Updated: Jun 29, 2022
Do you train to look good? Although I teach and prioritise SKILL-BASED movement practices, there was a time that I cared about aesthetics more than anything else. I’d also be lying if I told you that I didn’t care about it at all any more.
There’s more than one way to treat aesthetics as well: we can care about how our body looks when we’re still or how our body looks when we’re moving. The former is really found in sports like bodybuilding whether it’s bodyweight callisthenics bodybuilding, or classic weight pumping bodybuilding. The latter is found in aesthetics sports such as ballet, gymnastics - there is still some value placed on the appearance of the athlete but the quality of the movement is more important. However this second option is rarely thought of as aesthetics!
Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with callisthenics, bodybuilding, gymnastics or ballet (that’s a whole other conversation!) but simply that when aesthetics are put in the foreground, as the greatest priority, it can do a lot of damage whatever the discipline. Working primarily with aesthetics is an EGO based practice. Even an originally egoless practice like yoga can become an egoic practice if it is all about showing off aesthetic skills. High performance always has some element of aesthetics in my opinion.
So what does this mean for us as committed movers and shakers? Should we give up our goals and eat less well?
Personally, I don’t think that would be helpful. I don’t exactly know what the answer or the solution is, but I think that an important first step is to increase our awareness of the role of the ego in our practice. When I spend hours and months refining my line in a handstand, I KNOW that ultimately this is just as ridiculous as when I used to spend months pumping my biceps and eating no carbs to look shredded...
When we have more awareness about WHY we practice, we can get a deeper understanding of ourselves. If we want to look good, that usually stems from some sense of “not being enough”. I want to have perfect abs because then I will be loveable. I want to master the human flag because then people will admire me. I want to be able to do perfect splits because then I will be applauded on stage... each of these thoughts can drive you to practice and push yourself, and
Ultimately none of these are tied in to our health. We can be perfectly healthy without 6 pack abs, without learning the human flag, and without ever doing the splits.
I am probably never going to stop caring completely about how I look, but if I can at least laugh at myself a little and not take myself too seriously, that’s a big step. When I laugh at my practice, when I can see the strangeness of my habits, I can begin to question their importance. I can ask why?
So if your practice is strange, crazy and meaningless, a good question to ask yourself is what you get out of it. Do you enjoy the process? Do you have fun in your sessions? Would it matter if you never achieved your goals? Would you still want to do it, even if you could never tell anyone about it, or if you believed that no one cared?
For me, right now, I love my physical practice, I enjoy refining my handstands and climbing and jumping off things and balancing on things. I enjoy it. And therefore I still do it. But if I stop enjoying it, I can also take a step back and know that is also okay - my self worth is not defined by my ability to do a handstand or have a 6-pack.