How Aly Raisman Boosts Her Body Confidence Through Meditation
The Olympic gymnast and #AerieREAL ambassador shares why "me" time is so important for her mental health—and why sitting in the back of a workout class is totally okay.
Aly Raisman may be known for being one of the best gymnasts in the world, but since rising to meteoric "Fab Five" fame, she's spent her time off the mat using her platform to raise awareness for some incredibly important issues facing young women. She wrote a memoir detailing the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of Team USA doctor Larry Nassar and has made it her mission to help other survivors feel less alone.
Last year, she joined Aerie to put an end to another issue close to her heart: body-shaming. She's become a force within the body-positive movement, reminding girls to be proud of their muscles and that there's no singular definition of what it means to be "feminine," (Related: Aly Raisman Is Proving Boys Who Said She Was "Too Muscular" WAY Wrong)
To celebrate the launch of Aerie's latest campaign-featuring familiar faces like Iskra Lawrence, but also newcomers like Busy Philipps, Jameela Jamil, and U.S. Paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckaby-we spoke to Raisman about how she manages her anxiety, using meditation as a tool for body confidence, and her super-chill approach to working out.
Here, she shares how her life has changed since the Olympics and the crucial mind-body lessons she's learned along the way.
Shooting an un-photoshopped campaign keeps insecurities in check.
"Sometimes when I'm on photoshoots for Aerie when my skin is breaking out or I just don't feel confident, I will take a moment and remind myself that the reason why I feel self-conscious is because when I was growing up, I didn't see ads that were normal-they were all airbrushed and photoshopped. And so I look at myself in the mirror in the bathroom and tell myself that this is an important thing for me to do, not only for myself but for other girls. So they can walk into the store and see if I have pimples on my forehead, who cares, it's all real and normal. It's been really empowering for me, but it's also just been a reminder to not worry about those things because they're really stupid in the grand scheme of things." (Related: The Latest #AerieREAL Girls Will Give You a Swimwear Confidence Boost)
Her definition of "strength" now includes standing up for herself.
"My whole entire life, 'strength' was all about getting stronger physically and feeling really mentally tough in gymnastics, but now I think it's also really knowing myself. If I feel like I'm really tired or that I just need a break, it's about having the strength and the courage to say so, because it can be hard to stick up for yourself. I think there's pressure on women because we're nervous that people are going to think that we're being difficult or that we're being bratty, so we feel guilty saying no. So it's just learning to honor myself and to express myself-you can't be at your best all the time. You can't be doing a million things a mile a minute-you have to take time for yourself and to relax."
Speaking out about her sexual abuse has taught her self-compassion...
"I used to work out six or seven hours some days [while training] for the 2016 Olympics and was in the best shape of my life. Afterward, between traveling so much for different opportunities and really coming to terms with what happened to me, it took a toll. I was really nervous to come forward publicly; I knew that I wanted to but I was scared. And then when I came forward, the support I received and movement that happened was so empowering and amazing, but there's also a lot of pressure that comes with that, and it took a mental toll on me that I didn't expect. So I didn't work out as much as I wanted to-I had no energy because I was so exhausted.
"Yesterday I went to the gym at my hotel and I did 10 minutes of walking on an incline on a treadmill, and then I did 10 minutes on the elliptical. A few months ago, I would've been mad at myself for not having the energy to work out more, but instead of feeling bummed and frustrated, I thought I'm just going to take this moment to appreciate that I'm feeling really tired, I've been through a lot, and it's okay-everybody has ups and downs. Meditating, going to therapy, practicing self-compassion, and self-love has really helped me to be kinder to myself because that inner dialogue is so important. I hope that by sharing that, you know, I'm a successful Olympic athlete and it's hard for me to work out too, it really shows how much of a toll speaking out [about sexual abuse] can have.
"I feel it's important to share that because I don't want people to think that my life is perfect or that this is easy for me. I want people to know that it's hard. I think other women can relate to going through a month where your workouts are amazing, and then you might go through another month where you're just exhausted and you feel like your workouts are going backward. What matters is that you tried and that you know even doing 30 seconds of a workout is better than 0 seconds."
...and that it's okay to not take your workouts too seriously.
"It's really important to just focus on yourself because it's so common especially in the social media world to compare yourself to other people. When I do a cycling class, sometimes I look around and I'm just amazed at the women and men in the front row-they're just so good at it! I have to remind myself not to compare myself to them. I always go in the back row because it's always so hard for me! I have to just remind myself that we're all on our different paths. Sometimes during a 45-minute class, I will literally sit for one of the songs and just relax and take deep breaths and do whatever feels good for me. I feel different every day, so I keep reminding myself to only compete with myself to be the best version of myself-we're all different." (Related: Kayla Itsines Perfectly Explains Why Wanting What Others Have Will Never Make You Happy)
Meditation and self-care are crucial for combating her anxiety.
"I launched meditatewithaly.com with the app Insight Timer-it has 15,000 guided meditations. Meditation has changed my life. I used to get headaches all the time and it's really helped with that. I have a lot of anxiety, and while a little bit is a good thing because it helps me be aware of what's stressing me out, I would like to have it less in my life. So meditating every single day has been crucial for me-on the days when I don't do it, I don't feel well, and I think that taking that time is really important. I try to meditate in the mornings, but if I'm waking up at 4:30 in the morning, I would just fall back asleep. So it depends-sometimes I'll meditate on the airplane to help me relax and fall asleep, or if I'm feeling stressed I'll do a meditation so I can try to train myself to get out of that anxiety because it can be really hard for me to shake it. So I just try to figure out what the root of the problem is with journaling or try to remind myself in the meditation that I'm safe, I'm just going through a lot. I also meditate every night before I go to bed. I'll put on a guided meditation while I take a bath with a face mask on, or after I come out of a nice hot shower while I put my skin products on-it's really relaxing." (Related: I Tried a Month-Long Meditation and It Helped My Anxiety)
Staying present boosts her body confidence, too.
"I'm human just like everybody else-I have my days when I feel confident and then I have my other days where I feel insecure. That's normal. So I definitely do some guided meditations that are for body love and body positivity that remind you to focus on all the amazing things that your body does for you. It shows you a different way to think about all the amazing things that you're able to do-I'm able to walk, I'm able to run-it reminds me to be grateful that I'm healthy, instead of worrying whether my stomach looks flat enough. If I catch myself doing that, I'm able to say this is ridiculous-it's just learning to try to switch my mentality. Obviously, I'm still learning, and there are times when you forget to switch that mentality and practice gratitude, but I'm hoping it becomes a habit. A lot of people say anxiety is when you're not present because you're worrying about the past or the future, so meditating helps me to just focus on my body and to stay present. In the moments where I'm really, truly present, I feel great and I feel confident."