Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New You?

2014 has, and as we herald in the new year, the internet is alive with everything from inspiring quotes to cynical memes to fitness challenges. I am not a big believer in forced "resolutions", but at the same time, I find the new year to be a wonderful opportunity to make a fresh start--to examine life and ponder whether we're on a path that we want to continue on.

This particular year that chance seems especially poignant to me. My life changed completely in 2013. When the last year started, I was celebrating six months of realizing my dream of owning and running a wellness Studio, with a wonderful community that had been built over four years of offering fitness and wellness classes. I worked as a State Director for a network of non-profits in an agency I'd worked with for eight years. I was moving into the second half of our first year of homeschooling. After nine years in our community we had a beautiful permaculture yard we'd built from scratch, and had built a network of friends and a life that we enjoyed. Just a few months into the year, things began shaking up, and by May we learned that we'd be turning things completely upside down. My husband was offered a promotion that would move us six hours away, which meant giving up my job, my Studio, and everything we knew as our home community. The move was quite an adventure. I committed myself to helping the family get adjusted, and while it was, of course, a challenge, everyone settled in beautifully. Now, as we approach six months in our new home and the family has found a rhythm, I've found my mind wandering to explore concepts that I haven't had much time to think about, for sheer distraction from my work and focus on my family. I've been trying to take some time to look around and think about what I want from life--what kind of life I want--something that so often I didn't take time for before, simply because I was in the flow of the life I had and it was easy to stay there.

One of the things that has struck me most, is how easily our perception of what we "want" is shaped by the culture that we live in. I recently watched MissRepresentation, and it sparked a very strong reaction for me that has become an inner fire driving much of my thought process about life and happiness. While the film focuses on the very important subject of gender equality and bias, what I really took away from it is how much we accept the images given to us to shape our perception of "ideal". We believe what we see and hear, not just in the media but all around us. Even if, like myself, we outwardly reject the mainstream messages, at some level, inside, I believe that most of us are holding that perceived ideal. This is true not only of our body size and shape, physical features, and clothing; but our family structure, career goals, homes, and so much more.

Coming from the wellness world, the idea of achieving that physical standard, combined with the overall concept of achieving happiness (so often through that), is what resonates most deeply for me. At one point in my life, having gained quite a bit of weight after college and through my pregnancies, I began dieting and exercising and lost a significant amount of weight. In the following years, I became a fitness instructor, initially thinking that I wanted to help people feel beautiful and confident in their own skin. Very easily, however, a secondary focus, of helping people reach that physical ideal took hold. I held weight loss groups for my students, tracking pounds lost and encouraging calorie counting. I advised people on how to change nutritional profiles, which exercises to focus on, how to achieve their "goal" weight.

Before I continue, let me by clear that I am still, and will always be, a very strong advocate of a healthy lifestyle. I firmly believe that part of living our best life is having a healthy diet and regular physical activity. There are definitely many situations where people need to lose weight to be healthy. I also think that mind-body connection and wellness is critically important. I am not advocating a devil-may-care attitude when it comes to health. I am very passionate about healthy living, I just believe that we need to change the way that we think about it. I've realized is that our image of the "healthy" body has become far too skewed.

While I always encouraged a balanced approach to weight loss, finding food and activity patterns that were sustainable, I believe now that my mistake was in the perception of the end goal. I think about how hard I worked to have an "ideal" body to inspire my students. While I love many types of working out and healthy food, I often pushed myself harder than I wished to to try to get closer to that "ideal". I think of my students who may have been a few sizes larger than they would have liked, but ate incredibly healthy diets and worked out 5 or more times a week--and yet, beat themselves up over the scale's refusal to move, or the size that they just couldn't quite achieve. Looking back, it breaks my heart that my response was to offer new and different ways to challenge the "problem", rather than questioning why that particular goal needed to be achieved. Here I had a beautiful, healthy woman standing in front of me, and while my ultimate goal was to help her recognize that, I now believe I failed by neglecting to question the motivation of their goals, and helping them to shed the perceptions that were leading to those goals. I don't presume that this would have been or ever will be an easy thing to do, but I do believe it is the Right thing.

Now, all of us have our own reasons for our goals and our own motivations. I'm not attempting to suggest that anyone's particular goal, even if it is to reach a particular weight or size, is invalid. What I do want to do is question the motivation behind those goals. Are we creating these goals to make ourselves happy, or because we think we'll be happier if we can more closely match the standard we've been told will bring us happiness? I have a lot more to say about this in the future, but I think I've made my point for the purposes of this first post.

2014 is here. I did my share of mourning my "previous life" as 2013 came to a close, but I recognize 2014 as an opportunity not only to embrace my "new life" but to start deeply changing my way of thinking. This blog represents a fresh start for me: This is my inaugural post as I explore fighting those false ideals that have been drilled into our heads. In the coming weeks, I'll post more about "resolutions" and this mindful work to, in essence, change my mind and perception in order to find a deeper happiness. I hope that in some way, sharing these thoughts will help you to do the same. For now, I encourage you to nurture yourself by shaping resolutions that will not lead to guilt, shame, or pressure. Perhaps you can begin thinking about what goals you would set for yourself if we were all physically invisible! Embrace your inner beauty. Don't doubt its worth. Don't doubt that you're beautiful on the outside too--just as you are. I wish you a 2014 full of looking at what you can do to truly make yourself happy and more whole. I deeply believe that as we each come closer to embracing our authentic selves, we'll make the world a better place. Namaste!

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