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You Are Not Your Body

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You Are Not Your Body

It happens to all of us. One day, you catch yourself in the mirror or glance at a recent picture taken and it kind of hits you. ”Is that me?” You notice that you have a few wrinkles. Or maybe a little extra around the middle. That, or some specks of gray in your hair. For many, it happens somewhere around 40 or 50. If you’re lucky, 55.

 

As lifelong fitness junkie, I used to believe I was immune to this process. Throughout my 30’s many commented that I looked much younger than my age, I competed well against younger individuals and felt I was invincible to injury, decay, or decline. I even had the coveted ‘washboard’ abs for a while.

 

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For some time, this trajectory seemed entirely natural and sustainable to me, as I had spent many years in the fitness industry selling the suggestion of everlasting improvement. And if there’s one thing the fitness business is predicated on, it’s the notion of the genie in the bottle and the magic formula that will result in the body you’ve always wanted.

 

Many fads, supplements, and fitness crazes seem to make promises of infinitely leaner, faster, and stronger. But deep down we all know that despite clever marketing ploys, the concept of the perfect (or continuously better body) is a convenient lie and an unsustainable myth.

 

Forever Young

Subconsciously I knew the truth as well, but like many, I had to learn the hard way that I wasn’t the exception to the rule. Sure enough, as I rounded 40, the gray showed up, my body slowed down and people actually started correctly guessing my approximate age.

 

For a while, I reacted to such suggestions they way I always had–with brash defiance. My answer to the problem was I would just work more, run further, or push harder. After all, more and better is the American way.

 

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In fitness, this approach to physicality is particularly pronounced—more defined, better abs, bigger muscles, younger looking—and the list goes on. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, the focus on physique is just more pronounced in our culture now.

 

Women are objectified and held to unattainable models of ‘beauty.’ Men are held to ridiculous examples of ‘strength’ and masculinity. In turn, the fitness industry has been hijacked with an overt focus on the corporeal instead of its real intended focus which should be functionality and wellness.

 

While people will always strive for the unattainable concepts of infinite growth and forever young, the compulsion to gloat while in the process is a new cultural norm. It’s not simply enough to set about improving oneself through exercise. Like third graders, we also have to say, “look at me!” while doing so. Studies even corroborate that those who post ‘selfies’ at the gym are more likely to be narcissists. You think?

 

There’s no denying the popularity and profitability of material and mortal desires and to be fair, wanting a better body doesn’t necessarily make you a narcissist. That said, as we all know, physical quantities such as strength, power, and definition of musculature are also limited by the laws of physics.

 

 

So, Why Try?

I can hear many of you retorting now: “So, we’re supposed to just roll over and not try?” To which I would say, of course not. It is our essential duty to try our best until the very end. If there’s one thing I learned in years of boxing and the martial arts, quitting is never an option.

 

But ironically and paradoxically, perhaps a more important lesson I learned was the concept of surrender. Learning to surrender means the capacity to display the qualities of fitness, which are not necessarily encumbered by material limitations. Grace, dexterity, and pliancy can be expressed and improved at any age.

 

When we ‘fight’ (train/exercise/compete) from the standpoint of ego, arrogance, and even physical strength, we lose in the long run. But when we are willing to truthfully face our fears and limitations, we fight with grace, flexibility, and humility. It’s ultimately much more courageous to face the opponents of aging, decline, and even death then the futile work of running like hell from them.

 

Look, I get it, you work hard and you have a nice body and you’re proud of it. Good for you. Work ethic and even beauty are surely things to celebrate. But here’s the harsh truth—firstly, no one cares, and secondly, ultimately you are not your body.

 

To suggest that you are what you look like is akin to proposing that you are defined by the city, state, or country you live in. Where we live changes over a lifetime, as does our body. Another way to say it is that the ‘state’ you live in is a temporary destination, but the state of mind that you dwell in defines you.

 

Look Past the Material

We in fitness must begin to look deeper than the material realm. A preoccupation with the body is limiting and self-indulgent. Instead, we must seek a true sense of fitness by striving for a genuine sense of wellness.

 

We must work for more than just chiseled physiques, firmer extremities, and even personal records. For though these endeavors admirable pursuits in the short-term, they are merely fleeting moments in time. In real the game of life, there’s no before and after photo.

 

The battle against your body and the problem of aging is an opportunity to let the simplicity of ego evolve into a much deeper appreciation and definition of self. That is why, despite the sagging, atrophy, and gray, the elderly are statistically happier. That is if they’ve done the work of letting go.

 

You are not your body. You are much more important, valuable, and beautiful than material limitations. Long after you are gone, you will be remembered for your qualities, not your quantities.

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