Six months ago I stepped into a gym for the first time. After years of a tumultuous relationship with exercise, and with the end of another dance season, I looked to expand my definition of movement beyond the rigid confines I had placed on it. Funny enough, these limits never included the common lugging of oneself to the gym. Last June however, I began doing my own research and had my first encounter with true strength.
First off, do not get me wrong, I was by no means physically or mentally strong. Simply proud of myself for getting outside my comfort zone, I was the girl at the gym who was terrified of the squat rack and the bench and the leg press. I stuck to the smith machine and still, after each workout, felt myself getting stronger. Something about taking strength into my own hands was empowering in a way swimming laps or secretly doing HIIT workouts at the crack of dawn never was. Suddenly, I stopped viewing my body as an object to wear down, and started viewing it as one to build up. It was solely about my own goals and health, not the expectations of anyone else.
Nonetheless, strength is a tricky topic. While over the past six months I have shifted my perspective on movement, no one knows better than I how exercise can become a demoralizing compulsion. At times, I still struggle with finding balance, with realizing my why every time I do another set or write out my workout plan. My why is strength, which now encompasses much more than just physical muscle or plates I can load.
Strength, to me, is directly correlated to the relationship you have with it. Yes, it is found in consistency: adhering to a set schedule and meeting personal goals. But, it is also found in the compassion we find for ourselves. Strength is taking an unplanned rest day to spend time with my brother. It is eating turkey with gravy, sweet potatoes encased in gooey marshmallows, and an extra slice of apple pie with ice cream running down the sides. And, most of all, strength is in the pride it is so difficult to muster within ourselves. It is incredibly easy to feel defeated in our endeavors towards strength. When I see others lifting triple what I can, or look in the mirror and see the same body from six months ago, it can feel like all my effort runs down the drain. In the end though, I remind myself that it is up to me to make the gym a safe space, somewhere I show up to for my mental health just as much as for my physical health. Maybe I can’t lift as much as the girl next to me, but I’m still lifting more than I could a month ago, and that’s something I can be proud of.
Today is Sunday, a day for resting and resetting. I did not go to the gym today. Instead, I did a relaxing yoga flow by the poolside, taking advantage of the warm breeze in the air before the storm. Sitting outside, watching the ripples made by ducks diving into the dark lake, I concluded that movement is now finally a part of my life, not my whole life. If you are looking to get stronger physically, realize that it is also an opportunity to grow mental muscle. There are weeks at the gym where I can lift a certain weight confidently, and there are weeks where the same weight feels crushingly impossible. The truth is, physical strength is built in the mind. You want to get strong? The first step is understanding that you already are, and the more muscle you put on is just an extension of the time and effort you continue to invest in yourself each day.
Happy Living ❤
“You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it” -Ain Eineziz