One time, I worked for a few months at a gym. As a personal trainer.
It is one of the very few times in my life where I’ve had a “boss.”
My boss was a man named Cedric.
Personal training was a sales position, and Cedric taught me how to sell.
This meant that I had to walk up to people in the gym and ask them if they had ever worked with a trainer, and offer them a free session.
I would schedule them in for a session. At the beginning of that session I’d sit down with them and fill out an entire form. Paperwork, I had to tell them.
The purpose of the paperwork was to remind people of how shitty they felt about their bodies.
Cedric told me how I needed to have people step on the scale in front of me, so I could mark down their weight.
They couldn’t just tell me. I had to have them prove the number, and feel their shame in front of me.
If they weren’t ashamed enough of their weight, he delighted in showing me the extra body fat percentage calculator in the drawer, so that I could pinch their skin and show them what was wrong with them.
He did mine. It said I had high body fat, which obviously wasn’t true – what I did have was a ton of muscle.
“It’s not really accurate,” he said, shrugging. “But just use it.”
Then I was to lead people through a session.
At the end of the session, I was supposed to take them back in the room, remind them of their goals and how shitty they would feel if they didn’t hire me, and then sign them up for training.
I was kind of a rogue trainer – I never pinched people’s fat and I would often sign them up for training only to teach them powerlifting instead. (Cedric did not like this).
I thought this was better. But really, it wasn’t.
Because here’s the thing: The fitness world is built to disconnect you from your body.
If you’re not trying to be thinner, you’re trying to be stronger.
If you’re not trying to be stronger, you’re trying to be faster.
If you’re not trying to be faster, you’re trying to be more flexible.
If you’re not trying to eat less, you’re trying to eat more, or trying to eat the right things.
You have a masculine goal and you want to make your body conform to the result.
Pretty much all exercise in our culture is about trying to “get” somewhere.
I have been really unwinding my own relationship with this.
My entire life I’ve identified as an athlete. Sports came super naturally to me. I’ve written a lot about my pattern of wanting to do a good job, wanting to excel in order to gain love and approval. Physical strength was the easiest way.
I’ve switched what that’s looked like over the years – from soccer to circus arts to pole dance to powerlifting.
But it’s always been something I’ve known how to do – to push my body to its limits.
In the end of 2019 my right shoulder started bothering me. I ignored it for a while; lifting heavy weights is bound to cause some twinges here and there, and typically they eventually go away.
Then the pandemic hit. The gyms shut down, and I stopped moving. I ran every so often for a few months, but no other movement. I wasn’t lifting, so my shoulder wasn’t bothering me, and I forgot about it.
When the gyms opened up in June, I was surprised to find that my shoulder had gotten worse. And I could not move it back into the position to hold a barbell and squat.
The squat is my favorite lift. I was heavily identified with how good I was at it. I could easily squat twice my body weight, plus it made my butt bigger. And I enjoyed it.
For the rest of 2020 I went to multiple doctors, trying to figure out what was wrong with my shoulder. And then my left shoulder started having the same pain. I was caught in this weird in-between, and I often reacted like a child – I didn’t want to have to do the “dumb” exercises to help it get better, I just wanted to lift heavy weights again.
I spent a good amount of time questioning how bothered I was by this. I had been injured before, many times throughout my life, and I had never reacted in this way. I had always done the exercises. I had always fixed my body and moved on.
This time, it was like I was so caught up in being annoyed at it that I didn’t really want to look at what was underneath it. Why was I so identified with lifting?
Whenever you take away something that is a part of your life – no matter if it’s a “healthy” thing or not – you get to learn who you are without it. You unearth the sticky pieces that are there, that you might be overruling.
I began to realize that even though I consciously thought that I had good reasons for lifting (it’s good for your body, good for health and bone density, being stronger is good)… the real reasons were reasons that I didn’t quite enjoy.
I liked lifting because it was an easy and fun way to keep my body looking the way I wanted it to look. I liked being covered in muscle because it made me feel powerful and better than others.
And as I was starting to shift into a more truly feminine way of being in the world, especially in my business, the out-of-alignment-ness of this type of exercise was grating on me.
I didn’t want it to be. My mind wanted that part of me to shut up – I wasn’t going to stop being strong. I wasn’t going to stop doing butt exercises. I had such a nice butt. What if my butt shrunk away and was covered in cellulite and was no longer attractive?
Pure ego thoughts. And ones I did not like seeing that I had, especially because I had thought that I LOVED my body. I was so good at loving my body where it was at. My entire business was built largely around this premise.
