• Lijing Cobb


In my studio I like to move common exercises like plank and side plank onto reformer, a bed-like apparatus with springs and straps (most people jokingly call it the torture device), where we can perform an infinite amount of exercises with the aid of this amazing device. My clients are all good sports, and most of the time they follow my lead unquestioningly. But sometimes it takes a bit of convincing to make them believe that they are able to do certain things.

A plank is a plank is a plank, right? Yes, and no. When our hands and feet are on solid ground and we know that if our strength were to fail us, all that happens is we flop to the ground and suffer a moment of embarrassment, no bodily harm done, we are more willing to try it and even move from the planking position. But when I move the plank onto the reformer, where my hands are on top of two narrow blocks, my toes are hooking onto a thin bar, the damn thing moves if I’m not steady, and I’m at least 3 feet off the ground, the plank no longer feels like a plank.

I imagine that in some people’s mind, it feels like death beckoning from the void below. Ugh, how dare you ask me to risk my life for my health?

It’s in moments like this that I go through the movements one by one, explaining what happens in each step, demystifying the suspended plank back down to earth, where the exact same mechanism of the body applies to make the plank possible. All that’s extra is not physical, but mental. You gotta believe that you can do it.

You see, down on the ground when we are planking, there’s very little fear in our minds. Either we can do it or not, mother earth welcomes us with a gentle embrace. Up on the reformer, the fear-odometer skyrockets. All of a sudden we are fully aware of our fragility and mortality, and the concern for the wellbeing of all our body parts overwhelms us. Crippled by such fear, we admit defeat before even attempting it. Sometimes my clients shake their heads resolutely and tell me they can’t do it. Are you crazy LJ? They say, and follow up with the affirmative.

Yesterday I was sitting in a gymnastics school watching my 7yo taking her class. The instructor was helping the kids do handstand tumble. The progression was clear, and as the kids go through each phase they learn just a bit more of what this exercise involves, so by the end of the class all of them were happily handstand tumbling. I imagine that if I tried the whole process I’d probably be able to do it as well, but I know that my fear-odometer would have been significant enough to prevent me from progressing as nicely as the 7yos. I can do my suspended planks and move in that position in my sleep, but ask me to do a handstand tumble and I’d hesitate quite a lot. Fear is a great big preventer of success.

I’ve been taking ice skating lessons with my kids. While they fall, laugh, get up and go fast again, I try to utilize all my trainings in my studio to balance and not fall. We’ve witnessed our share of other people falling on ice, the screams, the breakage, and blood, and I want to have nothing to do with that. Yet knowing that if taught properly, my body is able to maneuver itself just as gracefully on the ice as anyone else, I persist. I’m not going to let fear take away opportunities. I’m not going to be a bench mom if I can help it.

So that’s why last night on the volleyball court I started serving the ball overhand. For as inconsistently as I’ve practiced the game of volleyball over the last 17 years, I’d never tried serving overhand consistently. I was very comfortable serving underhand, and why should I bother to improve my game if I never really get to play it? But over the last weeks when my practice did get some semblance of regularity, I started thinking about the mechanics of overhand serving, and decided that there’s nothing preventing me from doing that except the fear of deviating from my norm. I decided also that my norm was not working out too great for me, and it was time to try a new norm. I applied theory to practice, and since millions of people have done it before me, I did it too. Just like that, an overnight success.

Our lives indeed offer us a multitude of opportunities to grow and change on a daily basis, yet the fear of change prevents us from seizing these opportunities. The other day I asked my 10yo why she loves her daddy more than me, and although she denied it, she nevertheless gave me a clue (but I knew it well already), that daddy was more fun. He is always willing to try new things. He believes that he can do all of them. He seems to be without fear, and for that reason he is good at many things he tries his hands on, even if it’s his first time.

If you play volleyball, or any kind of team sport for that matter, you know that you compliment others for their successes and offer words of encouragement when they make a mistake, but when you make a mistake yourself, you seriously beat yourself up for it. “My bad.” “That was dumb.” “What was I thinking?” On the court yesterday after missing a couple of overhand serves I thought about stopping. I don’t know how to do this. I shouldn’t bring the team down. But the voice of disparagement did not win. I thought instead, how about if I focused my energy on the positive instead? How about all the other serves that I made in and scored points? How about if I let go of the fear of failure, and spend all my energy on improving the quality of my presence instead?

How about that indeed? And in everything else I do in life too? What a shift.

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