Oprah talks about “ah-ha” moments, times when a switch in our minds unexpectedly flips and we see things in a different light. For me when these experiences occur in the gym, when we are suddenly surprised by our bodies’ unexpected abilities, these “ah-ha” moments become something more like “woohoo” moments. Our understanding of our bodies as strong or weak is shaped by the ways in which we regularly use them. Thanks to modern technology many of us spend the majority of our days fairly sedentary, seated at the computer, on the sofa, or in the car. Largely due to time constraints, many of us take the elevator when there are stairs, drive when we could have walked, and park in the closest spot. By the end of the work day, we notice that our bodies are stiff and sore from lack of use, possibly unbalanced and unstable from awkward movement patterns and relative immobility. This awareness then factors into our understanding of our bodies, and often rather than view these sensations as our bodies’ requests for movement, we understand our bodies to be weak or failing. These thoughts, often misperceptions, then shape our opinions of ourselves and define the ways we nourish or abuse our bodies in other contexts. They become the limits of our reality.
The exhilaration of the “woohoo” moment comes when someone has a completely unexpected experience of breaking through a self-imposed barrier. It’s not quite the same as working towards and achieving a set goal, although this can be equally exciting. These “woohoo” moments are more of a surprise, more like being blind-sided by something wonderful. And surprisingly and wonderfully, this has been the week of the “woohoo”.
As a result of my own strength training, one of my recent projects has been to take my coach up on a challenge she posted a few years back, one that demonstrates the essential usefulness of being functionally strong – being strong enough to lift and carry an “unconscious” person from the floor to safety. I found a friend willing to volunteer, Tim, who has 11 inches and about 45 pounds on me. It seemed like a good idea initially over email, but as I stood next to Tim talking through the project, breaking each move down into familiar lifts, I began to wonder if starting with one of my kids would have been a better idea. He was looking tall enough to be completely unwieldy. He suggested I first try a human carry, both of us starting from standing. Probably the result of the culture in which we live (it’s almost always the guy in the movies tossing some chick over his shoulder and bringing her to safety), but the human carry was a skill I had never learned. For anyone who has ever done this kind of carry, the idea that I would not be able to carry Tim probably seems silly, but that’s sort of my point. I had no idea. I was living in a different reality on the other side of what might seem obvious to others, in a reality that was limited by my ideas of my capabilities. So I gotta say that when I did lift Tim up over my shoulder easily on the first try and realized that he felt significantly lighter than I expected, it kinda shook my world up, in a big “woohoo” kind of way. It might sound trivial, but for me, as a relatively small woman, having that visceral understanding that I could play a hero and not just a victim was profound.
This week I also had the privilege of being witness to “woohoo” moments for several of my clients, instances when they were able to prove themselves wrong, when they had a profound realization that their bodies were stronger than their minds allowed them to believe. Either from underuse or from illness, two clients in particular had developed limited notions of their bodies’ abilities. Often there are very real reasons for the initial kernel of these ideas, but equally as often our minds then take that kernel and grow it into something entirely ungrounded. This is a trick my mind frequently plays on me. For my clients, in each instance, they were surprised to find abilities they thought they had lost; they were able to tap back into forgotten strength, to move effectively, and to work hard, despite their initial doubts. Sometimes it’s not so much what happens in our bodies that is significant, but instead what happens within our thought processes. For someone on the outside of these experiences, the exercises my clients did would not have seemed at all special, but it was the mental shift taking hold in them as a result of their movements that made the ordinary extraordinary. Moments like these are powerful, sometimes bringing my clients (and me) to tears; moments when they realize the unplumbed abilities of their bodies, moments when they begin to understand it was their perception of themselves that was the limiting factor, not the bodies they half-believed had failed them.
To varying degrees, we all have self-restricting thoughts. It’s worth it, from time to time, to investigate some of those ideas, to sound them out for accuracy, to test them and determine if they are outdated notions. In testing them, I’m not talking about anything radical; certainly I’m not talking about pushing ourselves beyond safe or reasonable limits. I’m really just advocating for something as seemingly ordinary as adding a little more movement back into our lives, something outside of our usual, possibly just outside of our comfort zones. By allowing our bodies to do what they were designed to do (move) instead of keeping them confined to a desk or the shortest route from A to B, we give ourselves the opportunity to re-establish a sometimes forgotten relationship with our bodies and from there to potentially challenge our ideas of our own abilities. Perhaps that first, seemingly ordinary step will set you on the path to something extraordinary, to your own “woohoo” moment.