Friday, October 21, 2011

Encouraging Words

I've worked at the Y for over two years. I know that we have a top-notch array of land fitness classes. For two years, I've promised the Fitness Coordinator that I'd sample a class. Yet, I've always reasoned that taking a sample class would detract from my own fitness regime. My workouts were likely more challenging than the classes that my wife and her friends frequented. My tough-guy workout couldn't be interrupted by an aerobics class.

I was excited to learn that the Y was offering a new Track and Field class this fall. I am a runner, so this was tailored for me as a class I could attend and not veer from my standard workouts. And, it was held at the Dickinson College football field. I imagined us batting the elements while toughing it out through the grit of the football field. Count me in.

After two years of broken promises, the Fitness Coordinator was surprised to see me actually show up for class. She began class with talk of the importance of dynamic stretching (likely not needed for a self-trained athlete like me) and of circuit training, bosu balls, and light kettle weights. I wondered what happened to the sled-blocking drills on the frozen tundra that I imagined. In any case, I was there and intent on breezing through this class made up primarily of women.

"Let's go," the Fitness Coordinator yelled with a smile, "Let's get ready to work." I don't need your encouragement, I thought. I'll walk through this class and then pick up my own workout after class.

As a society, we're cavalier about the sentiment of encouragement. Often, the encouragement that we offer is limited to a short, "keep your head up," or something passed along through Hallmark or a Like button. Even more impersonal, encouragement is just something we stare at in the lunchroom, a laminated poster with a nature scene and a quote about mountaintops.

Encouragement is so much more - it's about interdependence, harmony, and peace. It's about building others up to achieve. Encouragement is about connectedness and strenght in unity.

A recent article from the website Medical News Today (Family Eating Together Better For Children's Health and Body Weight Control, 5/3/11, Editor's Choice) talked of the correlation between shared family meals and better health. Amber J. Hammons, PhD wrote: "Overall, families that eat 5 or more meals together have children who are [healthier]..." The authors of the study went further, "In addition, family meals are predictive of family-connectedness, which may encourage adolescents to talk about [health and nutrition] issues within their families." This, too, is encouragement. It is this picture of families eating together, developing open lines of communication, and inspiring each other to live healthier lives where we see that encouragement works.

I can be distracted, thinking about too many things at one time, and not being fully present in a conversation. At times, I've shared encouraging words with my children, albeit with my back turned to them or yelling to them from the other room. In working with youth in many settings, I've learned that there is nothing more powerful than stopping, adjusting to the eye level of a child, and speaking to directly to them. There aren't too many days that pass that I don't have my children slow and make eye contact, so that I can tell them that I am proud of them; The short interaction seeding lifetimes of acceptance, love, and encouragement.

After only about 15 minutes into class, I was pulling off my sweatshirt. This wasn't because I was uncomfortably hot, but rather to steal a break, a breather, and a drink. I thought that I must have started the drills too fast or were doing them incorrectly as the other people in the class seemed to be cruising along effortlessly. As we moved into circuit training, my stabilizer muscles were shaking wildly and the Draer Roll exercise set me up for humility at it's finest. As I eased out of the exercise, catching a break when the instructor had her back turned, I realized that my workouts were bunk. Or, my workouts were at least isolated to areas that hadn't prepared me to walk through this class. I was challenged, and tired.

As we moved through the class, the instructor took time to specifically and intentionally cheer on each participant, by name. She corrected form and pushed us to go harder. She praised and encouraged, by name. As we tired, we began to do the same. Clapping and cheering for one another, by name. The instructor had pre-planned a high-energy, challenging class and successfully pulled everyone one of us to the end through encouragement. As the challenges heightened so did her calls of encouragement, spreading it throughout the class until the culture of the group was immersed in affirmation. Bring on more Draer Rolls, we can do this! We could have been on a lunchroom poster.

The apostle Paul used the phrase, "encourage one another" multiple times in his letters to the early church. Two thousand years ago, he knew that this idea of encouraging each other was integral to a healthy community. In 2 Cor 13:11, he says, "...Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace..."

Whether it's encouraging your children through directly speaking positive truth into their day, cultivating trust and communication through family meals, or inspiring a friend to live a healthier life by challenging and then encouraging them to join you for a fitness class - be intentional about building someone else up today. It matters.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Exciting News...

Our Y, Awaken Haiti, and One Thousand Gifts all mentioned in this blog / article that was recently picked up by the magazine, On Site Fitness: