Many of us move from fitness program to fitness program seeking the one that feels right for us. We’ve tried dance-based, barre-based, yoga-based, spin-based, weight-based. Yet the more we try new fitness programs, the more anxious and stressed we become. Why? So many of the programs and instructors base your success on a performance metric—how many pounds you can lift, how many minutes you can spin, how many reps you’ve completed. We beat our bodies up by going to extreme measures to meet a performance goal that is either not right for our bodies, or not enjoyable at all. We begin to feel like it’s all a competition instead of a positive and healthy experience.
Fitness is currently prescribed based on templates that were created by well-meaning fitness “high achievers” in a certain realm of their given area of expertise. They are often inappropriate, unrealistic, and unbalanced when applied to an average person. For the individual trying to look and feel like a bodybuilder, triathlete, marathoner, dancer, we follow these templates to our own demise and then blame ourselves for our shortcomings, defeat, and injury. The current fitness mindset points the finger back at us so that we feel responsible for our failings.
If you listen closely, your body and mind will tell you when you’ve lost connection with your fitness program and healthy results. You start to become bored, restless, feel stuck in a rut, dread going to the gym, or even working out at all. Worst of all, you might start to develop pain or even an injury because you’ve tried to force your body into an unnatural and even unhealthy routine. Instead of gaining more energy and vibrancy from your fitness program, you end up feeling depressed, dejected, and even out of place in a gym class or the fitness center. Our minds and bodies have become disconnected from the natural integration of movements we were born to do.
I’ve spent my entire life in movement of some kind—some healthy, many not so healthy. I started training in classical ballet as a small girl, and went on to learn tap, jazz, modern, acrobatics, African, hip-hop, and ballroom dance. I took dance and fitness classes at the highest level while living in New York City, and even pursued both as a career. Talk about intense physical competition with others and judgement about my own body. Living in Manhattan, I had access to many gyms, and dabbled in every fitness method available to me including spinning, step aerobics, cardio dance, Barre, Zumba, HIIT, Feldenkrais, Gyrotonics, kickboxing, cardio sculpt, etc. If it was accessible to me, I tried it!
In 2002, I received my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist designation from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and began working as a personal fitness trainer at Equinox Fitness clubs in Manhattan. I even competed in the Fitness America circuit and placed in the top ten in the Fitness Universe World Championships. Did I always feel healthy even with all this training and exercise? No. I was exhausted, injured, and self-conscious. I had learned the common fitness mindset of “you’re not doing enough!” If only I had worked harder, ate less, found the right supplement, tweaked my exercise program, etc. In spite of this, I continued to receive compliments, accolades, client referrals, and exclusive personal training jobs. But inside, I struggled.
Over the past twenty years, I’ve worked as a clinical doctor of physical therapy. Through working with others to “fix” their physical ailments, I began to see a worrisome trend—so many injuries due to extreme physical activity that overworked only one part of the body, focused concentration on only one aspect of the exercise continuum, and a generalized sedentary lifestyle followed by an intense “weekend warrior” level of athleticism. My clients came to me with broken bodies because they were so out of balance and disconnected from any joy in their movement and fitness program. I began to see that my patients and clients were reflecting back to me the same conundrum that had puzzled me for years. The current paradigm of fitness and exercise has failed us.
This is when I turned to the source of all balance and wisdom in the world: Nature. The nature-based philosophies of Taoism, biodynamic farming, and regenerative agriculture provide insight into health and healing through cyclical models and natural correspondences. We were all born to move naturally with ease and vibrancy. Nature shows us an integrative way to do so through the five elements (as described in Traditional Chinese Medicine): Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. We are simply, bodies of the earth. When we honor that simple truth and practice training our bodies according to this natural order, we discover a physically and mentally healthier way to approach fitness.