me from seeing something then knowing how to replicate it. So I had always avoided group exercise classes because I was self-conscious about not being able to keep up with the rest of the class. But the instructor is very helpful and understanding and as I learned the sequences, I gained confidence. It took me a whole month to learn the basic 4 punching sequences, but I finally did. Now it’s seared in my brain. Now I can put my full force into the workout instead of cautiously analyzing every move I make for accuracy. And the cool part? When I am not giving my best, the instructor notices and positively encourages me to do more. It has been so therapeutic to see men encouraging women to use more force because they know we can and they know we intentionally hold back!
If you’re like me and have decided you hate exercise, I encourage you to find a form you will actually enjoy! I love kickboxing because it is an efficient full body work out, but also because it taps into a powerful part of me that I have never been able to express (and in fact was scared to). And despite having back and neck and foot problems, it is a rather gentle workout for the level of intensity. If kickboxing isn’t for you, look into other martial arts or self defense classes. Look into exercise that will make you feel powerful and strong, not weak and subdued. Then report back and let us know which form of exercise you chose and how you’re enjoying it. Work with your mind-body wounds instead of catering to them. :)
Want to do more self-exploration and discover how your past is affecting you physically? Read more about my 3-Month Thyroid Mind-Body Program here.