Why? Why do I care?
What does it matter if anyone ever feels connected to their bodies?
Because I’ve experienced it.
My connection to my body undoubtedly came from years of athletics. Yes, I spent my childhood climbing trees, doing somersaults, jumping puddles of water, but I never really felt those movements back then. You don’t really think about doing that stuff as a kid, you just do it. It began with a need to learn very technical movements, which helped to develop my sense of proprioception (where your body is in space). Building those motor connections, feeling where my body was in relation to my surroundings and itself, helped me to feel my body in a whole different way. I learned to pay attention.
My drive to achieve high level athletic performance then steered me to the health aspect of training. My body was a machine and it needed the right fuel to run as efficiently as possible. So, I started watching what I ate. I cut out pop, drank lots of water, limited junk food, made sleep a priority, and worked HARD. I began to notice how I felt after eating different foods. That certain foods upset my stomach, that I got headaches when I wasn’t hydrated, that my energy levels tanked when I ate junk food or didn’t eat enough calories. I started to build a relationship with my body.
Yeah, I know that sounds weird but what is even crazier to me is that to some people, their bodies feel completely alien or like some kind of meat sack prison. Some people are so disconnected to their own fleshy housing that they don’t recognize that they are internalizing stress or have a food allergy, that they can’t perform simple movements like jumping or rolling comfortably. Seriously, ask an adult to do a somersault and see how well that goes. So much hesitation and discomfort, the movement feeling foreign and dangerous when it used to be fun and easy. Many wouldn’t even try it. Some even resent their bodies.
So, anyway, I started taking notice and this relationship began to form. Then, I got sick. Really sick.
My coach and I had high hopes for my senior year of college. I was going to break records, go to Nationals, set myself up for a post-collegiate career as a hammer thrower. But, for some reason, I had zero energy. I’m talking zero. Like would take one throw and then have to rest for 5-10 minutes just to recharge for another one. Just getting out of bed and walking to classes seemed like too much to ask. After suffering through the entire off-season training, I was diagnosed with mono.
My coach was devasted. Mono is a career-ender for a lot of athletes. He was especially hopeless because it was my last year and we only had one semester left. Christmas Break and then the season started in January. There was no way I could make it back in time.
The instant I got the diagnosis, I was consumed by one purpose: get better. Fast.
Sports psychology was a big part of my studies and so I knew the value of visualization. Your brain can’t interpret the difference between what’s really happening and what’s imagined; the crazy part is that this allows you to build neural connections to your body without even moving! We were constantly supposed to do mental reps of throws and lifts in order to better our performance. So…I did a little experiment.
By the time I went home for Christmas Break, I was so weak that I laid on my parents’ couch all day and night, only mustering up the strength to leave it when I had to pee. The trips to the bathroom, only about 20 feet away, killed me, by the way. I would make it back to the couch winded and exhausted, barely able to keep my eyes open afterward. I was so depleted I felt it in my bones. I was so tired it hurt. During those unending hours on the couch, I instructed my body to heal. I pictured my antibodies beating the shit out of that life-sucking virus. I pictured myself kicking ass during the season. I pictured myself strong, healthy, and better than I ever had been. I pictured it so clearly I felt it.
Day 8, I made it upstairs and back down to my couch. I had to crawl for part of it and I was cashed out the rest of the day, but I made it. The stairs became a daily part of my training program. When, days later, I could make it up and down the stairs without feeling completely spent, I climbed them twice, then three times, and so on.
I remember the day, two or three weeks after getting home, I was able to go for a walk outside. It was about a two-mile loop that had me gassed by the end, but I’d made it!
January 6, 2012, I showed up to practice back at school fifteen pounds below my training weight and weak as a bunny. My spandex workout gear hung off my atrophied muscles and my practices had to be severely adapted to my strength levels, but I continued to picture myself getting stronger and healthier every minute of every day.
Two months after getting back to training, I had regained the 15lbs and was almost back to my previous numbers in the weight room.
That year was my best ever. I had never performed so consistently well. I broke two university records, went to Nationals, and held my own against the best in the country when I had been bedridden just months before.
Your body is incredibly adaptable. Your mind is inexplicably powerful. Put those two together and watch the fireworks.