when your body can't do what it used to
Quick note: I want to acknowledge off the top that I have a lot of privilege, one of those being that I am an able-bodied person. I talk a lot about movement in this post but I want to acknowledge that 1) not all bodies can move so freely and 2) the experience of your body being capable of less might be much different if it’s due to chronic illness or something other than natural deconditioning (or whatever you want to call it). My hope with this post is to provide some food for thought but I recognize that this may not resonate depending on your lived experience. If this sounds like a sensitive topic for you, I might encourage you to skip this post. If not, I hope that there’s something here that rings true for you, dear reader! I’m so glad you’re here.
Last week, I went to a yoga class for the first time in awhile (8 months? 10 months?) Yoga is something I wish I did more regularly and at one time I did, but now I’m super selective about the classes/teachers I’ll go to (No weight loss/fitness talk! No yoga practices being co-opted by diet culture! Do not talk to me about bikini season! Do not force me to do crunches and pretend that it’s some ancient practice!)
My relationship with exercise has been somewhat complicated over the years. There was a time in my life where I absolutely abused exercise in all its forms. Yoga at that time served only to burn more calories and I forced myself to go to the heated “power” classes, pretending that it helped with my mental health but not really fooling anyone. Yoga was basically an hour of forcing my body to do things that it didn’t want to do while it begged for sivasana so it could finally get a few minutes of forced rest.
It was not great.
My relationship with yoga has waxed and waned throughout the years - sometimes going once or twice a week if I found a studio/teacher I liked and sometimes taking months at a time without doing a single intentional yoga pose. That being said, there were times where I certainly considered myself a “yogi” doing box poses against the wall, inversions, vinyasa-ing the day away, taking Bikrim classes a few days a week.
So when I went back to yoga last week, I expected my body to lag a little bit but I didn’t expect that I would totally forget basic poses - which is exactly what happened (I’m sorry, what’s a crescent moon again?) I showed up to class and realized as the teacher was guiding us into poses that there are poses my brain and/or body completely forget how to do. Because my body had changed. It lost some of its muscle memory, it lost some of its muscle in general. It wasn’t used to be stretched out like taffy and I found I was much more inflexible than I remember being. It felt like my body was straggling throughout the class.
There was a time in my life that I would have been angry or frustrated or disappointed that “I let myself go” or got “out of shape” (I’m sorry, what shape is that?). I didn’t feel any of that this time and I actually found myself laughing as I fumbled along throughout the hour. The idea that my worth or even health is somehow determined by what my body can do is bullshit sold to us by diet culture. Don’t get me wrong- our bodies do cool shit all the time and we should acknowledge and celebrate that. But they don’t define us (also: it’s hella ableist to imply that they do but that is a conversation for another post).
The bottom line is whether or not I fall out of my crow pose, I’m still a good person. If I can’t twist as deeply as I used to, it doesn’t mean a damn thing about my health status. If my body can’t navigate its way through a vinyasa, it’s still doing pretty cool things like keeping me alive and letting me walk around and explore the world.
If you’re struggling with your body changing, no matter what those changes are, I would invite you to do a little digging. Think back to the time you’re longing for. Maybe you could run six miles, but were you happy? Maybe you could crush a Crossfit workout but were you at peace with yourself when you came home at the end of the day? Which values were you living by then and which do you want to be living by now? What meaning did movement take on for you then and what are you still carrying with you now?
What your body is capable of is not indicative of who you are as a person. And the cool thing about bodies is that they are always changing (case in point? I went back to that yoga class today and knocked that crescent moon pose out of the park). So wherever your body is today - it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be that way forever, for better or worse. As long as we live on this planet, our bodies are going to continue to change so we might as well settle in and get to know each other.
Cover photo by Fabian Møller