Last night I watched the movie Whiplash with my husband.  As a conservatory trained jazz drummer, he had been eager to see the film and I was happy to oblige (especially since it landed outside his usual wheelhouse of sports and action flicks). As I watched, I was reminded of an uncomfortable feeling from my past. That never-quite-good-enough, keep-trying-harder, no-rest-until-you-are-perfect mentality that followed me around well into my 20s. I was also reminded that, although that old feeling arises now and again, it is no longer my set mode of being.

The bodily changes occurring during this second trimester of my third pregnancy are driving me only slightly insane, but my 19 year old dance major self would have literally been pulling her hair out every second of the day. I guess that’s a step forward. So what is it that changed and why? Could it be that I’m really healthier as a 32 year old pregnant bereaved mother than I was as a 19 year old college dancer in the prime of her life?  Is overall health and fitness truly a state of mind?

When I look back on my younger days my singular greatest motivation for movement was to impress people “out there”. With my sole focus on the external, I was blind to all things internal.  My satisfaction, whether it came from losing 5 pounds or acing an audition, was completely dependent upon the reactions of other people. Did they think I was talented enough, pretty enough, thin enough?  Driven and drained, I continued along that same path but never really found what I was looking for. There was always another choreographer to impress, another 5 lbs to lose, so much further to go until I got there…wherever there was.  I notice this theme a lot in the fitness world. Infomercials for diets promote quick weight loss and pieces of equipment promise to you ripped in under 7 minutes. Everything promising thinness or fitness faster with no attention paid to what happens once you get there.  The thing of it is there is no there.  Life goes on or it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, isn’t fitness sort of a moot point?

So where does that leave me, my clients, any of us?  In a results driven society where better, faster, stronger is the name of the game is there room for contentment simply for what is?  The answer, you’ll be happy to hear, is yes and it’s the surest way to health and wholeness. When you tune into yourself instead of looking “out there” for confirmation that you are moving in the right direction, you are able to find more satisfaction with each step forward.  Let’s face it, you are never going to get what you want from every single person you interact with in the course of your life and, frankly, it is fruitless and exhausting to even try. As much as you may crave it, it is no one else’s duty to validate your efforts and achievements. Fitness, like many things in life, is largely subjective.  It is completely possible to look great on the outside and be miserably unhealthy on the inside.  It is also possible to be carrying around a few extra pounds and feel strong and vibrant.  The only one who knows if what you are doing is truly working for you… is you!

When you work in the fitness industry, you tend to spend a great deal of your time working out. Unless you are willing to be mentally absent from the majority of your life, you must find a way to derive as much satisfaction from exercise itself as from the results. When I began formally exercising as a teen, it was something I had to get through in order to lose weight.  I jumped on the elliptical and daydreamed about the day when my perfect body would appear and I wouldn’t have to do this anymore. These days exercise is something I get to do.  I genuinely like the feeling of moving my body, but boy did it take a while to get here. The interesting thing is I didn’t change what I was doing so much as how I do it. The more you let go of exercise as a means to an end and embrace movement for movement’s sake the more it becomes a friend instead of foe. (If this sounds like the babbling of an endorphin happy fool to you read this article. I have some studies that back me up.)

In the spirit of the Oscars, my husband and I also watched the Theory of Everything.  If you’re in need of inspiration,  I highly suggest checking this film out. There is nothing like seeing Stephen Hawking’s physical and emotional struggle to help you appreciate the body and all that it is capable of. The relationship between the body and self is incredibly complex. In order to make it work, a certain amount of openness and acceptance is necessary. Moving and paying attention to the movement is a great way to practice silencing your inner critic and tune in to what truly matters: a healthy and happy self.