“Have more fun.” That’s what came to me as I asked myself what I wanted for 2019.
Fun, I can dig that. So as December drew to an end, scouring the internet for fun ways to kick off 2019, a New Year’s Day 5K Fun Run showed up in search results.
I considered joining in, which was big, because unlike what the name suggests, running organized races has rarely been fun for me.
Rewarding, yes. Nerve-wracking, hell yes. Self-esteem boosting, on a good day.
Fun? Not so much.
Running and racing has met my need for accomplishment; a way to measure my achievements (and worth).
It’s been a way of self-regulating my calorie intake: permission to enjoy tonight’s dinner out or burn off last night’s calories.
When everything went to plan (ie my time was acceptable, the waistband on my leggings weren’t too tight, and I couldn’t feel my thighs jiggle with each step), I felt good about myself.
I wouldn’t call that fun though. The pride and temporary self-acceptance covered up self-loathing, worries about what others would think of me, and a constant sense of urgency to go faster, further, and do it right this time.
Yeah, not fun.
About 10 years ago, my knee crapped out on me. I tried pushing through, but the pain was too much, so I sought out alternate forms of movement (and calorie-burning).
I cycled for a bit, walked around the park, and after awhile, discovered this: I didn’t actually miss the running.
This was news to me, because when I first found out I had loose cartilage between my patella and femur, I thought, “Right, fix this and then get back on it.” I couldn’t imagine a life without running.
My identity and self-worth were so tied up in this label of performance, that to stop running felt like a death of me.
But within 6 months of stopping cold-turkey, I was fine without it. In fact, more than fine, I was happy.
No more comparing myself to yesterday’s time, or the chick bounding past me. No more striving to achieve a certain level of fitness or dress size. No more waking up each morning with the sole purpose of the day being, ‘make sure to go for a run after work’, and then berating myself when I didn’t. And no more dragging myself out the door when everything within me was craving a glass of wine in the garden with friends.
The knee injury gave me the much needed space to choose how I used my time. Instead of continuing to force my body to do what it no longer wanted, I started choosing joy and pleasure instead.
I chose what felt good in my body, even if it wasn’t guaranteed to make me look good.
I doubt it’s a choice I would have volunteered to make had my knee stayed pain-free, but somehow, my body knew best.
Fast-forward to a week ago. 2018 was coming to a close. A year that kicked my ass, as I know it did for many of you reading this. So this invitation for fun in 2019 was one I was willing to accept.
I was visiting my family in Boise, Idaho, a city with a huge outdoorsy running community. Bordering foothills of snow-capped mountains, you can’t not drag yourself outside when you’re there. As I ventured out daily for a walk, and sometimes a light jog, something stirred inside me… Why not join in the local 5K on New Year’s Day?
A split second later, the self-doubt crept in…
Could I really do this, no performance-strings attached? Could I really show up and just immerse myself in the fresh air, scenery, and festive vibe, without caring how slow I was going, if I stopped midway (sacrilege!), and how much jiggling was going on?
Over the last few years I’ve dipped in and out of the running scene and organised races. The ‘dipping in’ was when I was running consistently enough to consider myself ‘fit’. The ‘dip out’ was when the shame about my times moving in the wrong the direction, got the best of me.
Note that prior to January 1, 2019, I had not been doing much consistent running save for a few feeble attempts while in Idaho. Feeble as in… run for 3 minutes, walk for 5, run another 3 or 4, stop to catch my breath, walk to the top of the hill, bounce down the otherside, walk the rest of the way home.
I would not consider myself fit by my old running standards.
10 years ago, I would’ve cringed at my current-day self and the thought of participating in a race. 15 years ago I would’ve secretly mocked the woman that I am now. ‘Who does she think she is, showing up to the starting line looking like that? Why don’t you go work out like a real runner?’
I’m not proud of who I was; not proud of how I treated my body, how I spoke to myself in the mirror, and how I constantly threw poisonous thought-darts at others. It didn’t matter if you were fitter or fatter, I had a dart for you.
As these memories came flooding back, and I questioned if I could really stay on the fun-side of things, I heard these words, “Yes, you can.”
I knew I could trust that ‘YES’, because it was coming from deep within me. It was the voice of a deep desire. The desire to kick-off this year with some fun.
While the old me would have squashed that desire for fear of looking bad while feeling good, the new me saw the bigger game at play. If I chose to run for fun, it was more than just exercising my body over the course of 3.1 miles.
