This essay originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Tracy Anderson Magazine, available now for digital download and print orders.
When the music starts and the instructor begins moving without giving any verbal instructions, you may feel out of your depth.
It could make you feel vulnerable, unsure if you are doing it right, or if you can get results training in this way. This is exactly the mindset that has made us so disconnected from our bodies. It happens all over our environments; it’s in our earliest years when we start to understand judgment and absorb its toxicity. The signals of judgment are sometimes so micro-level that we don’t even know to identify them, or to acknowledge that we exist in a broken system of judgment that harms our health and self-esteem. For example, imagine a young child who has a passion for dance, but never gets chosen for anything in dance class. Pretty soon that small awareness of judgment calcifies into a personal belief: “I never get chosen for a special part in the ballet, therefore I do not know how to move as well as I thought.” It could be a sport you don’t make, it could be someone making fun of the way you run. It could be you looking at the celebrated “beautiful” people of the world, and not being able to see it in yourself.
In the world of physical fitness training, there was not any strategic language built in wellness to take any person from any genetic background and make them into their most balanced self. Until I dedicated my focus to making progress in the fitness space, it simply didn’t exist. During my first study, I realized that just like our self-esteem was being unfairly hijacked, our brains were experiencing the same with verbal instruction.
Why is verbal instruction counterproductive in fitness? Interestingly, our bodies actually need minimal to no distraction to connect to the incredible systems we have in our primal being. If you look at toddlers, you notice they try everything imaginable physically, without anyone telling them what to do. They are driven by adrenaline and curiosity. Two ingredients that I have found most powerful in weight loss are weight management, and being magnetically connected to your physical body. Young children aren’t told the mechanics of how to throw, but they will throw. No one is cheering them on to roll over, walk, climb, stretch, or bounce. It is in us to crave independence in movement, yet there is an entire industry that has benefited off of your willingness to resign your autonomy. An industry that runs on the idea that you don’t know how to move in your own body without step-by-step instructions, or a verbal cheerleader massaging your ego enough to keep you going. You could have burned hundreds of calories more if you turned off the verbal commentary altogether. Why? Because you shut off the part of your brain that doesn’t just ride shotgun during your workout, but is the actual driver.
Studies show that orchestra conductors live longer than most, and there’s a reason for that: They let the music enter their body and guide their movement. This natural response to music is what gets our hearts pumping, our circulation going, and our organs functioning. It’s something of which we are all capable. It’s amazing to me how people will react when they feel like their choices are being limited, and yet people who were all born with a primal right to move will be the first to say they don’t know how to move or even how to get started moving.
We are programmed to move to music in a balanced way. Our emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual, and primal selves benefit from it. We get you into that flow-state of moving, where it’s not just improvisational: You have the woman who conceived the method and designed its strategy-based practices crafting new content each week. You match that energy the way a musician absorbs the tempo from the conductor’s physical gestures. This is when the brain enters a highly restorative and creative space—where your entire being is processing and moving—and builds resilience.
Retraining your brain and managing breaking the emotional habits of having someone talk you through your workouts takes time, focus, and discipline. But once you break that habit and see firsthand the benefits of free play, you will never want anyone disrupting your fitness space again.
“The truth creates the space you need to grow.”
When you start a new fitness program, it’s usually because somewhere in you, you either feel uncomfortable in your body, disappointed in how you view your body, or worried you aren’t showing up for your health.
Even if it’s challenging to get moving, the truth is that any movement you do with your own body should feel good. Exercise is the greatest gift we can give to our mental and physical health, as it’s both preventative and healing. That being said, not all movements are designed to create balance. When we start to see physical results from exercise, most programs do not have the data nor the expertise to go the distance. When you decide to start a fitness plan, it’s usually because you have a strong desire to change your body fast, and you can’t get anywhere fast with your body without harming your mental and physical health. So let’s just pause and take a moment to check in with ourselves. Being able to tell yourself the truth about where you’ve been—and where you are—is very important. Yes, all the way back to the first moment you quit that sport, stopped that online class, left the gym, skipped the runs. Ask yourself: What happened, and why? You have to look very honestly about everything you consume, how you manage your stress, and how well you actually know yourself. These things matter, because even when the truth is hard to swallow, it liberates you. The truth creates the space you need to grow.
