Reparenting-Resistance to Training: Why Working Out Builds More Than Just Strength

I’m an avid runner and yogi. I love the feel of being out on the road, ending my fourth mile at the top of a hill. Also knowing that the ocean and its breeze is just ahead of me, waiting on the other side. I love the calm on my mat right after we finish our vinyasa. And when I’m lying prone in savasana, letting the energy from the workout settle over me. But it wasn’t always that way.

For a long time I avoided exercise at almost any cost. Even though I played baseball and soccer in my youth and also took taekwondo lessons, I’ve struggled with any form of physical activity since I started middle school. With the exceptions of when I decided to lift weights for stints of two months every five or so years. So it was to my complete surprise when about four years ago I took to running as a hobby and practicing yoga fairly regularly.

I’m not sure what got into me. But I took to both yoga and running so quickly that I was running half marathons in a little under a year’s time and I was doing yoga twice a week. Making great strides in my overall health and fitness levels.

I attribute much of my motivation levels to my quitting smoking, drinking and playing video games. But also as much credit goes to my living situation being the most stable it has been since my early childhood. Probably around the time I stopped playing all the sports I used to engage with in the first place. I had been so worried about my survival first, and belonging second, that any energy I had went to those two efforts. These thoughts consumed my thoughts and actions.

As I would come to find out I had been hyper vigilant due mostly to my past abuse that lead directly to my developing PTSD. I didn’t realize it then but I was expending great amounts of energy keeping my feelings guarded and isolating from others. I was so guarded that I was dissociating from both my feelings and body almost constantly.

Once my living situation stabilized and I was able to take stock of what personal resources and achievements I had to build from, I realized I didn’t have many. I had spent so much of my time running from every aspect of my life that I had maybe two friends that were well adjusted and stable. I had loads of debt and was pretty unhealthy as well. So I suppose it was only natural to use something like running (because it was already second nature to me) to get in touch with my body and take control of my health. Yoga helped to slow me down enough to feel what was here as well as getting acquainted with the parts of my body I had been neglecting for so long.

Running specifically was a source of pride and accomplishment for me. I could track the progress in mileage in time and with tangible results. As I said above I was running 13.1 miles from 2 miles inside of a year. Also the neighborhoods and scenery I was running in and around were beautiful. It helped that I had some running buddies along the way as well.

I remember running my first rely-marathon with a friend of mine from Vermont. The course carved through downtown Burlington and the views of Lake Champlain while running up and down the city’s hilly roads were lined with rows of vibrant green conifers. This was set behind the clear, glassy lake which was reflecting the sapphire sky and its low lying supple clouds. It was beautiful. And along with so many people running along side of me which was more supportive than I would have thought. There’s always an excitement on race day, like this run REALLY matters. No matter how many times you’ve run the course or the race, it feels special knowing there are so many like minded people gathering to achieve the same goal.

The feelings of support and community are also true of yoga classes. The dimly lighted room, the open space filled with yoga mats politely distanced to give room to the people surrounding you. And soothing music softly playing as people prepare for the class by coming to stillness and quiet on their mats. The quiet flow of synchronized movement while each person follows the instructors direction to the best of their ability with focused intentions and minds. And finally the release of the session’s work as it melts away from your body leaving you feeling relaxed and filled with life, as you finish your day’s practice in savasana.

These two hobbies have been a large influence of my healing path as well. From the time of my abuse till I was in my early thirties, I had no real goals or aspirations to rise to in my life. I was listlessly floating around from situation to relationship to circumstance, completely uncertain about what was going to happen to me or my future. I didn’t feel as though I really had a future to speak of. After I woke up into my emotions, running and yoga were the two ways I was able to give some structure to my life.

Running was a way for me to understand that I could achieve something, however small. The distances I ran and the connections I made with the people I ran with were markers for me. Markers that allowed me to cultivate a sense of accomplishment. Even if it was only making the jump from mile six to mile seven, I was proud of that mile. As though that mile showed me I could overcome something. Achieve what I never thought I was able to accomplish. Or the five mile buddy runs I used to run with my friend Jenny, around the neighborhoods of my past. The unconditional friendship and feelings of accomplishment of consistently running five miles that accompanied me through the streets that I had so associated with past failures. They gave me the strength to feel better about the choices I was making. Instead of the choices I had made.

