AQUIS Unfiltered is a series of honest conversations with strong women who share how they’ve evolved and come to embrace transformation in their bodies, their careers, and their lives.
To say that I, Shauna Harrison, am a 23 year veteran of the fitness industry sounds crazy to me. This might possibly be because I often feel (or maybe act?) like I am only in my early twenties or perhaps it’s because I’ve done a million other things whilst also pursuing a fitness career or perhaps it’s because I still have the same, if not more, love for what I get to do as part of my job. Regardless, it still sounds crazy. I always say that I got into the fitness industry for all the wrong reasons (in my eyes), but stayed for all the right ones. I was initially wooed into fitness by the false promise of achieving the perfect life by way of the perfect body. I thought by shedding pounds I would also shed enough layers to uncover a hidden happiness and success that lay underneath. Yeah, no.
In junior high, I was the girl that was terrified of P.E. because our grades were based on the Presidential Fitness Test and I couldn’t run a mile without walking, do a push-up or pull-up or basically any of the other standards, but I wasn’t about to get a “B” in anything. I was so terrified of getting a bad grade that I actually wrote (very long) extra credit reports in order to make up for my terrible scores. I played basketball, but that was literally the ONLY physical activity that I liked. Then, in high school, I discovered the VHS tapes of Jane Fonda, Tamilee Webb and some of the other iconic fitness pioneers and started doing them at home and then eventually started taking classes at the local YMCA. Now, this was on top of playing basketball and doing cheerleading and in spite of not really eating much of anything. I became obsessed with this imaginary ideal that I had -- I wanted, like many young girls, to look like the women in the magazines, on the VHS tapes, and basically anyone who had a body that I perceived to be that perfect ticket to happiness. I literally lived and could have actually died by the number on the scale. What I sought was unattainable, what I was doing was physically and mentally detrimental. I was (mis)using fitness as a means to a very dead end.
It took awhile for me to realize the self-harm that was happening, but, in the meantime, I had learned how to teach step aerobics from a friend/mentor whose class I took religiously. I started teaching my freshman year at Stanford and while the type of class I teach has changed many times over, I haven’t stopped since. It may seem counterintuitive on the surface, but fitness actually helped me overcome my eating disorder. As I got older and started learning more about the body and my body, I began to appreciate all that it could do. I began to shift my perspective from judging, criticizing and actually hating my body to appreciating, respecting and being awed by what my body could learn to do. I learned to be IN my body, not live outside of it. So I stayed with it as I finished college, as I spent a small stint of time as a school teacher, as I went to grad school the first time, as I went to grad school a second time, and as I took a break from all things academia to somehow magically arrive at the place I’m at now, a 23 year vet in the industry. Crazy.
The way that it all happened, though very trying, has given me a very different perspective on fitness, yoga, movement and health. I ended up getting a masters and a PhD in public health, so in addition to shifting my perspective personally, I also shifted my perspective more globally. I value the health benefits of movement versus the aesthetic benefits and I am very aware of the impact that the fitness industry can have on its participants. I’m very aware of how the explosion of fitness and yoga industries means that they touch a much larger population, but that this also means there is a greater responsibility needed and that there are still a lot of people who don’t have the same access. This also means that my approach and philosophy to all things movement, health, and wellness is very much influenced by a combination of my personal story, my years of experience in the industry and also my extensive educational background.
I believe in starting where you are. I believe in building lifelong habits. I believe in small, incremental, sustainable changes. I believe in consistency. I believe in taking care of the body through movement, nutrition, sleep, mental health, amongst many other things for the sake of living longer. And I believe in these things so much that I often stick out like a sore thumb in the industry and I am 100% ok with that! Actually, I have learned to seek those opportunities to be the “other” voice in the room.
Even with social media being, by nature, heavily visual platforms and the increased attention (and commentary) that the body receives because of that, I still try to maintain my same position and still try to promote the same concepts. When I initially created #SWEATADAY (an Instagram challenge I ran every day for about 4 years) the premise was based on all that I described above. I gave one exercise with instruction a day and people could include it in their routine however it made sense. So, for someone who didn’t have a consistent movement practice, maybe that one thing was the ONLY thing they did. Great. For someone who was more advanced, maybe that was something they incorporated into their workout that day. Also great. One movement a day. Start small, make habits. And they did. It was incredible to watch some of the habit transformations that happened and the confidence about moving their bodies that was built.
To me, this is what it’s all about. This is how you get to learn to exist and thrive in the vessel that you are blessed to borrow. It’s how you push boundaries, surprise yourself, and find new limits to overcome. It’s how you learn about you. It’s how you supersede sculpted muscles for a strength that is tangible to you, regardless if it’s visible to others. It’s quite literally how you move into yourself. THIS is why I move.
*Stay tuned for Shauna Harrison’s Hair Strong story, an unfiltered look at her experience with Hair Loss, coming in February!
**All photos by Jane Hu (insta @plainjane)