The small lies you tell yourself are the tiny things that stagnate us, and keep us from really being all that we desire.
This is where I like to play out how these conversations with clients go. It’s all about simplifying your being into four parts: your physical self, your emotional self, your intellectual self, and your spiritual self.
“Your spiritual self soars the highest when you are one with your body.”
The conversation goes like this: You get set up to try a class, and your intellectual self has totally bought into the fact that you should be working out. Your emotional self is half in, half out—part of it craves the experience of being physically confident, but the other doesn’t like anything that is challenging, so it waits in the wings to start sending bodily signals that you shouldn’t be doing this workout. It will also do it for any workout that requires too much mental effort to stay in the game. The reality is your health needs you to overcome that challenge. Your physical self can also show reluctance at first. It wants to move, but it needs the full support of the emotional and intellectual parts of you to commit. Your physical self only shows resistance right before achieving something real. In my opinion, your spiritual self soars the highest when you are one with your body, honoring all of its graceful abilities. Depending on how you observe your own spiritual self, there may be times of fasting or significant days where not eating in a balanced way or moving in a balanced way are appropriate for those days, and that’s okay. Those are meaningful times that create balance in your life as a whole.
The first step is being honest about how overpowering those parts of you can end up sabotaging you. It’s why so many people start things they never finish, and year after year they don’t get healthier. When you get honest with yourself about where you’ve been and why certain parts of your inner dialogue may need nurturing, you really start to grow. When excuses start to come up, first ask yourself: Who’s the voice inside your head, and why are they saying what they are saying? After all, ego stands in the way of most people being able to have an empathetic conversation with anyone they might disagree with. That battle with ego resides inside you, and persists in your inner conversations as well. When you are seeking to improve your life in any way, pause, and an exterior or interior conflict, road block, or distraction will come up. Pause. Breathe to the count of five. Hold for one and exhale for five. Ask yourself who is responding to this circumstance in this moment and how can we take a quick and radically honest look at how much value should be placed on that feeling. Your health can handle the hard truth but it can not handle lies.
I grew up with a mother who was a professional ballerina and a career dance studio owner with her own methodology of teaching children the gifts and techniques of dance through their unique processing channels which forever deepen their connection to themselves. I truly believe that experiential gift my mother believed in is why I was poised to break down the barriers between the scientific, medical, wellness, and fitness domains. I excelled as a dancer, but once I got into college on a scholarship, and found myself in New York City after growing up in a small town in Indiana, my body drastically changed.
I am just shy of 5 feet tall, and I gained 40 lbs at school for dance. New York, in all its glory, is not a city that lies to you. It is one of those places that reveals the hard truth of who you are, and that hard truth was that no one anywhere was going to coddle my natural talent and make me make weight in some miraculously healthy way and then cast me as the star of Giselle at Lincoln Center. In fact it was quite the opposite. It was “make weight or go.” Did that hurt? Absolutely. But it was the hard truth, and I recognized that there’s this giant hole in wellness where no one crafted anything deeply research-based for the whole body. I sought to create bold solutions to achieve physical connection and balance, and to help people see the continuous results they deserve.
I dedicated a focused eight years of research and development, including a five-year study on 150 women of all ages and backgrounds. I brought together skillful academics, and dug into my intellectual and creative forces to try and help people feel empowered by their own bodies instead of disappointed, disconnected, or disenchanted by them. There wasn’t any research in fitness that had studied the totality of balance in oneself, and the mechanisms by which the body becomes unbalanced. I spent many years dissecting the science and circumstances before I even began to incorporate my findings into choreography.
I knew my style of movement was not going to be anything like dance choreography, because the intended outcomes are completely different. It took years to design a method that allows for active communication with the muscles, which is more meticulous than working muscles to become stronger in mass. It’s also about the joints, the metabolism, and the way movement impacts your hormones. Today, the Tracy Anderson Method is a dynamic, holistic approach that leads to sustained balance and harmony, designed in function of our ever-evolving minds and bodies.