And with yoga it was a way for me to feel comfortable around people again. Something I was having trouble with while being present in my body. I had been so used to drinking and using medication to soothe myself while around others that I forgot how to be around someone while in an unaltered state. Yoga with its comforting setting and gentle flow while being a challenging workout, showed me how to be in my body. And to experience these emotions not only in my body, but while being surrounded by supportive, like minded people.

As I’ve mentioned above I had maybe two friends who stuck with me and were supportive. Most of the people I had surrounded myself with before I woke up emotionally were critical, angry and viciously mean. Both my friends and especially my family were very cold and very cutting. It was no wonder that I was so detached from my body and feelings. Every time I stepped foot inside myself I felt as though I was under attack!

Running and yoga were also ways for me to know I could achieve physical health goals if I committed to them. And that they were ways of being in my body and surrounded by people and feel safe. Furthermore, I felt that I could choose to make these healthy choices and choose to surround myself with people who felt safe to be around. That helped to show me that I had the agency I felt I lacked for so long. I could choose how my future would unfold. I could stop wandering so listlessly and find some focus. Some footing to regain control of my life.

I suppose this is why sports are so important for some young people. Something to give them the stable, supportive, community that they may be lacking elsewhere in their lives. A younger me would have scoffed at the idea. But looking back on what the self-driven, dedication and support from loved ones has given me, I could only imagine what it would do for someone who was hanging on by a thread. Who felt like they were just trying to survive.

Fortunately for us we don’t have to be experiencing some great trauma to develop a new healthy hobbie like running or yoga. The benefits are equally as gratifying either way. The more we make showing up for ourselves a habit, by way of commiting to our workouts and physical health, the greater the trust we nurture in our own lives will be. Tara Brach a Buddhist psychologist who I’ve mentioned before on this blog, gave a talk related to this subject. It’s about how “it’s not the survival of the fittest, it’s the survival of the nurtured.” And for me the more often I reflect on this piece of wisdom the truer it becomes.

So if you haven’t started a hobby like running or yoga, or maybe swimming has always appealed to you, I urge you to pursue your interests. Be inquisitive and explore your personality some. Maybe hiking has been in the back of your mind waiting for the time to be right to pick it up and see where it takes you. Make the time for yourself and show up. But be kind to yourself on the way and be consistent. One of the reasons yoga is so healthy is that there is no competition, no judgement. You show up just as you are. And that’s always be enough. Whatever interest or predilections you have, foster them. Who knows where they’ll take you but wherever it is it will be satisfying. And you’ll be building confidence and trust in yourself along the way. Happy trails and Namaste :]

Self Care: Taking Care of Your Professional Needs

For some, careers come naturally. From an early age, some may know what they would like to do and pursue that interest. Others may take a little longer to find where their passions lie. Maybe they read an article that sparked an interest and a desire to understand more. Others may have admired a role model or someone who exemplified the spirit of who they wanted to become. Others may not have been so lucky.

If you were like me you had no idea what you wanted to be and no one around to tell you how important it is to find fulfilling work. I was talking to a friend recently and she summed up what it was like for both of us growing up. She said she had no problem going to college, but there was a turnoff on the career path that wasn’t clearly marked. Showing her how to convert what is interesting to her and to borrow a sentiment from Marie Condo, what “sparked joy” into a fulfilling career.

This isn’t a new story for sure. That’s why popular phrases such as, “that’s why it’s called work” or something another friend of mine’s wife said to him, “you act as though your the first person to not enjoy their job” are prevalent. These may be true statements and there are aspects of every job that may be less than palatable for those doing them. But what about finding meaning in the work we’re doing. Or at least getting behind the values or moral compass of the company we work for. Shouldn’t that make our work, regardless of how tedious some tasks may be, more fulfilling?