This run for fun exercising a fierce and fiery muscle; saying YES to accepting my body fully as it is, and saying NO to defining myself by my performance. Saying YES to valuing myself whether or not I identify as a runner, saying NO to that value contingent on whether or not I can outshine the person next to me.
This run for fun was also an act of Love. Actually running for fun, reclaimed the parts of me that I shamed so many times over the years, including my body, my imperfections, and a carefree spirit that prioritizes playful connection over rules and chores.
It’s hard to argue with Love, so the decision was made; I am doing this because I friggin want to. (Even in 15F temperatures. With the sun up, sky blue, and gloves on, my heart was full.)
As I was dropped off at the starting line, I could feel the pre-race jitters start to creep in. A default fear about performance that I was also ready to ditch.
I got my number, made one last trip to the bathroom, and as the blaring music got everyone all pumped up, I scanned the crowd and saw my mom walking toward me. She and my dad had decided to walk the race.
It took a few minutes to find my dad in the crowd, which meant that by the time the gun went off, I was in the back of the pack, one of the last ones to cross the starting line, and FYI I was WALKING.
AND I DIDN’T CARE.
We walked and talked, and finally, when my body got a little too cold for comfort, I started to run.
The ground is a lot kinder to my knee than the asphalt, so I skirted to the edge of the path and ran across the frosty grass; each step crunching along the way.
I love that sound. The rhythmic crunch-crunch, as you dodge tree roots and frozen dog poo.
The sun streamed through the bare trees, the river gurgled past. I stopped to walk, catch my breath, and drink in my surroundings. (I do this on most walk/runs. Instead of just plowing past the beauty, I actually stop to look at it. Try it sometime, it’s fun!)
There was a family of ducks stealthy paddling by, a single leaf left on the tree barely moving in the still air.
Before, I would’ve have whizzed past these gems, taking no notice of anything other than where my foot was going to land, the blur of the trees, and the feet of the person ahead of me that I was aiming to pass.
But not this day. This day I ran with all of me, and began experimenting with what I teach at EMBODY dance classes.
What sounds were enticing me? What scents exhilarating my soul? What colors were drawing me in, invigorating my steps?
And my favourite… what did I notice in my body?
What if I tried breathing like I do in yoga? What if I tucked my pelvis, engaged my core, and lifted my head a little higher? How would that feel?
It felt good. So good I could fly.
And that’s when the celebration began to sizzle through me. Anticipation beaming through my eyes, my life-force rebounding off the ground and up through my body, my heart softening toward each person I ran by.
Thank you. I see you. I love you.
An embodied run if there ever was one.
As I turned the corner, approaching the last ¼ mile, I saw my family standing there, waving, cheering me on, teaching my 21 month-old niece one of the many ways in which you can celebrate life.
She joined me for the home-stretch, me pushing her in the stroller, she waving like a Queen to the crowd and clapping as we crossed the finish line.
Tears of Joy snuck into my eyes. I was Present. Participating. Noticing. Having fun.
So much fun I have no idea what the numbers on the clock were when I crossed the finish line.
I’ve been thinking about this day; pre-writing this post in my head and asking myself, is this even news-worthy? ‘So what, you ran a 5K. You were present and happier than usual. Big deal. Stop-it with the self-serving updates.’
Until I realized this.
The pleasure that I felt in my body as I walked, ran, walked, and ran again… the awareness and connection to my senses and surroundings that brought me joy… that is everything.
This is not just about 30 minutes of my or your life. This is about bringing your ability to connect with your body on-line, so that you can bring your life on-line.
Most of us go through life so numbed out we don’t even know what’s going on in our body.
Pain, constriction, tension; who wants to feel this? No one. So you consciously find something to make you feel better. Maybe it’s food, working out, a pill, or some other substance.
Or maybe you’re already so disconnected, you don’t even know the pain is there anymore. You’ve been living like this for so long, pain is the new normal.
I’ve done both, and neither is a way to live; likely really fully live.
Your body is like a barometer, gauging both peace and pressure in your life. Things like personal and emotional safety, financial security, personal integrity in how you use your time and resources, and who you choose to hang-out and partner-up with… these all contribute to expansive, spacious, pleasure-filled inner-peace, or tight, cramped, painful pressure.
Mortgage and bills paid on time? It’s likely your shoulders will be relaxed, maybe even your head held high.
Missed the fact the interest-free period on your credit card is over and you’ve been hit with some hefty fees? My guess is those shoulders are raised, your jaw is clenched, and there is a tight knot growing in your core somewhere.
