Art in Action: 4 Ways to be a Sacred Athlete (or Triumphing over the Tragedy of Middle School Gym Class)

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When Frank and I were traveling this month, we made a practice of moving in some way every day. I noticed that when faced with an unfamiliar hike or ride (which was practically every day!), I often defaulted to an old habit of thinking I wouldn’t be strong enough and wouldn’t be able to do it.

I suspect this line of thinking started in middle school gym class. We’d be riding or walking along and I’d notice myself thinking, “I can’t do this” or “I’m not strong enough” or “I’m going to fall and break my tuchus.” I could feel myself withdrawing and contracting away from whatever we were doing physically, mentally and emotionally.

Which was a drag since I’d get sad or grumpy and we were in beautiful places together, forcryingoutloud.

Instead, I’d play with saying other things to myself like “I’m fit, I’m healthy and I can do this” or “Just focus on this step right now” or “I can rest if I need to.” It felt a little unfamiliar and awkward to be running these lines in my head like a mantra but dang if I couldn’t do more than I thought I could.

Which brings me to 4 ways of triumphing over the tragedy of middle school gym class and becoming a sacred athlete:

1. Changing it up is good.

The body thrives on variety. We found that hiking one day and biking the next felt good in that different muscles got attention in different ways. My calves got tight when I hiked and then stretched when we rode. But even if you run or walk every day, change up your route or your focus (e.g. experiment with going a little further or not as far, faster or slower, pay attention to how your feet touch the ground or how you hold your hands, shoulders or mouth). If you do Nia or yoga regularly, just changing where your attention goes can change how it lands in your body, so practice giving yourself a focus (e.g., connecting breath and movement, go more slowly, make more sound, etc.)

2. Moving a little is better than not moving at all.

As Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything.” When we were in the car for long stretches, I circled my wrists, did deep belly breathing, circled my shoulders, and stretched my neck (that one might have been more difficult if I’d been driving). When we stopped, I’d do hip circles (what the heck, I’m not going to see the people in that rest stop again), do some squats and stretch my hamstrings. When we got to a campground late, even a short walk around the campground loop was better than nothing. Now that I’m spending more time at my desk, I’m doing the same thing.

3. Having fun and feeling good is an essential part of healthy movement.

When I’m riding my bike down a hill or I come to a vista at the top of a hike, I get a feeling of exhilaration and joy that is an essential part of being a sacred athlete*. Find a movement that you can do that you love, rather than one that you think is good for you or that you should do. There may be things that you used to do that no longer bring you joy and there may be things that you would never have considered doing at another time in your life that appeal to you now. Whatever bubbles some joy juice into your bloodstream, go do that.


4. My body has wisdom that my mind knows nothing about.

Especially if you’ve ignored your body (perhaps by not moving it or by overriding the sensation it has given you), it can take some time and practice to know the difference between listening to your body and letting your mind talk you out of (or into) something. But when I listen to the subtle nuances as well as the more intense sensation AND feel how I feel AFTER I do something, I can start to hone in on when I need to rest and when I need to GO!

Movement is your birthright no matter what your physical condition, experience or age. Become a Sacred Athlete by starting exactly where you are now and moving with awareness, intention and joy.

* Potentially annoying vacation story: One day we drove for what seemed like hours on a dusty bumpy road, then got to a ride but found it was dusty and bumpy and rocky and not well marked. After an hour of that I was grumpy and cranky and frustrated. Then we got a road with not too many cars and long swooping hills. The first hill I road down smooth and fast, I could actually feel the grumpy crankies clear out of my head.

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