Sometime last Spring, fresh from a Bali yoga retreat and doing my best to stretch that post-holiday positivity into a daily mindfulness habit, I was watching Richard Quest on CNN. I have a strange affection for Richard Quest; I love his old school manner, his suits and how he makes global economics intelligble for the every person -the ‘every person’ in question being me, of course.
Oh and I also love the fact he managed to bounce back from a very public fall from grace circa 2008 involving crystal meth and a sex toy in Central Park. Seriously.
Anyway, Richard had fellow CNN anchor Anderson Cooper on to discuss a book for his ‘What I’m reading’ segment; Wherever you Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I liked the title and mentally filed it away . A few months later, on a rainy day back in Ireland, I spotted it in a bookshop and bought it.
Then I left it on my bedside locker for seven months before finally opening it.
The title alone is good advice, even if you didn’t read the whole book. I certainly haven’t. But I’ve dipped in and out, and found a few gems that have really made me consider my outlook on things. Namely, fitness and Instagram- you know, the important things in life!
Practice does not, apparently, make perfect
A passage that struck me most was one concerning ‘practicing’ mindfulness.
Practicing, as we usually understand it, involves rehersing something until you get better at it. But with something like mindfulness, this isn’t the case. Every day is different, and you don’t get better or worse. You simply do what you are able to do that day.
Practice, in this sense, refers to the habit of doing something rather than the fact of improving.
This makes sense and I appreciate the niceness of it but it’s a difficult thing to do. It’s a concept I’m familiar with through yoga. With yoga, you don’t suddenly achieve a perfect pose and that’s it, you can do it for life. Each practice varies depending on the day, what you did the day before, how you’re feeling etc. If you ran the day before, your muscles will be tight for example. You’re not supposed to ‘get better’ at yoga (though, of course you do a bit but real yogis don’t like to admit that); you’re supposed to allow your practice to help you wherever you’re at on that day.
So far so zen! We’re all accepting and chill and ‘I don’t need to get better, I’m practicing for my health,’.
But then Instagram.
I’m a big Instagram fan. I mostly follow travel bloggers and fitness ‘stars’. Because that’s a thing now, being a fitness star. Almost two years ago I remember my friend Nicki telling me she was following this Aussie trainer on Instagram named Kayla something. I’d never heard of her before. Now I’m one of FOUR AND A HALF MILLION Kayla Itsines followers on Instagram; I even bought the BBG programme (although, really you can just look them up on pinterest!).
A lot of Instagram fitness accounts are aimed at being positive, encouraging and supportive. But, being human, it’s hard not to compare yourself to the perfection you see. AND I KNOW ABOUT PHOTOSHOP. I do, I really do. I also know all about 30 second transformation photos.
But the human brain is not always logical.
It can be very difficult, I know, scrolling through endless images of Varley-clad abs and perfectly colour coordinated bowls of berries and granola to not compare your own life to the image of perfection you see. No matter how smart, sensible or grounded you are, it suddenly seems as if there is a new norm, one you’re not conforming to.
Because keeping fit is no longer enough; you have to be super fit and strong. Instagram bios are full of #girlswholift and apparently there are #noexcuses. So it feels like if you’re not working out every damn day, you’re falling behind.
But this below, from Zanna Van Dijk– blogger, PT and fitness model- is so important to remember.
For some people, it is quite literally their job to look that good. They can work out for 6 hours a day; that’s literally what they do. And when you put down your phone and look around, do you see nothing but abs out in crop tops? No! It’s not real life.
If you’re trying to work or study or raise a family and still manage to work out a few hours a week, you’re doing AMAZING! I really respect these girls who have the motivation and dedication to do extreme fitness but for the vast majority of people, our relationship with exercise may be slightly more on/off and that’s okay.
Work out for that amazing post-exercise feeling, not just to look good in an Instagram picture. You don’t need likes from strangers, you need to feel confident in your own skin. That should be the focus of your exercise.
As we’re increasingly attached to our phones (seriously, suggest a no-phone dinner with friends and watch the panic rise in peoples eyes!), it becomes harder to discern between our virtual reality and our actual, non-fitness model reality!
Make the distinction. Give yourself a break. Be mindful and do the best yo ucan on any given day.
On a side note, I would completely get over my lack of fitness model physique if I had this Varley ensemble! I’m seriously obsessed and currently squirreling away my euros weekly to treat myself! Because everyone knows new gym gear is the best motivation! x