Learning to be a ballerina … when you’ve always been an Elephant
I was a chubby child. Big-boned as my Mother called it, to be polite? I was also a tomboy who shunned make up for maths and dates with boys for dates with my radio, taping the Top 40 on a Sunday afternoon, trying to edit out the DJ. Ahhh simpler times.
I never enjoyed PE (physical education). I fractured my wrist playing hockey and over-egged my asthma to get out of swimming. Then, I got to sit in the gallery watching with a hot chocolate, that you might say was clever! Cross country filled me with dread & I’d hang around at the back hoping for a pity shortcut allowance. In fact, the only time I remember enjoying physical exertion at school was Tug-O-War for sports day – big-boned you see.
About one of the only things I ever wanted to do with my body was ballet. My Sister did ballet. It was what the girls did. It involved music & dance, it was princess-like & graceful and required you to be thin & pretty; or so my child mind thought at the time. But my big flat-footed hooves were never going to make the barre.
Then one day, a few years back now I decided to go for a run. I’d tried many times before and given up as soon as I was certain no one could see. Normally within minutes of leaving the house. But for some reason it was really goading me, thinking this really simple action of walking more quickly was beyond me. And so I was determined to prove to myself I could run.
My growth mindset – from non-runner to a half-marathon
I used one of those apps that builds you up from running one minute to 5K. A complete beginners guide that talks to you whilst you’re doing it. I would pretend no one else was there so that it didn’t matter when I stopped & walked. It wasn’t easy, but I’m pretty stubborn and so being able to breathe correctly to allow my body to run was going to be something I would overcome.
Once I’d mastered the 5K, I paced for a 10K goal. When that was achieved, I was determined to stamp a Half Marathon … tick, tick, tick. Stamp being the operative word, heavy-footed, flat-footed, hard miles on the pavement. I didn’t do any of this agility & speed malarkey. I just got out there & stomped one foot in front of the other. Partially because I just like to crack on with things & partially because coordination is a mystery to me, just correctly getting left from right is sometimes a challenge.
If anyone’s ever read the book ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall (& if you haven’t – it’s an awesome book, about running, clue in the title) the ultimate goal to run well is shortened to four words ‘Easy, Light, Smooth, Fast’ … having challenged myself purely on the basis to run, a distance, none of those words applied to me. I did not find it easy. I was far from light of foot or smooth of flow and I was by nobody’s standard ‘fast’. On my runs, I repeated that mantra and it did change the way I ran. I only ever mastered the easy part, but once I stopped trying to achieve something in my running, I enjoyed it a whole lot more. I’ll likely never attain the other 3 as a result & I’m cool with that.
The next step
Running then helped me find Yoga as I looked for new things to test my body with, new ways to push it and do what I had never pushed myself to do before. To recap, my foot placement is heavy. I lack coordination. I need to make an L with my hand to remember it is the left one and I escaped PE including gymnastics (which I thought was torture at the time) at every opportunity. Just to add to this, I lack balance, have no upper body strength (if only secondary school had Tug-O-War) and I’d now developed super tight hamstrings from a relentless running regime. AND I WENT TO YOGA. It’s fair to say I didn’t know what I was getting into, or I might never have gone?!
It all starts in the mind
That was also several three years ago now. So what have I learnt from these two very physical shifts in my body? How can you create a growth mindset?
1. The only thing in your way of achieving your goal, is you.
2. Don’t limit yourself by your past, if you want change – pursue it.
3. The body is as old as the mind allows it to be … it can learn & be flexible too.
4. Find a joy and go after it, you never know where it might take you … Did I mention I’m a trained Yoga teacher now?
5. Your mind is your most underutilised muscle … I couldn’t have done any of the above if I didn’t flex my thoughts.
& Last but not least, I’ve fallen a little bit in love with my feet. These strong, grounding beasts, that connect me to the Earth & are all feeling. It’s fair to say I’m still a big stomper! My jump backs & forwards have required me to start practicing downstairs after a line appeared on the ceiling under the room I had been practicing in at home. Oops, but 90% of what I changed in my body, started in my head.
Practice, practice, practice & just enjoy it!
The really good part?
As a ‘Yogi’, yes there are poses I would like to master. Headstand is always on a Yogi’s list to attain. Yes, I’d like to be more flexible, same with strength … but I know now, there isn’t a magic wand for these. I won’t see muscles appear overnight and tomorrow I won’t suddenly not need the wall when I flail my legs up with hope in a headstand. That’s why in Yoga it’s called practice. But every day is adding to the magic. Every practice is easing my body into a new place it has never been before. Every. Single. Day. How cool is that? So instead of goals, I’m enjoying the gains, every day, practice, practice, practice.
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