As mentioned in my page ‘Training like an Athlete, What Changes?’, one of the greatest changes I see occur in people when they begin to think like an athlete is a complete shift in how they perceive their bodies. Over time, we stop seeing those ‘tuck shop arms’ and start understanding the role of triceps in movement, or we stop grabbing our hips and start stretching our hip flexors because we have learned their importance to our overall core strength and run technique.
Essentially I call this process making ‘peace’ with your body, because we seem to stop de-valuing our body parts based on what they look like and start nurturing them because we understand the work they are doing for us and the obligation we have to look after them so they can continue in their performance. One of the most remarkable parts of this process is that many people find themselves not only no longer at ‘war’ with their own bodies, but they stop analysing and criticising other people’s bodies as well. This has a two-fold bonus – not only does it remove unnecessary negativity from a person’s thought patterns, but it increases the Body Positive manner in which we all relate and communicate with each other.
Now I think its time I ‘fess up and say that writing this piece at the moment is not only to be helpful for those who are wanting to start this process of making peace with their body and not sure how, but its likely this is going to be extremely cathartic for me and relevant to my current physical circumstances.
As I write this I am currently 41 weeks pregnant. Which in my technical, type-A brain means I’m overdue. If there is one thing I have always rued in life it is poor punctuality and tardiness. As you can imagine, my overdue status is not sitting that well with me and I have to be honest, there is ALOT of self-talk happening in order to make sure I am maintaining a healthy headspace. It is disappointing to say, but much of the self-talk is focused on dispelling the thoughts that in not delivering this little miracle on time, my body is somewhat ‘failing’ the both of us – I have not done my ‘job’ properly. Now we all know that these are not authentic thoughts and aren’t really helping anyone, but strength comes in admitting that they are there and that its time I practice what I preach and make peace with my body again. I guess you could say that in writing this piece, I am re-grounding and re-connecting with my body, which is something we all need to do at times, whether it be due to illness, injury, or a tardy newborn, for that matter.
Before I begin, as I always say when discussing things based on personal experience, everyone is unique and requires an individual approach that will resonate with them personally. There are some great body positive tips and guides to body love out there these days which feature some really powerful exercises and affirmations, however for this piece I am simply discussing a shift in focus from an aesthetic to a functional perspective for the purpose of ‘thinking like an athlete’. As I always say, knowledge is power and these tips discussed here may be only a small piece of your overall ‘body love puzzle.’
Step one: Call a truce. Once again I will reiterate how important it is to make peace with your body, ‘warts and all’ as they saying goes. You will not get the right balance and functional understanding of your body if your assessments are clouded by ego/aesthetics.
This is essentially a process of ‘letting go’ and releasing all those thoughts of ‘when I was fitter/thinner’; ‘my arms/legs are too big’; ‘I don’t like my…’. It’s a moment where the ego stops thinking, you bring yourself into the current moment and simply say ‘this is who I am right now. Right this second, this is my body as it is.’
It is important to note that at this stage there is no obligation to feel positive about your body, it is about tuning into your physical body at this present moment and eliminating any negative thoughts.
Step Two: Do a ‘Body Scan’. This stage is all about ‘tuning’ in to your body. It’s about connecting with your body from head to toe and no longer looking at your body but feeling it – wiggle your toes, rotate your ankles, flex your calves, bend your knees – how is your body feeling while it is moving? Are there any niggles or tightness in your muscles?
This will start and give you a new ‘picture’ of your body. You are now understanding it for how it physically presents to you in the form of muscles, tendons, joints, and bones. It is telling you it’s story – where its imbalances or weaknesses may lie, and where its strengths are. You are now developing an understanding on what parts of your body you will need to strengthen and nurture.
Step Three: Learn. This is where you stop Googling ‘how to get flat abs’ and start researching the anatomical make up of your body. Your knowledge quest moves from wanting to know how to get thin thighs to what muscles make up your core stabilisers, how to strengthen them and how to prevent them from overuse or injury. Soon enough you start to change your language and what was previously known as ‘my big bum’ becomes ‘my glutes that I need to strengthen in order to increase my core stability.’
Step Four: Respect. From my experience, this happens quite naturally as a result of moving through all of the aforementioned steps. Once you start seeing what your body is doing for you on a functional level, you tend to have an increased respect for it and an increased appreciation of its efforts.
I however, am a glowing example of how sometimes, particularly through injury or illness (or the tardy newborn), we need to stop and show our bodies some R.E.S.P.E.C.T. It is very easy to take a well-functioning body for granted and although our training and nutrition maintains the balance we need in order to continue to perform, from what I have learned, there will always be a time where your body throws you a little (or big) hint that it needs you to stop and say ‘thank you’ every now and then.
I hope these few tips help you get started on your way to making peace with your body and start appreciating how hard it is working for you in helping you achieve your goals. Appreciating your body from a functional perspective can be an amazingly positive headspace to be in, especially for people who have struggled with being at ‘war’ with their bodies for so long. As mentioned previously, many people have even gone so far as to say that in having made peace with their own bodies, they have found themselves no longer at war with everyone else’s body as well. Wouldn’t that be an awesome world to live in – one where we all value our own bodies and we stop criticising others in the process? Maybe that’s just what this little unborn treasure is waiting for 😉