Finding Freedom in Movement with Adele Jackson-Gibson
Sometimes I’m so busy thinking that I forget to be in my very being. No doubt, my wife gets frustrated with this.
Too many times I’ve left the door unlocked, dropped my keys in the grass or my wallet on the train. Too many times I’ve left the stove on just a bit too long just to let the rice burn a little. Disintegrate.
In these moments, I fall apart scrambling to gather the pieces of me on the floor.
My wife then asks something along the lines of, “Adele, are you Earth or are you Air?” In other words, “Are you in your body?”
Chances are, I’m not. My brain is often on overdrive, overanalyzing the past and planning, or worrying about, the future. But I don’t want to admit this because either my “I-played-college-soccer” ego or my “but-I’m-a-fitness-coach” defense springs into action to claim that I of all people know how to be present in my body because it has been my job. Right?
In some ways, yes. Sports and fitness has taught me a thing or two about being in-tune with what’s going on in my system and some feeling-sense of what’s going on around me. It would be hard to lift a heavy barbell or kick a ball without this sort of mind-body connection.
But lately, I’ve become curious about the sports and fitness cultures I’ve been raised in and what about them hasn’t quite taught me to be present with the wisdom within my skin.
When I was playing competitive soccer my body was more of a machine, something I had to fuel for the next game, build up so it could withstand the competition. My mind was always focused on becoming better. Better than my (future) competitor or who I was yesterday (past). When the body broke it was just that: broke. Then it became: How do I fix it and fast? Or: How can I push through this pain to achieve my goals and prove my value to the team?
Getting into CrossFit later on was a similar deal except things became more about maintaining, at least for me, unrealistic performance. At one point, this meant tracking my macros all of the time, and obsessing over food more than I truly wanted to. It always meant pushing through discomfort, sometimes leaving my body. A sort of numbness would come over me. A numbness I felt that was needed for me to be one of the best. To feel respected in my community, to feel like I belonged.
After some time, I realized that all my worth was poured into doing instead of experiencing what it meant to be. This was a fragile place to embody. Anytime my system wasn’t performing the way that I wanted it to, immediately I would go into self-judgment and shame. Perhaps the emphasis on doing is also why my mind has been so wired to think of the next action or overanalyze a past one. Regardless, I came to realize I needed something besides competitive sports and fitness to teach me about a different way to relate to my physical being and the world around me.
So far, I’ve discovered three grounding activities that are re-teaching me how to get out of my head and into my body.
Sometimes, when I’m too scattered to meditate, I get a little hippie with it and walk barefoot in the closest grass I can find. Even better: I lay my head down on the lawn of the nearby park. (All of this weather and season-pending, of course). There’s something naturally calming about feeling the warmth of the sun on my face and the softness of the grass tickling my ears. It all gets me back in tune with my senses. But it turns out there may be more going on that’s creating this soothing effect. Scientists have found that getting direct skin-to-earth contact over a sustained period of time can reduce inflammation, pain, stress, and even improve energy levels, sleep, and cell regeneration. Experts believe this is because the Earth’s natural negative charge can help to stabilize our physiology. Studies on this are a bit young so more research needs to be conducted to make some solid conclusions. All I know is that earthing from time to time helps me to appreciate nature and remember that I am one with it. I get to experience myself as part of a larger body — a beautiful, breathing creation.
Let me tell you: We were onto something when we were babies because moving about on all-fours is a rich experience. As humans, we have a ton of mechanoreceptors on our hands and feet so when each of these are planted on the floor, there is so much communication being relayed from our bodies to our brain. Moving in this way, it’s really hard to think about anything else without toppling over. Plus, for me, it’s silly and exploratory, without any end goals in mind. I love to get into a bear crawl stance and practice lifting individual limbs off the floor to see how well my system is communicating in a given moment. It might find that I need more rest, that I’m feeling disconnected, or that I’m feeling energized, tapped in, and ready for a challenge. Overall, studies have shown that crawling can also help improve body awareness as well as our brain’s ability to process and integrate new information.
I think when we become adults many of us lose our connection to play. Often when we think about moving our bodies we think it has to be a workout at a gym, doing the same reps and sets all of the time. This can be valuable and needed, but when this feels too task-oriented, especially when my brain is in analysis mode, working out doesn’t take me out of that space. I need to run around and toss a ball with a friend, laugh, feel it in my belly. More and more often, I’ve been asking myself, “How can I incorporate more play in my life?” Because when I do, I feel like the tension in my forehead leaves almost immediately and an expansiveness sets in. I want to be here and present for it. If I’m with others in play, I realize that my body is this gift that gets to be in relationship, that gets to experience connection, and there’s so much joy in that simple fact. There’s no need to become anything.
These three things have now become more integrated into my life, and to my wife’s pleasure, they’ve taken a bit of the “excess Air” out of my system. Perhaps, I’m more balanced on some days. I know I lose my keys less. Maybe these things can help you to feel more grounded, too.