I would argue yes. To use an extreme example to illustrate my point, if I worked for a company that was knowingly destroying the environment I would feel less satisfied than if I worked at a place where all our single use disposables were compostable. Now we all have our own standards by which we judge fulfillment, but there is a common thread. And that is a sense of joy and even pride in our contribution to something larger.

If we’re left in the category of, I don’t know what I want to do and I don’t know how to get there, then there are a few things you can do to help find your path. For starters we can ask ourselves what our values are. There are tests out there that can help with this aspect. Carl Jung’s personality type test is a good place to begin. It starts by breaking down your tendencies and illustrates the patterns you are most likely to fall into by placing you in four of eight categories. If you’re not familiar with them they are, introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuition, feeling/thinking and judgement/perception. There are 16 possible combinations and it’s best to not read them until after you take the test. There are a number of places online where you can take the test and for free as well.

Then there’s the enneagram test. This test shows you which archetype you most resemble. Some examples of archetypes you could be classified as are, lover, thinker, leader, reformer… There are also free resources online for this test as well. I’m not as familiar with this one but it seems to help some people so it’s worth looking into if you’re starting from scratch.

These tests can be helpful to finding your values but they are just aids for self discovery. These test methods have devoted followers and can be somewhat polarizing. Don’t forget that no one test should be able to define who you are or what your values. It’s worth remembering that even though you may fall into a certain type you may very much connect with, in some way you are all aspects of each type.

Now let’s say you have a career you are passionate about and find joy and fulfillment from. Do you know how much you should be compensated for the work you do? Often times people don’t know what they should be asking for when it comes to pay and benefits. Or that this area is even negotiable.

It took me a long time to understand that the experience I have is worth something to my employer. I was always taught that I should just be grateful that I have a job and to work as hard as possible. Sacrificing myself and time for the people I worked for regardless of how they treated me. I was taught that loyalty was most important and self sacrifice was a given.

This type of dedication isn’t inherently bad. There’s a lot to be said for someone’s character who holds these values close. It’s when these values are taken for granted and expected as given while being taken advantage of by either abuse of time or compensation. If you don’t know how you should be compensated there’s a good chance that your employer does and may be willing to take advantage of your ignorance.

That being said there are a lot of fair employers out there. But it’s best to be prepared and not leave something this valuable up to chance. And even with a fair employer, I’ve worked many a place where someone held some resentment for the sacrifices they weren’t asked to make because of the unfair standard they held themselves up against. These situations are all too common and can be avoided by setting healthy work boundaries. Unfortunately this is something that is uncommon and something not everyone is taught to do. There are websites such as Salary.com and PayScale, where you can determine what your rate of pay should be. And hopefully avoid situations like these altogether.

And don’t forget to take some time to yourself. Take a long weekend, go visit a friend or a place you enjoy. Or discover a new city. Take in the sights and enjoying a relaxing dinner. Don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor and develop your personal likes and interests. No matter how much fulfillment you get from your work, if you don’t balance it with some time to yourself you can become drained and one dimensional.

Hopefully, with the right attitude and drive, you will be doing the work that brings you joy and you will be compensated fairly for your time and experience in setting healthy boundaries for yourself by being honest with how much you are able to give, and when to take time for yourself.

“Notabli Offices” by brettchalupa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Self-Care: Setting Healthy Boundaries and Finding Balance

Setting healthy boundaries and balance. This is a tough one for a lot of folks including myself. We’re taught from an early age that it is better to give than to receive and that being selfless is a virtue. And in some cases those are noble values. But when the list of people to please and the lists of tasks to do mount, what is a value can become a drain of your energy, vitality, and your willingness to engage with life and others. And depending on the viracity to which you hold to these values, the effects can be dramatic.

I used to have poorly defined boundaries as did those who were closest in to me. If I had a grievance with somebody I would hold it in and resentment would eventually take hold. Leaving me with a silent grudge that was left to fester. But it wasn’t just me. Most of the people I was in contact with day to day acted the same way. Arguments would erupt because of the smallest infraction or mistaken intention. All of which could have been avoided if we had just spoken candidly about how we felt about whatever the issue was. And sometimes even that isn’t enough!

