“How I learned to love myself and stay in shape.”
Yesterday I kicked an old soccer ball around the garden to play with my dog, and I realized something: it felt great! Years of being the kid nobody wanted on their team had made me dread team sports, but kicking that ball felt so different! This shift in my mindset comes from training myself as an athlete, dancer, yogi and performer, and it’s so powerful; I enjoy sports I once thought I’d never try again. Here are 9 lessons I learned as a self-taught athlete.
Ask yourself why you’re exercising
A few years ago, I took up yoga. I would get up early and exercise before breakfast. I really wanted to increase my flexibility, and it was also a good strength exercise. But one day, suddenly, I gave up. Later, I tried practicing differently; I read the Yoga Sûtra, the founding text of yoga. The book encourages you to find the real reason you exercise and it isn’t always easy. I realized I had been beating myself up for not getting into certain poses, so I changed my goal. I do yoga for strength, flexibility and peace of mind together.
When I started ballet, I loved it so much I went to five classes a week on top of my dance curriculum, until I pulled a muscle. If you put too much on your plate too soon, you set yourself up for injuries that could hurt you for life. Slow, gradual increases in difficulty lead to durable, consistent progress. It’s great to be enthusiastic, but remember to always check in with yourself- a casual day off is better than an emergency month off! And if you feel pain, stop immediately. Pain is a warning before injury.
No gym? Do it at home!
At first, I wasn’t a fan of gyms. In fact, I was so averse to them that I chose to exercise at home. As a dancer, I didn’t see the need for big bulky exercise machines and heavy weights. So I googled everything I could find about body-weight exercises, and designed my workouts myself from exercise databases. I tweaked my workout every time to make sure I had realistic goals for every exercise, as I discovered I’m often too ambitious with my reps and the number of exercises per workout!
You can teach yourself anything
To lose weight faster, I started cardio. I found the most time-effective form of cardio possible: swimming. I had never been a very good swimmer, but I loved being in the water. I went to my local pool regularly, and at first I felt like I was fighting the water every single lap, but I persisted. I looked up beginner swimming workouts and watched videos about swimming form and one day, it clicked. I didn’t feel any effort anymore, I was gliding across the water. That’s why I love exercising; if you do it right, it feels wonderful!
We’re all in it together
When I started training more seriously for dance performances, I realized I had to do cardio more often. Unfortunately I had moved to an area without pools, so I had to get a gym membership. I was terrified. Then I went to the gym. There was so much bad form! I saw people hopping on treadmills, twisting their legs in squats, and holding their breath in weight training. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and working out helps us confront them. Maybe you’re doing something wrong, but at least you’re doing something!
Your knowledge is your power
Knowledge is essential for a safe workout. Because I’m so passionate about dance, I bought a book called The Dancer’s Way, written by a former New York City ballerina. It was a revelation. Most of the book is about teaching talented professional dancers how to avoid injury and manage stress. If professionals struggle with this, why wouldn’t we? So whether it’s nutrition, fitness, anatomy, or your favorite sport, read about it! You’ll have such a better idea of where you stand on your path to lifelong fitness!
How you feel when you move is unique
My Body-Mind Centering® training taught me that I can do an infinite amount of things with my body in space-I simply have to move with awareness. Studies show that how we move is as important as how much we move. That means that doing an hour of running on the treadmill while watching TV may be good for your heart, but it may not be good for your body, because you aren’t mindfully moving, you’re moving in an automatic, disembodied way. Pay attention to how you feel when you work out: if you something feels off, change it!
You haven’t run out of energy
I once did a very interesting exercise in a choreography workshop. A Japanese choreographer, Saburo Teshigawara, was teaching one of his dancers a piece. The dancer kept falling down halfway through, he was exhausted. The choreographer told him “Just sway”: for him, our joints store energy, and the less we try to control our movements, the more we move in our full range of motion, and the more energy we unlock, allowing us to carry on even when we think we’re completely exhausted. Often, we have the energy to work out, but it may require less effort than we think.
Sports are an art
There’s a reason I call myself an athlete: dancers are both artists and athletes. And in an ideal world, so is everyone else. Think about it: how much craft does it take, how much dedication does it require to swim as fast as Michael Phelps, or play as good as Serena Williams? How many times have football players studied past games? Never consider yourself below anybody else, no matter your age or your level of fitness: all those people you admire were once in your shoes. You’re unique!