From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

My Own Way

In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.

Deepak Chopra

I am blessed with beautiful big eyes, a full mouth, long legs, soft hair and eyebrows that get compliments from every waxer I’ve been to. My breasts aren’t large, but with the right bra they can be ample enough. My hips aren’t slim, but they support me and held up my ten-pound baby when he was in the womb. My legs are no longer slender, but they are filled with muscle gained from daily walks and exercise. And then there’s my stomach, my paunch as I call it, the bane of my existence, partly caused by my excessive sugar consumption, partly by heredity. I am beautiful, though, and sexy in my own way. I am athletic, but by no means a tiny woman. I am finding my way to peace with myself.

I began swimming when I was six years old. I took to it immediately and continued to compete until graduating high school. I was a record-breaker in my school and a state championship competitor. I loved every second of it. And then I graduated, and fear came into me about so many things in life. I was resisting everything and everyone. I was scared and angry at the world and, as usually happens, took it out more on myself than on others. One way I did this was by robbing myself of my innate pleasure of the water. I still taught swimming and coached for awhile, but I stuck to a complaint of shoulder injury and never swam again.

At first it was easy to maintain my body, but as I got older and life settled down and a baby was born, I lost who I was in many senses. I began exercising again. I focused mostly on walking, as long walks give me the solitude and quiet that enables my best thinking and allows me to work out things in my life. But I knew I needed more than just that. I listened to the media and popular views and took my cue from them.

First I tried yoga and later Pilates. I loved them both for the stretches that my body needed and the calming focus, but I just couldn’t attach myself to them as some people do. I tried aerobic classes. I heard how they are great for getting your heart rate up and getting you into shape, so it had to be the right thing to do. But not for me. I felt like I was an awkward thirteen-year-old again, back at the school dance without a date. I have no rhythm, and no matter how long I stuck out the classes, I just felt like I was an enormously tall and lumbering she-male stomping across the back of the room. So I dropped that. Then I headed into the gym and tried the wonderful EFX machines (it’s like cross-country skiing on a slope). I loved these. I stuck with it for almost a year and loved to feel the sweat pouring off and the knowledge that I was accomplishing something.

But as time went on, I felt like a hamster in a wheel. Round and round I’d go with ten televisions blasting me with images and music playing overhead and everyone else there looking tiny and cute with darling exercise clothes on looking at each other! I couldn’t take it. I knew I was going to stop that as well. None of it was me. None of it fit, even though it was what was supposed to work. Everyone else seemed to be finding their thing, the thing that made them feel good, that they stuck to, that made them powerful. I wanted mine too, and I knew what it was.

One morning I got up and decided that this was it; I was headed back to the pool and no shoulder injury was going to stop me. If I had to, I would spend the entire time kicking. And in the beginning that’s what I did. I kicked a lot, swam a little. Then swam some more. Then some more. Now I can’t wait to get into that pool. I feel like I’ve come home. This is what works for me, for my body, for my personality, for my emotions. It’s new to think of exercise in those terms, but it’s true. We feel things when we move our bodies. The key is listening to those feelings and finding the thing that brings peace and power into your body.

I will never be a tiny woman, and I’m fine with that now, more fine with it than I’ve ever been before. My weight on the scale doesn’t change much, but the tightening of my body is apparent to everyone. I feel strong. I feel capable. I feel powerful in my own skin. Through these feelings I can see and know my own beauty and sexiness. I am no longer forcing my body into positions or activities that feel just that—forced. I am going with the flow of what works for me. When I swim, I feel better, healthier and more proud of myself. That is what exercise needs to be about. Those feelings are what will keep you coming back, even on the days when you don’t want to.

I experimented, tried things on and felt how they fit. But as with everything in life, I had to listen to myself, listen to my own body; it tells me where it needs to be. When you find that place that feels right, stay there, love it, work in it, and allow the feelings of strength and power to be yours.

Colleen Kappeler

“He didn’t exactly call me overweight, but he keeps trying to stick refrigerator magnets on me!”

Reprinted by permission of Dan Rosanditch.

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