I ran a road race this past Sunday called the Hot Chocolate Run. As I crossed the finish line, I burst into tears. This surprised me. Some of the feelings I could pinpoint. Some, remain a mystery to me. What I knew was how  happy I felt to be part of this crazy mob of people in all their outfits, shapes, sizes and varying degrees of fitness. And I also knew how blessed I felt to be able to run at all.

I have not always felt this way at the end of a race. I have been a runner since I was a freshman in high school and for many years I used coercion, competition and shame to motivate myself. A number of years ago, I was out struggling through a run when suddenly my body went rogue and just stopped. I burst into tears. The unthinkable had happened; I had stopped forcing my body. I had stopped telling my body what to do. Relief flooded me. The reign of terror was over.

For the next several years, I walked. Over time, and only with my body’s permission, I started to run again, but only downhill, and in the woods, never in a straight line, and never uphill. I ran at a pace and for distances that the earlier me would have ridiculed. But I stuck with it because it felt good. That was my only agenda; what felt good to my body. Throughout my “comeback” I had only two prayers: “Help me to move in a way that honors my body and allows me to be strong in who I am in the world” and “I want to be able to run with my people.” It took years of listening to my body to discover just what it meant to be me in the world and just who “my people” were. The race on Sunday was a personal and palpable milestone for the power of moving my body in ways that allowed me to shed old patterns and open to something greater within.

Our body’s musculature carries imprints of every way we have ever held ourselves, recoiled in fear, contracted out of shame, or tightened out of hurt.  It carries the shapes of the thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves and our place in the world.  All the ways we feel as though we need to hold ourselves in order to be good, OK, successful, safe, loved and more are revealed in the shape, tone and condition of our muscles. If you want to know the truth about yourself, ask your muscles.