Watching your kid walk for the first time? Your heart might be so full it feels like it will explode in the best way possible.
In a relationship that is out of balance? That same chest cavity might feel like it’s carrying a ton of bricks.
Your body knows pleasure and it knows pain. It’s our job to discern the two; which means knowing both intimately.
We’re usually good at tolerating pain; all the pushing through, striving, and working hard that we’ve been taught to do.
But letting the pleasure in? If that made it into your curriculum, consider yourself blessed.
We need to know pleasure. We need to experience it and recognize it in our bodies, otherwise our body is only doing half its job.
If we only know pain, then we only know what is not aligned in our lives. We need to experience what feels good in our bodies, so that we can recognize that same feeling as we participate in activities and relationships that are aligned for our lives.
Those moments during my run, when the celebration started sizzling, that’s how I want to feel everyday.
I want my work, my friendships, my conversations to be so fun and fulfilling that my eyes twinkle and beam with anticipation.
I want my contribution to this world to be so integrally aligned with who I am, that the impact feels effortless as it bounces around the globe.
I want to be so humbled and in awe of life, that my heart softens toward each person I meet and each creation I encounter; so I remember: I am always in the presence of God.
But how will I feel this if I don’t allow this joy, this strength, this Love, in?
How will I know what I am feeling if I don’t teach myself to listen to the language of my body? To discern between pleasure and pain, and allow myself to feel the full range.
My most embodied moments during this fun run lasted no more than 5 minutes, probably more like 3, yet I remember them, am feeling them again 5 days later.
Like a gun fired in a canyon, what you experience in your body reverbs and stays with you. Which means, you only have to experience something once and the imprint is in you. This goes for both pain and pleasure, and since we’re wired to remember the pain (it’s a historic safety mechanism) we have to consciously choose to go after the pleasure.
However you’ve started off your new year… resolute, intentional, or waiting for tomorrow to bring some sunshine, I invite you to consider the fun-factor. What feels good? When’s the last time you celebrated?
If like me, you’re waking up to the importance of including your body in the process, I’ll leave you with a short practice to reorient your body and your life to the joy and the love that is waiting there for you.
Try this at home:
- Settle into a place where you feel comfortable and relaxed. Perhaps it’s your favourite armchair, your yoga mat, or cwtched up in bed.
- Start to explore your senses. I like to close my eyes so I’m not distracted by sight. This doesn’t always feel good for everyone, so go with what works for you.
- You can try starting with sound… what sounds are your ears drawn to? What sounds feel close, far away? Here’s fun game: See how far away your ears can hear.
- Enjoy the sounds until you’re ready to include another sense. Perhaps it’s your sense of smell. What scents can you catch as they breeze by? Is there anything that you want to smell more of? Anything you want to stop smelling? What scent do you want to linger in the air around you right now?
- Start to check in with Taste. Is there a flavour present in my mouth? (For me, normally no, or I’m reminded to brush my teeth 🙂 ) It is fun to play with though!) If you breathe in the air through your mouth, can you catch a taste of the air?
- With Sound, Scent, and Taste on-line, you can start to explore Touch. What textures or temperatures can I feel on my skin? Is there a touch I want to feel right now? Perhaps a warm compress or a gentle tickle on my skin.
- By now you might be present to an internal sensation (sometimes that’s referred to as a ‘felt-sense’). For example, your hands or feet might be tingling, or you can tell your back is tight and you would really love to shift your posture so it feels better. See what you notice and let yourself respond to the sensations you are experiencing.
- Hang out there for as long as you like, and then when you’re ready, prepare to open your eyes. As you slowly start to open them, really focus-in on what you see. Notice any colours, textures or shapes that catch your eye. Allow yourself to linger with them, let yourself by mesmerized by your surroundings.
- You can hang out here, exploring your surroundings through all 6 senses for as long as you like. You might be able to express how you are feeling through a word, shape, or colour. Consider this a memory-gift for this round of pleasure.
- Repeat as often as you like, for as long as you like.
EMBODY dance classes have taught me how to be present with myself and navigate towards pleasure, joy, and celebration in both my body and my life. I’d love to share this experience with you. I teach monthly classes in Swansea & Carmarthen in Wales, UK. In the UK and not in Wales? I’d love to come to you. Contact me if you are interested in co-hosting an EMBODY event near you. Not in the UK? There are 15 other awesome teachers sprinkled around the US and the globe. Find out more at www.embodydanceclass.com.