The line repeated several times throughout the book:
Who we are is how we move.
When simplicity and complexity reside in one sentence, I’m hooked, not just on the writing but on absorbing and contemplating the message in the words. And so the latest work of Mina Samuels, Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives has stayed with me over the last few days.
The work is an interesting, smartly written look at the role athletics plays in the lives of women. We’re talking every day women here, not elite athletes with Olympic dreams or sponsorship deals. Samuels interviews women of all ages and backgrounds. They came to sport in different ways, participate in a range of activities from distance running to martial arts to outdoor adventures and have a variety of life experiences. But they all come to the same conclusion: Connecting to their body made them stronger not just physically but in mind and spirit. Athletics affected their entire lives, not just their physical bodies.
Who they are is how they move.
What exactly does that mean? To Samuels, it’s a thread that allows us to start small and grow into a fuller life.
“We need to bring intention to the things we do instead of coasting through life, being not quite sure where we’re going,” Samuels said. “We ask, ‘Why am I working out?’ We start to set goals and intentions and we feel a ripple through our whole life of living with more intentionality. Who we are is how we move is the physical manifestation of that intentionality. If we move through the world with our shoulders back and our chest open, we feel so much better. Because it’s so quantifiable, it’s easier to see how intention can work in our life through sport.”
Samuels uses examples from her own experiences to frame the discussions in the book, which include chapters on balance, self-discovery and relationships to men and to other women.
Running like a girl, in many ways celebrates the ways in which women “do sports” differently than their male counterparts, which Samuels noted, emphasizes relationships and self awareness.
“More than men, I think that women tend to do sports together and that companionship runs deeper for women,” Samuels said. “In talking with women who run women’s boot camps or women’s triathlon teams, they are just amazied by how quickly and deeply women will bond. They will go from strangers to training for a triathlon together to being a bridesmaid at each other’s weddings. I think sports occupies a broader space for women, they start to change how they feel and see themselves and the friendships are more deeply rooted.”
In some ways, Samuels knows she’s preaching to the choir — women who are already active and supporting other women are the ones drawn to her book. But the lessons we learn from athletics, from deepening the connection between mind and body, are continuous. Perhaps my favorite passage from the book is one on identity:
Identity is about possibility, not about strictures. One of the bonuses of keeping our identity fluid is that it enables us to see ourselves in new ways. Instead of always measuring our accomplishments by the same narrow standards, ask yourself the following question: What am I capable of? This isn’t a historical research question, although it’s good to draw insight from past accomplishments. Rather, it is a question aimed at at the future. As in, “What could I be capable of, if I tried?”
Who we are is how we move. And our identity is fluid.
How does the way I move define me today?
Some of the best reads lead you to ask more questions than provide answers.