Rolling from left to right on the reformer, crossing one bent leg over the other straightened leg, as my upper body was stretched in the opposite direction, my mind wandered, and I tried to recall exactly when my physical decline began.
At what point in time did I either consciously or unconsciously decrease my activity level? Was it a slow, insidious creep over several months, or was it a sudden stop on one particular day? When did ingesting comfort food replace the act of challenging my body? And who is this out of shape, winded woman struggling to move her body fluidly?
As a former dancer, skater, and group fitness instructor, it is hard to believe that I let this happen. Physical activity was a constant in my life, and even when I gained a pound or two—maybe even 22—I remained active and stayed fit. Yet here I am today, slowly and painfully working to recondition my body.
I could blame the COVID-19 lockdown and limits, but I can’t. I could blame the change in my lifestyle over the past year, but I can’t.
The fact is, there is no excuse or reason. I don’t know how it happened. It just did. I disconnected from my physical being, taking social distancing to a whole new level. I distanced from everyone and everything—even from my own body.
I was caught up in that vicious mental cycle of returning to my nutrition and exercise regime “tomorrow,” then I would scoff down everything in sight, like a squirrel fattening up for winter. I’d start, then fail, again and again. One extra bite of something or not working out meant that I would have to reset my start date to the following day. I became an expert in starting afresh until I grew so frustrated that I gave up.
I see you nodding your head right now if you are, or ever have been, a chronic dieter. You relate to how I was beating myself up, eventually knocking myself down so many times that I wasn’t able to get myself back up. It was a mindset that I’d coached many a person out of over the years, yet I found that I’d fallen victim to that same, unhealthy thought process. I felt horrible—mentally, emotionally, and physically.
When “tomorrow” finally came, I masked up and returned to Pilates, fully prepared to feel even worse when I attempted my first bridge or plank. The effort it took to move with what used to be grace. The aches I felt when I flexed and pointed, bent and straightened. My muscles burned as I held my legs in tabletop, my spine in neutral, and contracted my abdominals. My arms shook when I finished the sets, triceps screaming for help.
Where was my strength? Where was my balance? Where was my poise? They must have taken a trip together to a place that can only be known as hell.
I know that with each passing day, the more I move, the better I will feel—and I am starting to.
We talk so often about staying connected in today’s world, and as I reconnect with my own body, my physical being, I cannot help but be reminded of the following:
The ability to move our bodies is a gift. We think of exercise as a chore when we should view it as a reward. How fortunate are those of us who can open our eyes each morning and place our feet on the floor, standing to stretch and breathe in a new day? What a blessing it is to move, coordinating our arms and legs to take us where we need to go. We should cherish this ability and honor this gift by staying active. There may come a time when we are forced down and we will wish we had taken better care of ourselves.
Our bodies are complex machines. We need to fuel them with nutritious foods and keep ourselves moving to ensure optimal levels of function. If our goal is a perfect booty or six-pack abs, that’s all well and good, but our primary goal should be quality of life—functional fitness that allows us to move with ease each day, strengthening our immune systems, and helping us in aging gracefully.
Our bodies should get the respect they deserve. Strength and endurance take time and effort. When we work so diligently to make gains with our physical health, we should not risk losing it. It’s much easier to maintain than it is to regain. It’s so easy for us to say that we’re too tired or there isn’t enough time in a day. Fact is, 20 minutes of exercise can be more refreshing than a 20-minute nap and we make the time for the things that are important to us.
Our thoughts can make us or break us. If we say we can’t, we can’t. If we think we can, we can. When we reframe our thoughts, we can change our minds and reshape not only our bodies but our lives. Rather than thinking how much time it will take to get back into shape, think about how quickly time passes. Each day you succeed is a day closer to your end goal, which shouldn’t be the number on the scale or the size of your jeans, but the overall quality of your life.