I LOVE Katy Bowman.
Like, a lot.
Like, I wish I could buy a house next-door to her so we could be besties.
Instead, we live on opposite ends of the continent and have never met in person.
Almost! I was a part of her very first become-a-practitioner online class, and I even had the plane ticket to go to the residency week to do all that moving in person! But I’d just had some very traumatic experiences with abusive men in an exercise environment, and a particularly pushy guy (who was *not* abusive, just…exuberant) from the online group was going to be there and – you see how I psyched myself right out of that, yes?
That’s the story of my relationship with movement.
I also hate liver. I tell all my students that liver is such an important nutritional powerhouse that it’s not ok to not eat it just because you don’t like it – but you don’t have to taste it! I’ve got a zillion recipes (some are here!) about how to make liver undetectable in things like chili and curry, and it works every time.
This is my attitude towards my dysfunctional relationship with movement. I’ve just got to find a way to make movement…undetectable!
Katy writes a lot about this, usually from the perspective of time management. She talks about “stacking your life“, and she’s not wrong, but every time I read it I think, yeahbut…
Yeahbut, your family lives close and helps with your children while you work.
Yeahbut, you’re not a single mom building a business and homeschooling your daughter.
Yeahbut, everything is just so much eeeeeasier for you than it is for me. Waaah.
I doubt it.
But there is one benefit Katy has that I don’t: she seems to enjoy moving her body. She seems to enjoy HAVING a body at all! And that’s what it really comes down to – I hate my body, for lots of totally reasonable reasons. I come from a long line of body-haters, and these body image ideas were passed on really young. I’ve been through a whole slew of assault and body-trauma events. I grew up in a place where a girl only had value as a cheerleader. Blah blah blah.
And then I read all the seemingly effortless joy Katy gets from moving, and I use it to abuse myself even more. Why am I so bad? Why can’t I be like that?
So, there you go. That’s the truth. I hate my body.
But it’s not ok to not move my body just because I hate it (or to just wait to move until I someday learn to love my body), so what is there to do?
I’m pretty sure that if you’re still reading, you’re in this same boat, so here’s my list. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t work all the time, and I still weigh more than I wish I did and I still move less than my body would like. But I move, and maybe some of this stuff will work for you:
Low Hanging Fruit
For me, getting rid of the couch was the easy thing to do. Our apartment is small anyway, and my daughter was maybe 6 at the time – having more space was desirable. We’d bought that couch for $250 on Craigslist a couple years previous. We sold it for $250 (woo!) in an earnest attempt to be consistent with movement – instead of my usual extreme pendulum swings between super-sedentism and super-sportism, which invariably ended in injury – which was during that first round of online be-a-Katy-practitioner training. I don’t know why I never said, waah, this is uncomfortable, let’s get another couch, but I didn’t. And, suddenly I had more room to spread fabric out on the floor when I wanted to sew! There was more room for lots of things, and probably that’s what kept it going.
I’m not saying that your first step should be getting rid of your couch, but if there is any impulse you have that seems not-difficult which would encourage any kind of daily movement, DO IT. Whatever seems like a no-brainer: a yoga ball at your work desk, leaving your yoga mat unfurled on the floor all the time so it’s a constant reminder to stretch… You can even just start throwing things on the floor that you know you’ll need later just so you have to bend over to pick them up. Whatever. Just do it.
Over time, more low hanging fruit presents itself. We got a SquattyPotty. We got rid of the dinner table and its chairs, and replaced it with a tall “bar table” we can stand at. We got a chin-up bar. We put a baby gate in the doorway to the pantry that we have to step over. We even got rid of our bed! Which probably sounds extreme, but by the time it happened, it seemed logical. Yes, for a week I kind of regretted it, but now I think it’s the most comfortable thing EVER. And, I have drastically less back pain, and the lymph in my legs moves around better. Go Go Gadget Low Hanging Fruit! Take advantage of it wherever you find it! Anything you can turn into something you can do without thinking about is a thing you can’t sabotage for yourself!
