One of the most notable ways that being a personal trainer has changed me is that I tend to do posture and gait assessments of people walking in front of me. I didn’t really notice this happening, but now that the quarantine has lifted enough, and I’m in a small city in Colorado, it’s a lot more obvious to me – there’s a beautiful network of walking and running paths, and they’re heavily used. So going for a walk is also an exercise in looking at how people move, how they turn their feet in or out, how their feet hit the pavement.
But this post isn’t about that.
This post is about how I USED to go for a walk when visiting this small city, or when in other places where a lot of people were around. I would compare myself to them – primarily the women. And if they were missing some flaw I perceived in myself, like…let’s say they were taller, or had thinner arms, etc., I’d compare my arms to theirs…..and feel less happy with myself. And this would repeat with the next person that passed me, and so on, and so on. A walk could be pretty depressing, if I walked past a lot of other people who seemed to have their crap together!
I would also compare myself for attractiveness, hair, the way clothing fit – folks, it was ridiculous. I treated getting a nice walk like it was a opportunity to re-evaluate my rank among my fellow walkers. Luckily, I started addressing this a long time ago – I deliberately stopped wearing makeup or worrying about whether I was wearing the “right” outfit, because recognizing that walking around judging people doesn’t mean that they’re also doing the same thing. I also attribute some of the diminishment of my judgy walking to the fact that I had finally started taking steps to get healthier and focus less on what things *looked* like vs. what they are.
I mention this today because I’m in this small town, adjacent to Boulder and Denver, and the people you pass while on these trails are often world-class athletes, as well as non-athletes who are more active than they are in the East Coast town I come from. People out here eat, breathe, and swim ‘outdoorsiness’, and they look the part. Several years ago, I would have felt inadequate, like I needed to show them that I was trying to be like them too. So I could walk past them and feel bad about how my waist looked, or my shoulders, or my neck, or my BMI by comparing it. And now I don’t.
And I’ve come to understand what was going on, really. It was a case of my brain using its incredible, insatiable need for information to focus entirely on my group ranking, on evaluating myself against others because that’s one of the things a social animal does – it notices how fit it is for the group. But my brain was working overtime, because in our modern world, women feeling like a walking bag of problems is a good way to sell them things that will ‘fix’ those problems. The inconvenient truth that most things that can be purchased do not have this ability. You feel like you’re short? You can’t buy tallness. You feel like you’re too big-boned? You can’t buy a smaller skeleton.
I’ve started giving my clients a medium-level art or craft task that will take weeks to complete, so the understanding of how to manifest change is visible to them. This is because there are changes to the body that sometimes feel like they’re taking forever to manifest, and I want that to be reflected in the slow work of making something beautiful with their own hands – something they can put down, measure its progress with a ruler, anticipate its growth. That may seem weird for a personal trainer to be doing.
But the biggest growth I’ve had as a trainer is inside my brain, my spirit, and my soul – and that is what I want for my clients, the gentle reprogramming of our minds so we don’t just feel like we’re endlessly wanting and needing things to solve our problems. I want clients to leave me knowing their quirks, their muscles, their motivations, and to feel like they don’t need me anymore because their bodies are no longer an unhappy mystery to them. So, that’s the truth underlying all of the exercise, nutrition, art/craft, and meditation routines – I am working with you to give you a greater relationship – with yourself.