I used to have a great fear of public speaking, but I eliminated that problem by attending Toastmasters (in Scotland) for four years, which scared me to death, and by giving hundreds of talks over the next 20 years. The fear, and thus the self-consciousness, was in my head and it got between my audience and me. Once you realize that it isn’t about you, it is about the story that you have to tell, all of those fears melt away. You literally forget yourself. This reminds me of a tale that the virtuoso violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, told on the radio when I was a young man. I couldn’t believe what he said at the time, but many years later I arrived in a similar place, with a scientific presentation instead of a violin. Self-consciousness just gets in the way. This is how I remember the story 45 years later:
The interviewer asked Yehudi Menuhin if he was ever nervous when he performed. He said that he was a little at first, but then he got over it. The interviewer asked when he knew that he was over his performance nerves, and Yehudi said, “Well, I was aware of my freedom from self-consciousness whilst performing one of the Bach violin concertos in front of an audience of thousands. I was sitting in a chair at the front of the hall, listening to the initial introductory bars by the string section, which preceded my solo. This continuo was quite long, so I sat there listening and became carried away by the beauty of the music. After a little while I noticed that something was missing, and then on reflection I realized that I was the ‘absent something’. I stood calmly, as if nothing was amiss, and started to play. I suspect that many members of the audience were unaware of what had occurred, but for the orchestra it was another story. I then knew that I had rid myself of my self-consciousness, and was free to enjoy performing.”
This is equally true at the gym, except the story you are telling is about your body and the audience is you. I know people who would love to go to the gym, but they just feel awkward and out of place as if everyone is watching them, which is actually not the case. Some people might be watching them, but that is true anywhere there are other people.
So forget them all, except when it comes to appropriate gym etiquette, and watch yourself. One of the best ways to ensure good form, in addition to guidance from a skilled expert, is to use the mirrors. You may think that you are taking your knee to 90 degrees in a lunge, but just watch and you’ll be surprised, especially when you are tired. You can also ask staff for advice on your form. For instance, I haven’t done squats in a long time and I’m back at it as I start to build strength for the next season. During my weight session yesterday, one of the trainers, Noriko Brantley whom I respect, informed me that I was holding the bar too high on my neck, endangering my cervical vertebrae. I said thanks, and was grateful for the input. When taking such advice make sure that it comes from someone you can trust.
We now have access to inexpensive movie cameras with which to record our activities. Such recordings are effective tools for spotting issues and for assessing our progress as we attempt to fix them. I have prepared an example of this approach with the help of my Feldenkrais Instructor, Karen. The first movie clip (taken with my new iPad) shows severe stiffness in my left shoulder and arm, probably due to guarding induced by a previous accidental dislocation of my shoulder joint. This stiffness translates as a burning pain at the base of my neck on the left side after 8-10 miles of running. Watch the movie carefully, and then watch the second movie that reveals some significant loosening of my left shoulder following a 45-minute Feldenkrais session.
Movie #1: Author running to show lack of flexibility in left shoulder region due to injury 8 years previously.
Movie #2: Author running to show improved flexibility in left shoulder region following a Feldenkrais session.
This won’t be a quick fix, but awareness of the problem is the first step to recovery. If you don’t have a diagnosis for the cause of an issue, how are you going to fix it?