Work For It
I come from a typical New England puritanical, calvinistic family that values work above everything else, and actively rejects play. I was lucky to be raised fairly gender-role-blindly: it was the 70s and early 80s, and yes, I learned all the women’s work, but I was the first born and my dad took me with him to the junkyard and I helped change oil and install house things and use power tools. In my family, we sat still to do daytime work: studying, reading, officing; or needle work or ironing or folding laundry if it was that kind of day. In the evenings and on the weekends, we did physical work – car chores, yard chores, DIY chores. No one exercised, but my dad could lift an entire engine out of one car and put it into another. At 67, after a run with colon cancer and chemotherapy 10 years ago, my dad is still the strongest man I know.
This pattern of WORK is rooted deeply and seemingly intractably in my being, but I’ve learned I can use that to my benefit! I hate to exercise, I hate to sport, and I whine and complain at the first burny feelings in my muscles in most cases, but baby, I can work. I can work through pain and blisters and hungry and grumpy. I can stack wood from dawn till dusk with splinters and back ache. Because that’s work, you see, and so I am “good”.
I’ve learned that instead of exercise (which seems like play, or at least a waste of time), I need to “work” to be successful at physical movement. When I lived on a farm in Vermont, this was a piece of cake, but in the city it’s much more difficult. Still: vacuuming, carrying things up and down the basement stairs, gardening, walking to work instead of driving, carrying stuff to work instead of using the car because I have to carry stuff, putting heavy things on high shelves – anything I can do to turn moving my body into a chore suddenly makes movement completely accessible to me!
Yes, that’s ridiculous. It’s a mind game, that’s all. And it might not be your mind game, but figure out what yours is, and then use it! We all have nonsense built in, but if you can find a way to make your particular kind of nonsense help you succeed, you WIN!
All Work and No Play…
I don’t really never like to have fun. And I don’t really never enjoy movement. So I’ve been looking for ways in my life to make moving more enjoyable, even it they are very small ways. One is bringing a sip-top cup of notCoffee with me while I walk the two and a half miles to work. When I do that, I walk a little slower in order not to spill the notCoffee, which means I can focus more on how I use my legs. Without the coffee, I always want to rush, which means I compromise the alignment of my gait. It really only adds less than 10 minutes to my walk, but the quality of the walk is drastically improved. Not only that, but I find that I do actually enjoy it more!
Sometimes listening to a podcast or NPR while I’m walking is good, because now I’m studying and walking, but generally I actually don’t listen to anything but the birds and my own thoughts. You might try it both ways to see what’s best for you, but as a mom who has a job that involves lots of “on-stage” time teaching, having some quiet turns out to be quite nice.
And it turns out that if you get a dog, you go outside more!
Find What You Love
Ok, there are some movement things I do love. I love to dance. I really, really love to dance. I have a complicated relationship with dance which is generally linearly aligned with how much I dislike my body at any given time, but I do love to dance. When I was younger, I was gothy (which, in Boston mostly just meant “goes to grad school/works high-tech, likes art, wears black, likes to dance in a place where guys don’t touch you without asking”. in other places, i hear it was different…), and we had a very good place to dance a couple times a week. Everyone always went, which meant there was some social accountability. I only ever drank water, and I pretty much danced every song, because that’s what felt fun. Dancing is really the only time that, when my thighs start to burn as my body gets warmed up, I don’t actually want to quit. I’ve heard runners talk about that and I thought they were crazy, but it does happen for me when I dance.
The problem is, I’m older now and there’s nowhere to dance! I don’t feel comfortable dancing in my living room (that’s wasting time), and I’m not interested in going out at 10pm to dance until 1am. At 10pm I want to be in bed! So right now, I’m not really dancing. But I know I love to dance, and that means it’s something I can work with.
Truth or Judgement
Why am I not dancing right now?
“I can’t stay out that late!”
“I can’t just dance in my living room!”
“There’s nowhere to dance!”
“There’s no time!” …..
