Whenever I squat, I think of Haley Shevener.

I trained with her twice a week for two years and she helped me change my relationship to my body. I met her with all my hang-ups and figured that because I wasn’t a size 6, I was unhealthy and overweight.
We trained. She worked my ass off. I lost weight, which was my primary goal, and in that time she gave me invaluable tips on nutrition, workouts to do on our off days, motivation in between sessions and hard core discipline during our gym session.

She was relentless. She didn’t care that it was hard. She looked at me and assumed my strength before I had it. She watched me cheat on pushups and made a point to tell me I was half-assing that last one and she noticed. It wasn’t good enough that it was the last five of my third set. She wanted each of them to be thoughtful, complete, and use all of me. She championed my health even when I didn’t and every time I saw the beauty of her fitness, I was reminded of what was possible.

Short cuts, quick fixes, and fad programs weren’t going to get me there. I had to change my relationship to my body and learn what health and fitness actually meant.

We would take measurements each week and my weight loss was consistent but slow. I got frustrated often. Sometimes it went up. Sometimes it went down. Haley didn’t really care either way. And then she’d have me warm up with squats – not weighted squats, but assisted squats with the TRX – the stretchy kind. I was squatting, not sweating, not working it out. Just lame, stupid, sucky squats. I hated them. They were awful. My knees didn’t like it. My hips didn’t like it. It was awkward and pointless. How is a low flexible squat going to make me skinny?

But we did it regularly and I complained regularly. Honestly, she didn’t really care what I thought or how I felt (except when there was legitimate pain and she would be able to tell by the difference between my constant complaining and an actual concern). When I look back on our training, I realize now she was internally shifting my mark of success. It wasn’t about my size. It wasn’t how much I weighed. It wasn’t the smallness of my waist. Can you move? Can you do a push-up? Can you do a pull up? Can you balance on one leg? Can you jump? Can you run? Can you squat?

This rocked my world. The answer was clear. Well, sort of but not really and certainly not for long. This was why I was training. What was most essential and supportive for a healthy body and a good life wasn’t a size/weight issue at all. Those naturally shift when health becomes your focus. It was function and form.

We let go of the scale and the fat pincher and the plastic measuring tape without saying much about it and we started to measure flexibility, agility, stability, endurance and my day to day felt sense of being in my body.

I have never felt stronger, healthier, sexier and more aware of my physicality when I’m feeling both connected and disconnected. My relationship to health changed forever because of Haley. Now, when I workout, I train. Weight loss happens but it’s not the goal.

Just to state the obvious here but that number on the scale isn’t just about fat and muscle. It includes ALL your insides — your bones, all fluids, organs, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and a bunch of bodily systems. I mean have you ever thought gosh, I don’t know, I think my liver is getting chubby? I didn’t think so. Weighing yourself and then coming to a conclusion is sort of like drinking a glass of water and then deciding to you’re going to go for that swim because the pool is cold.

When I moved out of the city a year ago, I joined the local gym near my house to continue what I learned with Haley. Yesterday a woman came up to me and said, I see you here all the time. It’s so inspiring watching how hard you work. You have incredible form.

I miss Haley and if I hadn’t moved out of the city, I’d still be in the gym with her at least twice a week. But the move offered me an opportunity to finally take responsibility for my own health, surrender my lifelong battle of a crappy self-image and experience genuine beauty – form and function.

This is sort of a love letter to her and a great big thank you for the spiritual bootcamp she gave me through those sweat and tears. When I squat now I do it on purpose, with pride and am always reminded about the ultimate goal for which all else is in service to.

Can you move?


PS – If you live in San Francisco and want to experience the spiritual side of personal training, you can find Haley here.


Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr


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