challenge · fitness

Seeking Comfort

This Girl Can recently asked what exercises have taken you out of your comfort zone and made you feel empowered. Sam posted some of the FIFI group responses in a recent post.

Screenshot of social media post from This Girl Can that reads: It can be easy to feel comfortable with an exercise or activity we know, but sometimes taking it one step further or trying something you never thought you could do can make you feel like a badass! What activities have taken them out of your comfort zone and loved them?

When I saw the question pop up from This Girl Can I immediately started thinking about comfort zones and what they mean. For me, a comfort zone is a place where I feel safe and cared for, either by myself or by others. Many factors go in to creating that zone of comfort, including comfort clothing (no more hard pants!), comfort foods, and even comfort weather – I’m a big fan of peak fall weather when it is chilly enough for sweaters but not coats, socks but not boots, and colorful leafy views.

When I think about fitness through this lens I realize that what feels empowering to me is to stay IN my comfort zone. We tend to think of comfort as something that is easy or unchallenging, but when I dive deeper I realize that if I don’t feel safe or if I don’t feel like I am caring for myself in a smart way I do not feel empowered.

I’ve taken up a lot of different fitness activities. I was not raised to enjoy or do physical movement – instead it was something to dread, and to feel shame about how my body looked attempting such feats. I started to encounter minor mobility issues in my late 30s, a twinge here, a pain there. Various treatment pathways, traditional and holistic, brought me to walking. Just simple walking. I felt safe in my neighborhood. I felt cared for, by myself and by my health practitioners. I felt empowered. I started adding short jogs into my walks – the the next telephone pole, to the yellow house, to the street corner. I was testing my limits, but I was still protecting my body and my soul, making sure it felt safe.

I do not respond well to being pushed or pushing myself beyond “limits.” Sometimes those limits are arbitrary, and sometimes they shift with the given moment. Some days are “beast mode” and some days aren’t. I’ve taken all sorts of clinics, workshops, and classes for things like yoga, swimming, cycling, running, TRX, zumba, water aerobics, pilates, and strength training. Some felt empowering while others felt defeating. Coaches who pushed often found that I was slower, more uncoordinated, and crankier when they insisted I do something a particular way or aim for a goal that felt unattainable. Coaches who asked “can you add/do more/focus on…” and allowed me the time to think about the answer got more favorable results. I was able to ask myself “does adding/doing/focusing feel safe, does it feel right for my body?” Folks who ignored me when I said “no, that doesn’t feel safe” quickly became untrustworthy and people whom I distanced myself from going forward.

Here’s the rub with that plan though – I have to really listen to myself. To give myself space to say “no, that doesn’t feel safe.” To ask myself, and listen to the answer all the time, not just sometimes. I love to try new things and can get easily excited about a new activity, hobby, or project. I do feel empowered when I try something new, but I need to stay in my “comfort zone” more often than not to feel good about something.

Amy ziplining.
Amy’s first ziplining experience

Maybe others view their comfort zones differently and are able to leave them more freely, to take bigger risks, or at least to engage in things that feel riskier for themselves. I’m okay with that! My comfort zone lets me try all sorts of new activities in ways that work for my heart, my head, and my body.

See you on our next adventure!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

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