I began to realize that I did love my body….. but apparently only when it was behaving the way I wanted it to.
And this sticky piece of me that was so identified with my butt and my muscles had to go.
So I decided to take the shoulder injuries as the lessons that they clearly were and that I would learn the lesson: to stop being so identified with what my body could do and what it looked like.
And in that process I stopped moving completely.
Something my mentor, Perri Chase, said recently was, “I will not use my life force for structure.”
She was referring to business, talking about how she wouldn’t use her life force to create the masculine pieces of her business.
But something unlocked for me around exercise when I heard that.
It was clear – and had been clear for months – that exercise needed to become a structural piece of my life. That my body wasn’t happy without it, I needed it to help move my energy and clear things from my body. Every day, I needed to move in some way. My hurt shoulders especially needed exercise, because they weren’t getting any better with not moving, they were getting worse.
But I wasn’t doing it, because I didn’t want to force myself to do it.
And then when I heard Perri say that, I realized why – it was because I didn’t want to extract my life force anymore in order to get something from exercise.
We typically have really good reasons we resist doing things. And I was resisting movement because I literally did not know any other way to move that didn’t include using my life force to accomplish a goal.
I was using my feminine to prop up my masculine. Instead of the other way around.
Over the past week I’ve been piecing through what it looks like to exercise in a way that is supportive instead of extractive.
I went for a run.
Instead of turning on my app, keeping track of my time per mile so I could gauge how “well” I had done, I did nothing.
I turned on music. I heard my mind say, “You should at least know what time it is, so you know how long you’ve been running.”
And I paused, and I thought – why do I need to know how long I’ve been running? So I can know how in shape I am and have an opinion about it?
I did not look at the time.
I just ran.
And I ran slowly. And I ran for as long as I wanted, trying to stay so deeply inside my body. No checking out, letting my mind wander to let the time go faster. I just stayed inside my body, being in the joy of the moment.
And I found a lot of fun there. It felt as if I was taking my inner child out to play. What would it be like to run like a child? Would I make myself keep going when it was no longer fun?
Eventually I reached a point – this very tricky nuance – where it went from running for the joy of moving my body, to running because I “should” keep running.
And at that point I stopped. And I thought, “I will not use my life force for this.”
And I felt how every other time I’ve moved in my life it’s been about extracting my energy to accomplish a goal that my mind felt I should have.
I walked for a while. Then I felt like running again, so I ran for a block. Then I walked. Then I ran. And eventually I walked home.
And it was fun.
My body was happy.
I did not have any feelings about how well I did, because I did not know. There was no way to know.
I’ve gone for a few more runs since then, changing up the route and the music so I have no way of knowing how long it’s been or how far I’ve gone. Some days I’ve walked.
The other night I did not feel like going outside, so instead I danced, and stretched. I blasted music and let my body tell me what it wanted to do. As soon as I didn’t feel like standing anymore, I moved to the floor.
It is difficult to describe how different this is. It’s subtle on the outside, but it’s massively different on the inside.
My masculine has a lot of opinions about how I should be moving. What muscles I should be strengthening, how I should do the movements I don’t want to do, how long I should dance, how I’m lazy if I’m not doing xyz, how running for too short of a time is pointless and pathetic, how walking means I’m giving up, etc.
I am very, very good at overruling my body to make it do what I want it to do.
But I’m beginning to wonder how much that really serves my body. No matter what it looks like on the outside – no matter how in shape or strong I am. Is it really serving my body to force it to do things, just because I think it should?
I know this: it’s not worth it for me to use my life force to accomplish a goal.
I will not extract my feminine to serve my masculine.
I can actually notice the exact moment in exercise when I typically switch from being in my feminine to extracting my feminine. There is a really subtle moment in my body where it shifts. It shows up in sneaky ways – “I’ll run to the end of this street,” “I can handle this,” or I check out or create a goal in some way.
Any time I find my mind creating a goal, I stop. And I walk, or lay down, or do something softer – something my mind would judge as “giving up” or “lazy.”
The most interesting thing about this is that I have had zero resistance to exercise, when moving in this way.
I feel excited to get to move. I have been moving my body every single day.
I have barely moved in months prior to this. It seems that resistance had its own intelligence.
My shoulders are feeling better too, which is funny, since I haven’t done anything specifically for them.
I don’t yet know how this will apply to lifting weights; I expect I won’t find out until covid calms down and I have a desire to go to the gym again.
But I do know that I will no longer exercise in a way that is extractive.