Many people, women in particular that I know, pride themselves on their ability to push through, to survive, to make it happen, to triumph over a struggle. Many of us from a young age were taught that strength meant gritting your teeth and getting through it, or being able to experience huge levels of pain and still make it through.
What if we also defined strength by how much joy we were willing to experience? How bright we were willing to shine and how much we were willing to show up for ourselves, in integrity, and to recognize that sometimes the strongest thing you can do is to back down, or say no? What if we expanded our definitions of strength and truly learned to take pride in fierce self-love and choosing joy, no matter what?
This past weekend I had two experiences- one on Saturday, one on Sunday, both in the same park. On Saturday I was walking with a friend and she shared with me the moment she realized her capacity for pain was as she put it, 1,000 times greater than her capacity for joy. She knew pain – she knew how to face it, make a plan, fix what wasn’t working, keep going through struggle. But in an experience of profound joy and beauty, everything in her rebelled and wanted to step away – it was too much to receive what was available to her.
On Sunday I woke up at 4:30am to run a 5k – my first official race in 7 years. I’ve been an athlete my whole life – I was always playing a sport or competing in something. I’m no stranger to injury – from multiple ankle sprains to a knee injury from ultimate frisbee that had me in physical therapy for 6 months to an MCL sprain on the other knee, not to mention a whole host of other things – and the culture I was indoctrinated into as a kid and teen was “you give 100% or 0% – if you’re not here to win don’t bother showing up.”
Pair that with my deep fear that I was a fraud, I wasn’t fast / strong / skilled enough to truly be there, and I was a walking recipe for pushing through pain, ignoring injuries, and over-identifying with the idea that belonging requires hurt and struggle. Teams I was a part of people would brag about playing a tournament while injured, or try to one-up each other with how much pain they felt (and how they kept going anyway).
As some of you know, after leaving the fitness world in 2013, I took a long break from training for anything. I spent years deepening my understanding of my body, learning to listen to her, work with her, and create a partnership with her beyond diet culture, shame, and being way too focused on how I looked. She and I have been in a good place for awhile now.
About a year ago I started to hear my body asking for endurance and cardio again, and I’ll be honest – I got a little bit freaked out. The only way I had known before – the ignoring pain signals, pushing through, needing to prove myself to the world – was clearly not going to work anymore. My body and I have slowly been working through a new way – a way that honors what she needs while still sticking to a training plan. A path that allows me to listen each day to the cues from my body, but doesn’t allow me to give into mental drama or excuses that keep me from feeling good.
Because for me, joy comes through movement. It comes through challenging myself, feeling my heart beat in rhythm with my movements, my breath, feeling sweat on my skin and energy flowing through my veins. I have always loved how alive I felt when competing or playing on a team. I just hated the (what I thought was) necessary pain and lack and depletion that came with it.
Back to Sunday morning – it’s 6:10am now, and the race officially begins at 6:15. We are in the corral and my heart is pounding, my eyes are bright, and waves of energy are coursing through my body. I was practically bursting with nerves and excitement.
The first two miles of the race were amazing – I was having fun, running faster than usual, and felt so present and alive in my body. The energy and momentum kept building in my system. And then suddenly, it was like a mental slam on the brakes – “not safe, not safe, not safe”. For the first time in a long time, I brushed up against the edge of where I am willing to feel alive and joyful in my body. It was fascinating to me – it felt incredibly uncomfortable to feel that good.
I know exactly how to navigate pain while running. I know how to talk to myself, how to adjust my stance, even how to grit my teeth and push through, dealing with the consequences later. I have never hit the edge of my joy capacity while running. Running and competing have always come with a need to prove or a belief I wasn’t really a runner – doing it just for the joy was never a part of my past. This was the first race I ever ran purely because it sounded fun and my body lit up when I thought about it.
Luckily the work I do in the world (which also means intensively, with myself, all the time), is the work of actively increasing my ability to receive and experience joy. So hitting that edge didn’t totally freak me out. I did end up walking about a third of a mile to calm my nervous system and deepen my breath so I didn’t have an anxiety attack. I finished the race strong (read: joyful and not in pain) and have been in absolute awe ever since – because I have a deep knowing that I have barely tapped into what’s possible for joy and aliveness within my body, and I can’t wait to purposefully and intentionally expand that capacity.
Regardless of whether intense physical activity is your thing or not, we all have “set points” for pain tolerance and joy tolerance – in our work, our bodies, our relationships, our creative pursuits, and more. In my work with hundreds of people over the past 5+ years, I have seen time and time again that in general people have a much higher capacity for pain than they do for joy. We’ve been trained to look for the problems, what’s wrong, what’s painful, and to find a solution – not necessarily a joyful one, but something that will tide you over until the next painful thing happens.
And when something good happens? When an experience is joyful, or beautiful, or you feel really alive? Most of us are trained to brace ourselves- to pump the brakes so that it doesn’t hurt as much when the pain inevitably comes. To not fully receive it or be present to the experience, because eventually it will be taken away or something bad will happen. I realize that this is what was happening during my race – I was waiting for the inevitable pain, because “of course this can’t simply feel this good”. And now I know there are deeper levels of joy available there than ever before.
This is my daily work in the world, and the work I do with my clients. Creating a life and reality where you are oriented toward joy, from a place of deep love for yourself and your body. I work with people to actively and purposefully increase their capacity for joy, and to learn strategies and tools to deal with pain and tough stuff without selling yourself out in the process.
Knowing I’ve barely tapped into my own capacity for joy (and I feel pretty dang joyful most of the time), I can’t wait to support more people who are ready to say YES to a life of ever-expanding joy.
Which is why the Joyful Body Immersion exists. This private coaching program is a deep dive into everything required for you to expand your capacity for joy – both in your body and in your life. You will be in a powerful container of support designed to connect you fully with the fire in your heart, clear away what’s preventing you from taking action on your joy, and building a plan of action that is in integrity, is fun, and creates more of what you desire in all areas of your life.
I’m so excited to see what’s possible when more and more of us choose to focus on increasing joy and creating a life that truly makes you feel alive!