…and Health/Fitness Neutrality is for EVERYONE
Growing up, I felt totally excluded from the world of sports, fitness, or any other kind of movement requiring coordination, strength, or skill.
As a small and asthmatic kid whose friends were always bigger, older, and faster, I developed a whole-ass identity around my lack of physical competence, in fact.
I was slow, awkward, weak, and inflexible. I was the kid you tagged if you wanted everyone else to be safe on the playground. I was the kid who walked into walls, and who flinched or ducked if a ball got tossed to me.
Sports and fitness just weren’t for people like me, I decided.
I was too emotional and sensitive; too weak and slow; too fragile and uncoordinated. I was a nerd; an inside kid. I was born to read and write and think and dream, not chase after a stupid ball or touch my stupid toes. That shit just was not for me.
This identity might have even been perfectly healthy and fine, were it not for the ways it led to sufferin
I gave up whole categories of play that I loved, like dance and gymnastics, because I felt so out of sorts with my body.
I felt dread and anxiety before every single gym class, for my entire school career.
I refused to try anything new physically, because I was sure I would suck at it (which cost me a lot of opportunities for fun, connection, and adventure!).
I felt a constant feeling of exclusion and inferiority in athletic spaces, which led me to develop a self-protective and self-righteous hatred for all things (and people) sports-related.
Plus, my aversion to moving my body ensured that I never improved my physicality or fitness. I never got the opportunity to see the impact and value of training or practicing, so I stayed stuck in a fixed mindset, and continued to believe that some people are just born athletic, and some aren’t, and there is just nothing anyone can do about it.
It wasn’t until much later, when I started exploring my physicality through dance, and later weight-lifting, and discovered that movement is actually amazing. I still carry a deep-seated hatred for all things sports-related, but those experiences thankfully blew my old “anti-athletic” identity to smithereens.
As it turns out, movement is for everyone, and anyone can improve their strength, speed, skill, coordination, flexibility, and stamina through training or practice. Also, there’s no such thing as people for whom movement is “for” and those for whom it’s “not for.” There is only the magic of movement, and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and where we belong.
I’ve worked with many clients who similarly felt that the world of sports, fitness, or movement wasn’t for them for a variety of reasons, including feeling excluded because of their gender, size, race, ability, class, or age. Sometimes they abstained from movement because of body insecurities, shame, anxiety, or trauma. And other times exercise was shoved down their throat and considered “mandatory” to control the shape or size of their body to “earn their worth” for so long that all movement became associated with shame, guilt, anxiety, resistance, rebellion, and feelings of failure.
All of these factors (and more!) tend to share one outcome: they lead us to develop a very negative relationship with movement.
A negative relationship with movement is often expressed through avoidance, as it was for me, and as it often is for people who are constantly telling themselves they “need to go to the gym,” but then don’t.
The issue with avoidance is, of course, that we never get the opportunity to improve, connect to, or feel ownership over movement. So the story we tell ourselves (like “I’m just really bad at it”) gets even more deeply embedded, and the cycle of negativity and avoidance continues. After all, nobody likes to be bad at stuff, and we’re a lot less likely to practice stuff that makes us feel stupid, inadequate, awkward, or bad about ourselves, right?
This is how so many grown ass adults come to walk around feeling like weakness, fatigue, pain or immobility, or a lack of coordination are a fundamental part of who they are, rather than the natural effect of being unpracticed and untrained at the physical qualities of strength, endurance, mobility, balance, and coordination. It’s worth mentioning here that trauma— particularly the kind of trauma that led to a freeze response or dissociative episode— often significantly impairs a person’s proprioceptive awareness. This means that after trauma, a person may have a much harder time identifying and coordinating where their limbs are in space at any given moment, and therefore struggle with balance and coordination. I’m sharing this little fact in case you, like me, have experienced this kind of trauma and wondered why certain tasks around balance and coordination have always been more difficult for you than the people around you. You’re not alone, and you’re not crazy! Dissociating during trauma can disconnect us from our bodies in very specific ways, and unless we specifically train ourselves to reconnect through mindful movement, we could spend the rest of our lives disconnected.
If you have experienced this kind of trauma, don’t worry, you can improve your balance, coordination, and proprioceptive awareness through training! And doing so can actually function as a powerful tool for healing and “coming back” to your body after you involuntarily left it. (Plus training these physical qualities after trauma can have a powerful impact on feeling like yourself again, trusting yourself and your body again, and feeling safe in the world again!)
If you haven’t experienced any such trauma, I still think this is a cool thing to know, because it beautifully demonstrates how our physical competencies can be both improved and worsened throughout our lives, based on factors that have nothing to do with who we are, how we were born, or where we belong.
Not to mention all the other benefits of physical movement and training, like:
Ushering more fun, joy, pleasure, adventure, or play into your life.
Avoiding injury, or reducing pain.
Learning how to connect with (or “listen to”) your body.
Feeling more empowered, and less helpless.
Enjoying better sleep, or better sex.
Decreasing body dissatisfaction.
Supporting your mental and emotional health.
Improving your physical health and life expectancy.
Cultivating mindfulness and the ability to be present.
Regulating your nervous system, or healing past trauma.
Supporting your ongoing personal development and growth.
Helping you connect more deeply and easily with others.
Feeling happier and more satisfied with your life.
Improving self-trust, self-compassion, self-acceptance, or self-love.
Helping you cultivate a strong, diverse, and resilient sense of confidence and self-worth.
All of this is to say that movement is powerful medicine for your mind, body, heart, and soul, and we all deserve to have a positive, sustainable, and life-long relationship with it.
We get better at whatever it is we practice or train, which means you don’t have to be “bad at” something forever. If you start doing yoga a few times a week, you’ll get better at yoga. If you start getting your heart rate up on a regular basis, your cardiovascular endurance will improve. If you do daily mobility drills, your mobility will open up. If you start lifting weights, you’ll get stronger, and if you challenge your balance or coordination, those skills will improve too.
It’s tempting to think of fitness or athleticism as innate, inborn, or fixed qualities, but they’re actually just like anything else: the result of what we’ve practiced.
The more we practice movement, the better we get; the better we get, the more we internalize movement as a part of our identity and our lives.
Plus, the more we think of ourselves as “the kind of person who does ____,” the more likely we are to continue doing it…. without resistance, willpower, or even discipline! Movement can just become a part of who we are, instead of something we feel like we “have to” do.
I call this relationship “fitness neutrality,” because, like body neutrality, it’s only possible when you’ve stripped away all the stories, meaning, interpretations, and judgments from the whole concept of physical movement.
And trust me: when you find it, you’ll wonder why it took you so long. (At least I
You deserve to experience a positive, healthy, and sustainable relationship with exercise, fitness, and movement… and you deserve to experience all the benefits of that relationship!
That’s why I wrote Sustainable Movement: a Body Neutral Guide to Health & Fitness, my brand new ebook, which is available for purchase now, for $33!
Movement is magic, and it’s for everyone.