Guest Commentary by Maggie Carter
The naïve girl within me always anticipated law school, business classes and other areas of studies that seemed to naturally lend themselves to high incomes, steady jobs, home ownership, and stability. However, while on the foreseeable pre-law route at The University of Virginia, life dealt me the grandest surprise. At the end of a therapeutic run, I caught myself thinking: Isn’t this how everyone is supposed to feel? Alive? On a natural high? At peace? One with the rhythm of the heart as it beats? The one and only major epiphany I’ve had that has stuck hit me as I stared into the sky, knees hugged towards my chest in a stretch. A higher power both around and within me seemed to say “Yes. This is how you are supposed to feel. This is being alive, being present.”
Following my intuition I changed my career path and started studying the body. I sensed that without a healthy body to accompany a healthy mind, the life force remains dull, the spirit oftentimes caught in a state of confusion between the disrespect of our daily actions and the underlying desire to be more proactive about our health to feel better.
I never imagined that I would do personal training full time. When I accepted my first job, I kept a backup plan forefront in my mind. Training was temporary; it was a means to an end. It would catapult me into management or something more “professional.” As much as I fought my skill set as a trainer and fixated my mind’s eye elsewhere, it kept drawing me back. The personalities of the clients, the goals they kept reaching towards, and the meaning and purpose within every interaction started to become like my runner’s high – it was my fix and I couldn’t seem to live without it.
It all became so clear – the mind/body complex and its link to the spirit. Life is our spirit’s sole opportunity to enjoy the physical form, and we should. While some soar in the ability to seize the moment, others are confused about what “healthy” means. Many of us fail to capitalize on the strengths we possess because of inaccurate perceptions we maintain. For example, our society projects the sentiment that with aging come illness, injury, and a loss of vitality. Ironically, in my experience I have encountered many elderly persons who possessed more vigor and wellbeing about them than many thirty year olds. Our spirits become depressed when ridden with contradictions that dampen the ownership we have of our personal power.
Here is one of many such scenarios encountered during my training career.
The gym floor was moderately busy, the sounds of the same monotonous music station playing in the background. Dumbbells clunked down to the ground beside me, a man releasing his two forty-fives with a grunt. My beautiful 62- year-old female client (we’ll call her Bella) moved through the side lunge motion with a stoic expression.
“Just a little bit lower, Bella,” I coached.
Her side lunge was the same – all messy in the eyes of a trainer. Her hips were about half as low as they should be to optimally lengthen and engage her gluts. Her knee jutted out over her forefoot, dangerous on the joint capsule. The foot opposite her lunging leg was lifting up its lateral border rather than staying planted. Basically, I saw a car that was driving reverse on three wheels with no rearview mirrors. I knew I could play mechanic and tune her up so I started emphasizing form a little more.
“Bella, think about sitting in a bench behind you when you reach low.”
“Bella, pretend that your left foot is glued to the ground.”
“Exhale and squeeze your gluts as you come back to standing.”
This went on for a little longer than I care to admit. I was so certain that she was aware of the benefit and why we were lingering on these specifics.
Poor Bella, keeping her face expressionless, asked in a hesitant manner, “Are these old lady exercises?”
“No, why do you ask?”
“Well, it’s just that I don’t feel them very much.”
“Actually, these exercises are incredibly difficult when you are able to get the full range of motion and proper form.”
I knew I couldn’t spend much longer harping on a position that she wasn’t going to master in a day and that left her feeling babied. I smoothed over her insecurities by taking her to the leg press. There she did not have to control the movement or achieve “perfect form” in order to feel her muscles fully engage. Her body language reflected her eased state of mind, and she began to smile midway through her second set. When I had her adjust her seat just an inch lower for the third set, she exclaimed at the drastic change in difficulty.
“The difference you felt in this last set is similar to what you will feel when you are able to master the proper lunge form,” I explained.
I could see Bella’s expectations of what working with a trainer meant slowly begin to melt. She probably never imagined that such small adjustments alone could be dramatic.
This client’s perception of herself made her self-conscious and doubting. Like so many clients, she expected to dive in without becoming educated or valuing the small incremental changes that help the body redefine its limitations and go beyond anything ever formerly imagined.
We’ve all perceived ourselves as too heavy, too thin, too flabby, too old, too weak, too bulky, too fatigued, too high stress, too low energy, etc. at some point. Upon reaching our tipping point with this feeling, we act to correct that negative state and repair the damages. Within the exercise realm this usually means we take on a challenging exercise program for four-to-six weeks, get modest results, start to get happy with our physiques and then fall off the charts. Sound familiar?! The problem here is that we take reactive external measures to correct our situation rather than taking proactive external and internal measures.
There are many individuals, including this client, who are very capable and fit but who perceive themselves in a certain manner that limits their self-esteem and capacity for challenge. To truly see results in and out of the gym, we must all (fit or not!) look at health as a long term commitment (like having a child that needs guidance or love in some way, shape or form for the rest of their lives). Once we commit to the marathon instead of the sprint towards better health, we need to also start looking inwards to how we perceive ourselves in the day to day. If we constantly think we are “too this” or “too that” we are never living in the present moment, and we will always seek short term quick fixes that once dissolved, leave us right back where we started.
Linking up our perceptions to reality and achieving mind/body/spirit balance on the marathon of health maintenance in our day-to-day lives sounds complex and challenging. The good news is that simple positive choices and SMALL steps are what make up this journey. These are the daily choices we’ve known are good for us all along even though they are oftentimes the last choices we seek. Go see what small choice you can make. Start now.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. –Lao Tzu
Love and Light for your Tuesday.
Maggie Carter is the author of an unpublished title Mad Beauty, a Mind/Body/Spirit memoir. Her additional works-in-progress include a nonfiction guide on Mind/Body/Spirit that will educate individuals on how to enhance both health status and quality of life. Maggie maintains a B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Virginia. She is a certified NSCA-CSCS, AFAA, Yoga Vidya Dham, STOTT, and Spinning instructor. She works as a professional Advantage Trainer for The Sports Club/LA in Washington, DC.