I had a sort of falling out with a loved one recently who won’t talk to me because I asked them a question about a shared experience from our past. The question was benign enough. I asked if they had something from our youth that smelled of jasmine. They responded with, “I love you, but I just need time.” Time from what I’m not sure, but I know this person has a good heart. They just give more than they had to give and the result was, in this case anyway, a loss of a friend who could be a source of support.

We’ve all been in this person’s shoes. Too much to do and too many people and things to keep track of with not enough time to do it all in. The stress mounts until it feels like it’s all just too much to keep in. This is where setting personal boundaries and finding balance by offsetting some of life’s stressors is most important. Ideally we would have some resources to fall back on before we get to this level of stress. But it’s never too late to take a break and give yourself the time and space needed to recover from the constant inflow of life stressors, whatever they may be.

One of the first steps in psychological self care is prevention. If the above scenario feels all too familiar, difficulty saying no to added responsibility, then setting a boundary around saying no to added responsibility will help to prevent some stress. It’s healthy to want to do for others. It’s one of the ways we create tight bonds and close relationships with one another and one of the love languages. But when we take on so much that the tasks we agree to do become a source of distress, then we’re tearing apart the connections we were trying to build when we agreed to take them on in the first place.

Alternately when stress does mount, journalling can be a way to put some distance between yourself and the situation. Giving yourself the time and space needed to gain a new perspective. Coming up with a resource list can be helpful as well. Something I’ve added to my journal for times when you feel as though you’ve run out of ideas or are just too tired to think.

Laughter is another obvious, though sometimes elusive, resource and release from stress. It’s funny because at any given moment if I were asked if I’d like to have a good laugh, I would be happy to. But I’m usually too preoccupied or engaged in what I’m doing to relax enough. If you’re uptight like I am not to worry, humor is something that can be cultivated. By searching for shows or comedians that strike a chord with you or finding an author who speaks to your sense of humor. And don’t forget conversations with friends, family or co-workers that you are able to be comfortable with. Maybe start a conversation around a funny thing that happened to you in the past. Ask about others funny stories. They’re out there and they’re some gems!

Though, stressful times are often when it’s most difficult to focus on cultivating a relaxed state. Being mindful of the times we are stressed can be a powerful tool in helping us to come back to the mindset that can help cultivate a relaxed state of being. And help to aid in developing a sense of humor. By recognizing we are stressed we can then realize that it is a passing emotion and allow it to flow through us. Rather than tighten our focus on how to stop, avoid or get rid of, the stress.

Exploring and cultivating interests and hobbies. Saying no to stressful situations and responsibilities when you know you’ve taken too much on. Journaling or spending time with friends and family communicating and laughing, are all ways to help cultivate a relaxed state of being. They also allow us the time and space necessary to create the boundaries and balance that are so important in caring for our mental health and well being.

So whether it’s asking a co-worker to pick up a task that you know you just won’t have the time to do. Writing about the emotions that come up during the day in your journal. Or finding a new comic or author to immerse yourself in. Taking time to recognize when you’re stressed and how to bring yourself back to a more relaxed version of you is a skill worth practicing. And one that will bring you peace and balance.

“Finding balance” by James Jordan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Self-Care: Meditation, Am I Doing this Right?

Full disclosure, I’m a meditator, and I believe in God. That being said, I’m not here to sell you on my idea of what’s right or tell you what’s right for you, I’m only going to tell you what my process was and hopefully it will be helpful to some.

I’ve been meditating for about seven years, and it has helped to change my perspective on just about everything. That doesn’t mean that life is suddenly easier, or the emotional weight is any less than it was when I wasn’t meditating. I still experience the same frustrations and problems as I did before, only now I see things in a different light.

I believe the main benefit I’ve gained from meditation is that I’m more easily able to connect with my emotions and wants and needs than I ever was in the past. And things have slowed down quite a bit.

