Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New shoes in the gym

I never really know what the topic of my next article is going to be. I've often said this is one of the joys of writing for me...that endless discovery and enjoyment of the unexpected moments of inspiration. Today, inspiration visited in the form of a quote:

Don't be afraid if things seem difficult in the beginning. That's only the initial impression. The important thing is not to retreat; you have to master yourself. - Olga Korbut, Olympic Gold Gymnastics Medalist

This quote immediately brought to mind the days when I used to work out with a personal trainer at my gym. I was assigned a trainer who eventually became one of my dearest friends. Two people could not be more different. I'm not athletically inclined and I do not enjoy exercising. I do it because I know it's important and necessary. I chose to go the trainer route so that I was accountable to someone and wouldn't tank on the intention to stick with a program. My trainer turned out to be a 6'5" muscle bound guy who truly loves exercise. Loves it so much, he calls a ten minute stint on the exercise bike at Level 8 a "cardio break". As in, "Okay Dawn, let's finish up this set on your triceps and then go over to the bike and have a Cardio Break...it'll be fun! We'll do Level 8!"

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Picture me shooting said bike a look of pure loathing as I climbed on and groaned, complained and grumbled my way through Level 8 for ten minutes. If you haven't tried Level 8, let me just share with you that it feels like pedaling through mud....hip deep, half dried, very thick mud. It never felt like a break to me. Breaks are something that give you rest, right? Pedaling through hip deep, half dried, very thick mud is not a 'break'. It is torture. Unless you have a very strange person next to you who thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread and you love that person. Then you do your best to get through ten minutes of torture without too much whining and complaining. I admit, I whined and complained plenty; I laughed too.

But I digress. My point in bringing up the gym and personal trainers is that each time my trainer would introduce a new exercise, I would have a curious reaction. Almost 100% of the time, my body would try to throw a proverbial tantrum which manifested in the form of nausea. Serious, gut grinding nausea that had me positive I was on the verge of throwing up. Sorry to be graphic, but it's true. For some reason, a new demand on my physical body would result in that reaction. It put me in mind of a child throwing a fit to avoid some unpleasant task or chore. I had a mental image of my stomach saying, in cartoon balloon text, "Okay, that's not fun. In fact, that hurts. What she's doing hurts! What can we do to make her stop doing that thing that hurts? Let's make her sick. Seriously sick. She'll stop if we make her feel like crud. Bring on the extreme nausea!"

I learned that if I breathed through the nausea and kept right on with the thing that hurt, usually within about 5 minutes, the nausea would recede to a manageable level. With continued activity of this new exercise, the nausea would finally stop. My trainer must've had experience with this phenomenon, because he would gently, but firmly keep pushing me to continue. While sometimes it was downright unpleasant, it taught me something about myself. Although this was a reflex reaction that I was experiencing, it also underscored what Ms. Korbut's quote mentions - new things can give us pause.

Fear of the unknown, even with something as simple as a new exercise being introduced in the gym, can cause myriad responses on both an emotional and physical level. Most of the time, we're so busy with the detritus of daily living that we don't always pay attention to those micro-moments of unease. Because I tend to be one to ponder, when this experience happened at the gym, I paid attention. I wondered about it, studied it, even went home and dragged out my old anatomy and physiology books to understand the mechanics behind that knee jerk physical reaction. While most people aren't going to go to those lengths to understand a short moment of discomfort and unease, I believe it can definitely benefit every single one of us to stop and pay attention when something feels bad or unusual.

In this case, I discovered that I have a tendency to react on a primitive level to new physical challenges. My body and my emotional persona want to STOP THAT NOW! The good thing is that I'm fairly stubborn and really dislike admitting defeat. I also was blessed with this wonderful personal trainer and friend who was so cheerful and happy as he put me through 90 minutes of torture that I felt badly if I didn't at least try when he asked me to do something new. So, I would grit my teeth, push through the nausea and force my body and mind to adapt to a new experience.

This is something I've carried with me many years later. I no longer have a membership at that gym, and my trainer friend is now working full time at a local university in the athletic department. Our friendship is still solid, but I admit that I've slacked on daily workouts such as we used to tackle three times a week. What I took from that time in my life was, first and foremost, a beautiful friendship, and secondly, a newly discovered way to identify when I was reacting in a fear-based manner.

The mind is an incredibly complex organ that is constantly changing and adapting to new stimuli and experiences. We grow as long as we are drawing breath. The primitive reactions that we all feel, if we take time to stop and analyze them, can be quite handy tools as we go about our daily lives. There are always going to be new experiences to weather, new people to meet, new challenges to embrace and lessons....always lessons to learn. Paying attention to those reflex reactions can give us valuable insight if we just pay attention!

I used the analogy of a gym workout, but I can also say that by recognizing this specific reaction, I came to realize that in business situations the same reaction sometimes surfaced. It wasn't the same full blown attack of nausea, but it was enough of a twinge in my stomach that it would always catch my attention. I would then take that extra couple of minutes to silently reflect on the situation and people involved and invariably would realize that 'gut reaction' was a warning flag. Pay attention to those little twinges, my friends. They are happening for a reason.

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Going beyond that visceral reaction, and revisiting Ms. Korbut's quote above, adversity isn't always a bad thing. Difficulties, as her quote so wisely indicates, aren't necessarily a reason to stop and give up! New things can feel strange and uncomfortable, but so can a new pair of shoes. Look at those challenges that may seem scary as a reason to try on a proverbial new pair of shoes. Think of how differently you walk when you are wearing a new item of clothing. There's that extra bounce to your walk, that extra sparkle in your eye. The same can be true of persevering through what initially feels like a situation that will never make sense to you. Mastering your fears and putting them to use for you, rather than allowing them to convince to you stop before you even get started, can give you that same bounce to your step, that same sparkle in your eye.

So, when those uncomfortable moments hit your life, remember Olga Korbut's quote above. Take a moment and step back. Breathe through it, give thought to what you're feeling and identify the reason for the unease or fear-based reaction. Nine times out of ten, you'll realize that the fear-based reaction is just a primitive response to something that seems scary only because it is new. Challenge yourself and resolve to push through that moment and discover the exhilaration of conquering that fear. Recognize the power this puts into your hands to manifest your own success! Then congratulate yourself on the fact that you've had a bit of an "A-ha!" moment, a graduation of sorts, and you're now wearing some proverbial new shoes in the gym.

Give judicious attention also to those twinges when it is clear your instincts are clamoring and jangling away to prevent you from making a mistake or blunder in judgment. Our instincts are there to protect us, after all. Now, you may be sitting there thinking, "How do I know which is a fear-based feeling and which is an instinctive warning flag?" That's where being a responsible human being comes into play. It is up to you to decipher your body's reactions and interpret what means what. It isn't as complex as you may think, and with care and attention, you'll quickly learn to read those tell tale inward signs that your body and emotions are giving you. In time, probably much more quickly than you would imagine, you'll grow to recognize the varying degrees of internal dialogue. With a bit of practice, you'll be able to adapt quickly and maneuver through those daily bumps, obstacles and unexpected turns with ease. And I daresay those proverbial, spiritual new shoes and clothing will add that extra sparkle to your eyes and that extra snap of energy to your walk!

So, when something feels unusual, strange, perhaps uncomfortable...take a moment to identify it. React accordingly and move forward, rather than retreating in fear or confusion. Push through with that new-to-you exercise. Those new shoes are waiting to be tried on, after all!
This post was the result of an invitation to become a contributing writer for the Australian ezine publication, Aromatique Essentials, of Julie Nelson. 
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me at Healing Morning blog.