None of these is the real reason. When you’re fighting your demons, it’s important to find a way to get honest with yourself. I’m not dancing because I’m not choosing to be dancing. Sure, I’m too old to feel good about dancing in clubs anymore. But there are a zillion types of dance classes in the city. I could salsa! Why not?
The answer is only because I haven’t made it happen, not because I can’t make it happen or there’s no way to make it happen. If I can be honest with myself about that, without judgement or guilt, then eventually I can make a change. If I can’t be honest, I’ll be stuck as a victim of Dance Impossiblity: It’s not my fault! It was stacked against me! I better just sit around and eat this cookie.
Instead, I can tell myself: I know this has worked in the past, and in order for it to work in the future, I’ll want to do some things differently. As soon as I give myself time and space to figure out a solution that I feel good about, this will work for me again.
That’s actually the truth, and it’s the truth without judgement. (I had to rewrite that sentence a couple times to get all the judgement out.) Now I’m free to explore why dancing worked for me in the past – a social group, some social accountability, plus a rare physical thing that feels good to me – and to investigate how I can rebuild that into something that feels comfortable and fits into my schedule now.
Dancing might not be your thing, but if you can think about what works and doesn’t work for you without guilt and with honesty, you’ll have something you can work with!
Expand Your Horizons
There are, actually, more things I like to do with my body. I like to hike. I like the idea of doing a handstand, though I can’t really do one yet. I like climbing trees and rocks. I like aerial circus arts. I like the idea of (slow) parkour.
The problem is, I don’t have time to do these things.
The problem is, you have to be young and skinny to do those things.
The current situation is, I haven’t integrated these things into my life in a sustainable, regular way yet.
But recognizing that there is actually a list of things that I know I enjoy, or that I believe I would enjoy, or that look enjoyable when I see other people do them, means that I actually have a starting point! And I have begun to integrate them more: we have the school land now, and I schedule classes and work-weekends there: hiking as work! And carrying heavy things over uneven ground to boot! When I make it part of my job, I can justify it to the family culture I still carry around with me, and I can enjoy my time in the woods. I am trying again to build a semi-regular habit walking our dog with a friend in a wooded reservation area right outside the city. In longer range goals, I am working very hard to build more online classes, not just because people have been asking us to do that for a long time, but so that we can move out to the land in Royalston and only be in the city to teach on weekends. That would mean chasing after goats and chickens, stacking wood, and hanging laundry every single day, and the idea of it also makes my heart happy. I think that’s where I may finally be able to find a way to put down the ideas that everything has to be work in order to have value, and I’m anxious to do that.
But the point is, finding ways to re-arrange my life to accommodate the types of physical movement I’m willing to do has actually been one of the most successful strategies. Sure, there are still plenty of days that I sit most of the day, but even on those days, I sit without a chair holding my body up and I walk places, because I’ve built that stuff into my life. It didn’t all happen in one sweeping movement, but over time, it’s been successful.
Being in a place of “ick” with my body is very blinding. When I am constantly sending myself “ick” messages, it’s tremendously difficult to hear any “yay” messages. But the truth is, when I stretch my hamstrings, it feels good! Also when I squat – something in my hips and lower back opens up and it feels really, really good. Also when I twist my spine, also when I hang from a chin-up bar, also when I…
It turns out that there are lots of physical movements that DO feel good! I just need to stop saying “ick” long enough to hear that. So I’ve started intentionally working to notice when a certain thing feels good – when anything at all feels good. “Oh, I love my comfy bed!” That feels good. “Oh, this hot shower is amazing!” That feels good. “Oh, I’m happy to take off my shoes!” That feels good. The more that I notice things that feel good, the more that I notice that moving feels good. And then I notice that sometimes, I want to stretch!
Building this awareness doesn’t suddenly turn me into a workout lover. But I don’t need to be that. I just need to be a person who gets up regularly and stretches something. I just need to be a person who tries to do a chin-up on the way to the kitchen. I just need to be a person who can continue to move and bend without breaking into old age. It doesn’t even have to be graceful! I just have to be able to move. That’s achievable.