I used to drink. Coffee during the day, mostly espresso and about seven to nine shots. They were usually in the form of mocha lattes and also lots of energy drinks. Then alcohol at night, six to seven drinks. These were to slow myself down from all the coffee I drank. Sometimes I’d mix the energy drinks with the alcohol. It was tough. A constant cycle and not a healthy one or something that was sustainable by any means. If I went without either for to long I would get panic attacks. When the feelings I was running from would slowly start to bubble to the surface.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. I had some fun times but I was never really aware of the consequences of living without restraint and only living for the fun times. The “difficult” emotions mounted on the doorstep not unlike stacks of unpaid bills waiting for the day that I would open them. Only to be bowled over by the amount owed.

As I’ve said above, my emotional debts sometimes came in the form of anxiety attacks. But they usually took the form of a listless floating around without direction and not knowing how to move myself forward in life. In the direction that I didn’t quite have a bearing on. And it wasn’t just myself that I was hurting by avoiding my unfelt emotions. It was everyone around me that relied on me in some way or for some form of support.

For example I was married for eight years. Looking back now I can see what a wonderful and supportive wife I had, but that’s exactly it. The wife I HAD. I neglected her emotions in our relationship in the same ways I was neglecting my own emotions. One day she even came to me and said, “I feel like we’re roommates”. This should have been a clue as to the extent that I had been disconnecting from her and my feelings for her in our relationship.

In the end I ran from her. To avoid the emotional bills that were pounding on my door for the ways I had been living. Unfortunately I ran straight into the arms of a woman who was also on the run from her own emotional debt. As you’ve probably already guessed it did not end well for anyone involved. Accept my ex-wife who is happily remarried and where she wants to be. I’m happy for her and wish her nothing but the best for her and her family.

But it wasn’t until I started meditating that I could even begin to see things from this perspective. Meditation helped me to open the bills one at a time and take stock of my personal resources. And allocate parts of myself, my resources, to myself to help ease the pain of so many neglected emotions.

Ironically one of the areas I had neglected was personal finance. So some of my emotional debt came in the form of monetary debt. In fact, most of what I was doing was reparenting myself around all the neglected areas of my life. Giving myself the care and attention that I had never received from my parents. And it wasn’t all their fault but without the chance to slow down and take a personal inventory, I would have went along in life repeating the same cycles that my parents lived through and theirs before them.

It isn’t always easy. Getting in touch with the parts of ourselves we’ve been avoiding. But for me meditation helped. It helped me to reach out to others for help when I needed it. I was raised by men who were men. Hairy chested, heavy drinking, take what they want and trample whomever is in their way, men. Asking for help was, according to the men (and women) who raised me, “a woman’s trait”. It took a long time for me to unlearn this and many other lessons I was taught.

Later a co-worker of mine at a past job (let’s call him Lance 😉 called this “toxic masculinity”. Something he learned while he was going to a private school. He, much like myself, was soft spoken and sensitive to others’ emotional needs. Something that is not acceptable in a toxically masculine culture. So clearly there was something wrong with us. Which means we were looked down on or just plain abused.

I tried to emulate this toxic masculinity because I thought it would grant me acceptance. But all it did was make me mean. And I burned a lot of bridges during that time period of my life. And again thanks to meditation I couldn’t see any of this until I slowed down enough and the made genuine connections with others like Lance, heard his stories and empathize with his situation. Because it was the same as mine.

I have another friend who, let’s call her laughing princess, when I told her I meditated said to me, “oh, you mean like deep prayer”. What I liked about her comment was instead of fighting over who was right about what to call it, she recognized it as a practice in her life by a different name and we both agreed that it was something that was helpful for each of us.

These are only a few of the areas of my life that have changed and improved because I chose to slow down and take a deeper look into my spiritual experience. Like my friend laughing princess, we can call it whatever we’ve come to understand it as. For some you may be discovering it for the first time. Wherever you are it’s okay. Give it time and space and trust you will find the way. Happy trails :]

Image Credits: “Smokey Temple” by Antonio R Vianello is licensed under CC BY 2.0