Using Exercise to Build a Better Relationship With Yourself

“Last year, I presented with severe knee pain. I had countless MRIs, X-rays, and saw almost every physical therapist and orthopedic surgeon in my area. However, despite all the payments I made, and doctors I visited, my knee did not get any better. I couldn’t squat, run, or do virtually anything I used to love doing,” says Haniya Shareef.

“Eventually my mental health spiraled, and I felt incredibly helpless. However, one day, while scrolling through Instagram, I found Aadil Ansari. Since I had exhausted almost all my local resources, I decided to give remote training by Aadil a shot, albeit with a lot of skepticism and doubt.”

“However, after our first meeting, I never looked back and my squats have never looked better. And so, I invited Aadil Ansari to talk to the #MuslimGirlClique about how to use exercise to build a better relationship with yourself, and here’s what he had to say.”

Aadil Ansari: “You don’t need to look far to find what the fitness industry has set as the current standard. Behind the facade of improving yourself, enhancing your health, and taking control of your wellbeing lies a stronger and deeper desire to display that we are people of beauty, value, and worthy of attention.

How do we determine that worth? Just Instagram your favorite health, beauty, or fitness hashtag. You’ll quickly find that as much as we try to make it seem like it is, it in fact is no longer about you. It’s about what others perceive of you. Your journey to health isn’t as worthwhile if it’s only witnessed by you individually. Your personal best distance achieved in your spin class isn’t as good if it doesn’t beat your personal best number of likes on your social media post about it. The accomplishment of losing 10 pounds is only as sweet as the recognition and compliments it invites.

What serves as one of the best opportunities to learn about ourselves through our efforts and abilities has quickly transformed into what value you can extract about yourself, as a person, given the level of validation offered by those around you.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone likes to be noticed and it’s crucial for our development as beings in order to learn what it is we can offer the world’s inhabitants. Yet, for humans old enough to make decisions about their health, recognition should only reinforce what we have already learned about ourselves. It should show us that others recognize what we have already discovered about our being, what we for years have already established as the truth of who we are.

But when it comes to our physical being, has a media-driven societal standard overtaken our own personal agency of what we consider ideal for ourselves? Is our perception of our self worth weighed against an impossible standard because it competes against a computerized graphic, a filtered image of a “model,” or a smile and a peace sign that got lucky enough to pass by advantageous lighting?

Is it really about us, or is it about the courage we “possess” because we’re amongst the minority of people on day 14 of “Whole 30”? As a health and nutrition coach who spends his waking hours working in a luxury gym, I am fortunate enough to observe what the modern perception of self has become. It’s no longer about the person, it’s about their body fat percentage, and whether it is lower than their counterparts. It’s not about what you can do, it’s about how far away you are from what you “should” be. It’s not about your self, it’s about what and how much anyone else notices.

You can learn a lot about a person based off of how they approach health and exercise. The closer they stand to the mirror as they hold dumbbells in their hands, the harder they are looking to see someone of worth.

The more they beat themselves into the ground chasing fatigue-driven workouts, the further they are digging to prove they are capable of something/anything.

The most intimate relationship you have within this universe is the one with yourself and the only standard it should meet is what YOU decide to set for it.

The drive to authentically improve our health and wellbeing, which hopefully is at least minimally present, sits under a brighter-than-pink elephant in the room that is begging for approval, recognition, validation and acceptance. It’s easy to fall into this trap because we all face degrees of a similar obstacle. Behind the veil of a self-rationalized, healthy, and necessary hobby hides a deeper mammalian need to feel like we are worthy of something, and offer that to our tribe.

The most intimate relationship you have within this universe is the one with yourself, and the only standard it should meet is what YOU decide to set for it. But establishing a framework for anything requires specific context, especially when there is something so important involved.

Can you travel a distance if you don’t know what the vehicle is that you’re sitting in? How many of us truly know who makes up this body and mind that we are seeking so desperately to improve? The core of our being begins with our ability to sense, and only then do we have a foundation to build something off of.

The physical activities you pursue provide a unique opportunity to gain feedback from the most important person in your life. It’s a chance to start having a healthy conversation with who actually makes up this special person that is YOU. Here are some questions you can ask to remain attentive to yourself during your journey towards increased health and wellness:

  1. Can you feel the deepest parts of your body helping hold everything together?
  2. Can you feel the floor underneath your feet and can you feel it holding you up?
  3. Do your ribs feel like they’re settled down into you, or are they flaring and fleeting away? Or can you only feel things when they really start to burn?
  4. Does the exercise need to be harder and harder in order to recognize your own parts? Do you need to feel pain just to feel anything at all? In order to improve yourself and your wellbeing, you need to first feel who that person is. It’s a relationship that begins without words, but when cultivated over time speaks volumes.

It’s too easy to get distracted from ourselves, and without knowing it, we often hide from what we don’t want to acknowledge by saying we care more about others than we do about ourselves. It’s even easier to say you’re selfish if you don’t live a life that’s dedicated to others. However, there is difference between throwing someone a rope that’s held by a securely-tightened knot, and throwing someone a rope held by a fragile attachment.

Before you solve the world’s problems, you need to solve your own. Your time committed to bettering yourself should revolve exclusively around that. Tune out the noise and focus on you, and see how far in you can actually look. There is no such thing as good and bad when it comes to yourself, only how deep down can you recognize. You’ll quickly find that your motivations won’t change, but who they’re for drastically will.”

Aadil Ansari has a Master’s in Fitness and Wellness, and works out of Connecticut as well as online with clients all over the world looking to learn more about how to improve their health and fitness. He creates customized movement, strength, cardiovascular and nutritional programs that are sustainable, results-driven and in accordance to what his clients can do at that particular time. He is highly passionate about the interplay between mental, emotional, and physical health, and how they contribute towards the prevention and management of health, disease and performance. Through his vast amount of time devoted to studying fields related to the human organism, such as neuroscience, psychology, anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, and nutritional therapy, Aadil has been able to identify the barriers that prevent people from achieving their version of optimal health, and how smart strategies can be applied in order to restore balance and homeostasis. Undoubtedly, his design of smart and well thought-out programs are tailored to his clients ensuring successful change without creating additional responsibility or overwhelming their ability to live their lives.

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