Find the Truth
When I admit that I hate my body to people, I always hear the same things:
What do you mean you think you’re fat?
I think you’re so [positive attribute that person admires]
What are you talking about!
Body hating isn’t logical. Neither is feeling comfortable in your body, actually! Whichever one you feel, it developed over time, and depended on your family culture and the experiences in your life and how you recovered from them or didn’t and what support you had for various activities and a zillion other factors. It’s not something anyone chooses.
But you can be a body-hater AND know that it isn’t true, simultaneously. You can hear the words in your head about how fat/ugly/ungraceful/whatever you are, AND know that you have positive attributes at the same time – these are different parts of your mind. One doesn’t rule out the other. It’s important to enable the part of your mind that is calm and logical, who can recognize the positive things about you. It’s really worth making a list of the good attributes of your body, because they are there, and they are real. If you enable the part of your mind who can see those attributes, even if it’s just one thing in the beginning, you can eventually reduce the volume of the part of your mind that only sees “ick”.
Here are some of mine:
- I am strong. I’m REALLY strong. Usually, if my dad and brother aren’t there, I’m the strongest person around me.
- My size and frame are a big part of the reason I can be strong: if I were small and waifey, it would be difficult to be as strong as I am.
- I can keep working longer than a lot of people.
- The energy reserves of fat on my butt and thighs help me keep going when I have to do it over long periods of time. That’s what they are there for. By the way, they’re not unreasonably sized reserves, even though I think that they are.
- Typically when I want to do something with my body, I have been able to succeed. The times that I have failed can actually demonstrably be tied to lack of perseverance more than some innate flaw.
It turns out, we all have positive attributes. I have always valued attributes that I don’t have, such as small, slight stature (instead, i’m 5’11”). I know lots of small, slight people, and they have fantastic positive attributes. I am tall and I’m not slight, and I have fantastic positive attributes, many of which my small, slight friends can’t actually have because they are built to have other positive attributes. When you put us all together, we can do many amazing things! We need to be different in order to achieve the full spectrum of stuff that can be done: the ducking under, the climbing over, the spritely movements, the heavy lifting… It’s all important, and I am working to identify the positive things that my body can do.
The Sum of Your Attempts
It all adds up. Sure, maybe it’s a day that I have to somehow go see a client, get my daughter to a class across town, and pick up the farm share across town the other way, all basically at the same time, which means there’s just no realistic way I’m walking anywhere today. But at least, if I want to sit down, I have to get all the way down to the floor and all the way back up again. At least, I’m going to intentionally put the whole cooler of a month’s worth of frozen meat on the floor instead of the counter, and bend over to pick up two pieces at a time and put them into the freezer (yes, it takes an extra few minutes, but look, I stretched!). At least, every time I take the dog out to pee, I’ll stretch my legs on the deck railing. Even on a bad day, I’ve worked things into my life that are stacked against my negative feelings about myself. I identified some things that can work, and I turned them into habits I don’t have to think about, and so even if I’m feeling awful, these baseline things still happen.
I’m pretty sure that someday, I’ll meet Katy in person. When I do, I’m not going to be a Katy Cutout. I’ll be Katja. (that’s particularly funny, because we have the same name, just in a different language.)
Maybe I’ll weigh more than she does. I may be a a little less flexible or a little less agile. I’ll be whatever I am, and I might be worried about my negative attributes comparing against her positive ones. (Because that’s what we as humans tend to do when we meet new people, and especially when we meet people we like.) But we’ll go on a hike, as long as she wants, and I’ll keep up. Which is not magical thinking: it’s the result of the things I have stacked in my life that can stand up to my body image issues, to make sure that most days, I move more than I used to. And PS: I’m finding that the more things I stack on the positive side, the more I’m thinking that the body hate wall isn’t as solid as it once was…
Join our newsletter for more herby goodness
Get CommonWealth newsletter delivered right to your inbox. You'll be first to hear about free mini-courses, podcast episodes, and other goodies about holistic herbalism.