How I Transformed My Body By SurrenderingJul 11, 2023
It is no secret that our physical state is deeply intertwined with our level of happiness and overall wellness. The pursuit of fitness releases mood-boosting endorphins and reduces the risk of anxiety and depression.
Supporting our physical and thus our overall well-being is a major opportunity to exercise self-compassion, which is the core tenet of my coaching philosophy. But tending to our physical health can sometimes work against us, as I experienced over periods of time in my life.
My childhood scoliosis became so severe that my back doctor created a custom brace for me to wear each night. His prognosis for me was grim, with the affirmative urging of spinal surgery at some point. My mom, an anatomy professor who had otherwise predominantly embraced Western medical practices, suggested I explore yoga and pilates to strengthen my core and acupuncture for both pain and anything Chinese medicine may do for my curvature.
The next time I saw my Western doc was several months after having consistently practiced yoga and finally gotten comfortable with the Hundred. My x-rays showed an improvement in my curvature by several degrees — something my doctor said would be impossible absent surgery.
This experience taught me three primary lessons:
- Western medicine does not always offer the entire answer.
- The human body is wildly powerful. The mind is even more so.
- Taking ownership of our physical fitness pays off in many ways.
My Body Image Was Always Fluid
Throughout my adolescence and adulthood, my weight and size both fluctuated. My lifestyle habits were generally anchored by a healthy diet, consistent exercise, and solid sleep. Of course, nothing was perfectly consistent all the time. Work and travel in my 20s and 30s would disturb that sleep and diet. Single life in West Hollywood served up a LOT of alcoholic beverages. But I was generally “good.”
In 2014, I went through a tough transition that left a cloud of anxiety over me. I was carrying some extra weight I simply couldn’t shed. I started working with a nutritionist. I cut booze. I diligently worked out. A spit test confirmed I had high cortisol. (Looking back now, I realize learning this didn’t necessarily help my cortisol levels.)
When nothing else seemed to be helping, I started taking an SSRI under the direction of my doctor. That cloud eventually lifted. The 10 pounds came off. I achieved a flow state. It was amazing.
I still look back at 2014 as this magical petri dish of a year in which I controlled a few variables and saw no change then made a mechanical change (the SSRI) that triggered my desired change. It was amazing.
This experience taught me the overwhelming power of our minds over everything. For a reason I did not dig deeply enough at the time to understand, I had been down. The impact of this feeling on my physical state was so great that changing other variables, like exercise and diet, made no difference. Learning I had high cortisol levels likely only stressed me more.
Over the subsequent years, my “good enough” lifestyle served me well despite inevitable fluctuations in my health and fitness.
Then I Got Pregnant
Sixteen months later, I got pregnant again.
Leaving my job and being home with two really young kids was shocking on so many levels. Throw in the isolation of a pandemic, and things really got wild.
At this stage, I was probably carrying about 15 extra pounds. For my relatively smaller frame, this was noticeable to me. And probably others. And definitely to my jeans.
For years earlier in my life I pretty much beat up my body with boot camps, CrossFit, long-distance running, and pretty much any other “hardcore” activity I believed would whip me into shape. Now, not only were these former go-to activities out of reach due to the pandemic, but I was simply too exhausted to attempt anything like them.
I hit a point of desperation. And this time, desperation saved me.
A soul sister of mine introduced me to Melissa Wood-Tepperberg’s fitness method. At under $10 monthly and with workouts ranging from 5 minutes to 40, I really couldn’t stand to lose much. Between nursing my infant and sleep training my other child, this actually seemed doable. Also, with two kids of her own, it was refreshing to see Melissa’s BTS videos with her kids popping in and out of the frame. It was relatable and authentic.
I made a commitment to do SOMETHING each day, even if it was a 5-minute arms workout. And I kept this commitment about 98% of the time.
And the Pandemic Crawled On…
But one day I noticed shoulder muscle definition in my right arm I literally had never seen in my life. (I’ve always felt like my left arm is more slender than my right, so this was hard-hitting for me!) About 3–4 months after showing up with Melissa, I started to see my body change.
The weird thing was that, even though I clearly thought about it, since I created and kept this habit, I wasn’t FIXATED on it. I wasn’t on the scale and, let’s be honest, wasn’t trying on jeans (#bcCovid). But my body changed.
Looking back now, I think I felt such an utter lack of control over my body that I threw in the towel. In this case, I simultaneously did something really good for my body.
I wasn’t straining myself with crazy weights and regular 7-mile runs.
I wasn’t cursing while bear-crawling across a CrossFit gym.
Instead, I was moving my body slowly and gently — LOVINGLY.
Little else changed at the time. My diet was still pretty good. I was still drinking alcohol. But I was leaner and stronger than I had been even before my first pregnancy.
Maintaining a Steady State
Three years later, my kids are older and the world has changed, my body is in the steady state I achieved through short, gentle, but effective movement. (The only other major change I’ve made was to eliminate alcohol 11 months ago.)
My journey with my body and wellness is an evolving one. Below is what I learned.
We are all bio-individual — including different versions of ourselves.
Not only will my solution not necessarily work for you, but what worked for me 10 years ago may not serve me today. At 26, running and lifting at the Bay Club at 5 AM before heading to the office was a habit. At 40, not only is this routine not really an option for me, but it very likely would spike my cortisol levels all over again.
During a period of my life in which I feel surrounded by constant chaos, what serves my body (and mind) most is slower, focused, fluid movement that keeps my cortisol levels at bay, lengthens my muscles, and calls awareness to my body.
Obsession over a problem won’t fix it.
Who knows whether starting an SSRI in 2014 mitigated my body’s stress response or simply facilitated higher-quality sleep. Or maybe higher serotonin levels shifted my focus onto the positive things in my life while dwarfing the stressors. But I do know that when I threw in the proverbial towel during the pandemic, my extra pounds and perceived inadequate wellness melted away. I did my 5-minute arms or 15-minute standing series with Melissa and moved on with my day. I felt good. And before I knew it, time passed, and my jeans fit better.
I am all for making a plan and setting goals, but there is a delicate tipping point at which mindfulness and awareness become unhealthy fixation working against us.
More, stronger, and harder aren’t always better
When I started embracing workouts that made me feel good as I did them, the effectiveness of my physical activity skyrocketed. Rather than try to get through a set or flow, I focused on each second of the movement, and this generated tremendous presence and connection between my body and mind during my workout.
The law of diminishing returns with physical activity is real (hello, rest days!). And we know best how to discern between challenging our bodies and pushing them into overdrive.
I find it paradoxical that in my 40s, after having had two kids, I feel in better shape than I did 20 years ago when I had so much more freedom and used much of this freedom to tend to my body. I wouldn’t quite call it balance, but maturity, perspective, discernment, and the ability to read my body all help me to maintain this state of flow that I understand is fluid and fully expect to change in the next two decades.