Self-Discipline vs. Self-Love: The Yin Yang of the Athlete

Don’t let discipline get in the way of really getting know your body. It’s a deeply courageous act to stop and listen. If you tune-in regularly, your body will never lead you astray.

Can discipline be a hindrance instead of assistance?

When I was asked to write a post for this vibrant, athletic community, I immediately thought of this topic.

I grew up as a dancer and even worked professionally for a number of years. I loved dancing and many of the wonderful lessons it taught me including:

  • Discipline – Every dancer and athlete I know has a tremendous threshold for discipline. In preparing for any performance or race, you MUST train not only on the physical, but mental, emotional, and spiritual levels as well. Discipline is a requirement for success. Period.
  • Connection to My Body – By moving my body I was actively participating in getting to know it. And by getting to know it, I was (am) more able to appreciate all it does and can do for me.
  • Desire to Have The Perfect Body – The art of dance is a beautiful one and one that places such an emphasis on your body type and what you look like. My womanly (I have hips), 130lb frame wasn’t considered ideal…so I set out to change it.

Now, these can all be wonderful lessons in their own, powerful way. They can also be an excuse to use, abuse and punish your body. Which is what I did for about 15 years.

Because I wanted to be the best and experience success in my field, I thought I needed to change my body. I believed my body wasn’t good enough and I allowed my desire to have a perfect body take over my life. It didn’t matter that I was strong. It didn’t matter that I was flexible. It didn’t matter that my body could complete a 10-minute, difficult dance routine with ease. None of that mattered. To me, it was about being skinny. And, because I was so disciplined, it was easy to get caught up in a cycle punishment – which at the time I thought was actually a cycle of nurturing.

I thought exercising every day was a nurturing act. I thought taking a dance class and then jogging 8 miles was healthy. I thought doing the master cleanse and basically starving myself was supportive. I thought dancing with an ankle injury would be just fine. I thought trying yet another diet was loving. I thought looking in the mirror and pinching the body parts that were “fat” was okay. I thought getting four hours of sleep was enough. I thought training for a marathon would be a great way to get skinny.

There were so many actions I took that I thought were nurturing actions. I genuinely thought I was taking care of myself. When, in actuality, I was taking my body for granted and, punishing her.

Looking back on it now, I so clearly see how abusive I was to myself and my body on every level. But, at that time, I couldn’t see it. My connection to discipline and my belief that I needed to change my body was so strong. It over-shadowed everything else, including my ability to listen to my body.

I never stopped to ask, “Does my body even like this?”

I want you to take a moment to imagine what it would be like if you were in a relationship with someone who NEVER asked for your opinion or even wanted to know things you enjoy. Activities you like. Foods you crave, etc. They just dictated your every next step. “We are going on this zip-lining adventure” – even though you are afraid of heights. “We are having sushi tonight” – even though you are allergic to fish. Or, how about, “We are moving to Alaska” – even though your job and family are here.

This relationship wouldn’t work, right? It’s pretty much a dictatorship. Which, is what I was living in my own relationship with my body. I forgot about her.

Yes, I said her. See, I believe our bodies are full of wisdom. I think they have their own wants and needs. This is a concept I have found to be tremendously powerful in shifting to a healthy, happier relationship with my own body. I know it may seem a little strange, but I highly encourage giving it a try. Applying it allows my body to have a voice and give her opinion. It also allows me space to actually listen.

So if you’re tired, that’s your body’s way of asking for rest. If you have a headache, that’s your body’s way of telling you maybe that extra glass of wine wasn’t the best choice last night. If your knee is starting to hurt, maybe hold off on training for the marathon right now.

Take a moment to tune-in and find out what your body actually loves. Maybe it’s not running, maybe it’s cycling. Or, maybe it’s rock climbing. Or both. Maybe your body needs more protein or more veggies. Get curious. Explore. See what makes your body thrive and then give it to her/him.

Our bodies are amazing. They are magnificent and deserve to be appreciated and respected. And, whether we like it or not, we are in relationship with them all the time. The choice is whether we want to be conscious about it or not. We have the opportunity to be in a deeply fulfilling partnership if choose it.

At the end of the day, don’t let discipline get in the way of really getting know your body. It’s a deeply courageous act to stop, get still and listen. If you tune-in regularly, your body will never lead you astray.

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