If you have ever exercised solely for exercise sake, you know how over it you feel the entire 30-45-60 minutes you commit yourself to it. Your mind isn't in it. Your heart certainly isn't in it. Your body feels like it's made out of lead. The whole act can be summed up by the word "begrudgingly." (Say it out loud and you know what I say is true.) And yet, we do these things begrudgingly and treat them like they were written on a prescription pad from our doctors.
More often than not, we exercise out of fear. Fear of becoming sick. Fear of gaining weight (or not losing weight). Fear of looking a certain way. Fear of not looking a certain way. Fear of not being enough. Those fears propel us to participate in activities that we may sincerely despise but feel obligated to do.
But what would happen if you let those fears go and checked in with your body about the kinds of activities it really enjoys? This "surrendering" is a process in Intuitive Eating that is as terrifying as it is necessary. When beginning to eat more intuitively, you may have the impulse to exercise more to "burn off" the extra energy you think you are consuming. But this impulse is rooted in the diet mentality and diet culture. In order to truly embrace IE and see the benefits from it, you have to surrender yourself to the process. You have to let go of your fears that previously drove your exercise and eating routines and instead embrace listening to your body. (Easier said than done, I know.)
Think back to a time when you were active and truly enjoying yourself. Were you walking? Hiking? Climbing? Running? Dancing? What made those experiences so enjoyable?
In the years past, I ran out of fear. Now, does running feel good afterwards? Of course. Your body releases those endorphins and you feel high on life for a bit. But I knew my running was founded on fear when I would not be able to take a day off from running without feeling like my life was falling apart. Instead of sweat, anxiety would seep from my pores and I would quickly jot down a new routine for the week so I could "get back on track" the next day and everything would be okay.
Last year, after running in a long summer race on a 90 degree day with 100% humidity, I let go of running. That event, while a feat I am proud of, was the straw that broke the camel's back. I had no desire to run anymore anytime soon. But I did love walking. So I went on long walks to different parks and unexplored areas, sometimes listening to podcasts, sometimes just enjoying the sun and silence.
As the temperatures dropped, however, I knew my body would start growing restless for something different. Plus, the chill of the long Chicago winter was beginning to set in, and I knew those long walks would grow less enjoyable as the temperatures plummeted. And so, in the fall, I joined a small studio that offered yoga and exercise classes. At first I only intended on going to the yoga classes - group fitness freaked me out. Sometimes it had a hokey feel while other times I felt like I was being judged by veteran clientele (I can appreciate in retrospect that these were more often than not manifestations of my own insecurities).
Nevertheless, my curiosity got the better of me. One day I signed up for a fitness class and promised myself that if I felt uncomfortable at all I would never have to do it again. Imagine my surprise when I found myself loving it! And, after being a member for a few months now, I can better understand my reasons why:
- The instructor emphasizes that everyone go at his/her own pace. I cannot tell you how much I hate it when instructors use punishing language to motivate members. Occasional "gym cliche" quips aside (which are hilarious to everyone), the positive language used at my studio translates to higher body-respect and self-love.
- There are no mirrors in either of the studios! No mirrors means I spend zero time thinking about what I look like and more time focused on how I feel. As a human who struggles with body image at times, I feel so much more comfortable when I'm not staring at my own reflection trying to do difficult exercises. I never thought to look for that in a gym but now I never want to go back!
- Small class sizes. Class size is another aspect I never thought I would care about. But the intimacy of the classes lends itself to developing friendships with other members. And those friendships, situational they may be, are another reason I keep coming back week after week.
- The instructors themselves. The instructors at my gym make it a point to learn everyone's names and compliment them during and after exercise. I cannot tell you how much of a difference this makes -who doesn't like being told they are doing a great job?
I tell this lengthy story to emphasize the importance of finding a form of movement that brings you joy. And realize that the movement you enjoy will probably change over time - and that's okay too. Just know that there is no movement that is superior to others. If walking is your jam, walk! If kickboxing is your thing, kickbox! If hot yoga is your thing, I don't understand you, but do that!
Let go of the fear and shame surrounding exercise and allow your body the freedom to choose what it wants to do to feel its best.
What forms of movement bring you the most joy? What exercises have you fallen out of love with over time? Share your story by leaving a comment :)