What are the initial thoughts that arise when you think of exercise?
I’m sure, now, many people’s view of exercise has been bastardized by Instagram fitness “models,” that emphasize how their clothes and hair appear during simulated exercise, rather than functional bodily movements with purpose or intention. (Is my impatience so palatable? *wink* )
Or, for many, feelings of dread, distaste, shame, or even self-rejection accompany visons of exercise.
By exercise, I mean moving your body for a purpose. For me, moving my body inherently implies enjoyment but I know that is not true for everyone. Even when I was struggling under an extra 60 pounds of fat, I was still moving my body, with less frequency, but still regularly because I always enjoyed it and the mental benefits. Moving your body doesn’t have to be in a traditional gym setting. This can be hiking, swimming, biking, or any form of moving play.
My partner, Victor, and I work with fitness and movement. I have a program literally dedicated to healing and identifying the emotional roots of excess weight called Em+Fit inspired by my own journey. In Em+Fit, we reframe the beliefs around the body, food, and exercise. I’m passionate about physical health because it is a huge part of our experience of life. We literally experience life through our bodies. If, for example, you don’t like your body, it skews the whole experience of your life. Victor and I keep coming back to how this pandemic has really emphasized the importance of health to us. I have been brought to tears with gratitude for my physical health because if everything collapsed around us, with our health, we could still rebuild our life.
Of course, my whole exercise routine has changed since the shut down. My schedule consisted of lifting heavy weights and training Jiu Jitsu anywhere from 4-6 days a week and surfing or biking on the weekends. I’m not pushing my body to the same extremes right now because I just don’t have the energy for it. At another point in my life (and I’m sure this is true for others as well), I would feel shame or less-than because of this. But I recognize that the greater part of my energy is now dedicated to flowing through this uncertainty. To processing the emotions that come up as they come up. To adapting my businesses to this changing environment. To rest and enjoyment. My body’s current needs are low impact movements, ideally outdoors. And that’s ok. It’s better than okay, actually. We’ve been surfing and biking and I’m in the garden with my plants all weekend. I’m moving around. The intensity and the intention has changed.
I’m physically more capable of enjoying what life has to offer because the options of what I am able to do expanded with increased fitness and health.
This understanding and acceptance of my body’s shifting needs has been developed over years of rebuilding trust, acceptance, and communication within myself. I’ve competed in everything from golf to water polo to running to amateur strongman contests to surfing to Jiu Jitsu. In recent years, through better adaptive training and inner healing, I have achieved a higher level of fitness than when I was younger. This has made life even more enjoyable. Not because my body looks “better,” but because my balance is better. I’m stronger. I’m more mobile. I’m physically more capable of enjoying what life has to offer because the options of what I am able to do has expanded with increased fitness and health.
I see people complain about exercising. About moving their body. I’m talking about basically physically healthy people complaining about exercise. You might even be one of them.
And it really bothers me. Like. A lot.
Not because I want everyone to be as physically active as I am/have been or because I want everyone to enjoy the same things I enjoy. In fact, I don’t know if my activities are for everyone and, as I explained for me, the intensity and the way in which we move will likely evolve and shift and change with time and circumstances. It is the perspective that bothers me.
I see physical movement as a ritual in gratitude for our health.
It bothers me so much because the ability to move your body is a gift. And we take it for granted. Anyone with limited physical ability will tell you so.
I see physical movement, like forms exercise or sports or any movement play, as a ritual in gratitude for our health. Utilizing the ability to move your body demonstrates that you are grateful for it. Think about dancing with joy. Think about children running for fun. Think about jumping with excitement. Think about the pleasures of sex with your love. Think about hiking though a beautiful trail. Think about walking on a beach at sunset.
These life experiences are experienced through the body. You are limiting your experience if you take that for granted by not taking care of it. The body evolved for movement. Your whole biochemistry is designed to enjoy movement with chemical rewards like endorphins and serotonin. Ever think, “wow I feel better,” after some physical activity? That’s because you literally do.
It’s not just the biochemical rewards or the improved health (which alone are HUGE benefits), but what about the peace of mind? What about being able to say “yes,” to life knowing you can handle certain activities or adventures because you can trust your body? What about being able to help someone in need? I have carried people with broken ankles. I have pulled people with injuries out of the ocean. Without my physical capabilities, how could I have done that?
What experiences in your life have been limited as a consequence of the habit of taking your body for granted? How has this insidious habit bled into other aspects of your life? What have you said “no” to when you wanted to say “yes” because of your body? Whether because of the way it looks, feels, or because of limited fitness? Those moments are life happening. Your life doesn’t start when you drop the weight or start that thing. It’s happening right now. There. It just happened again.
Now, by no means is this to create shame or guilt or urgency. There is no shame in this or deadline. This just is the result of a lack of awareness and consideration. Remember, this is how most of us have been trained to think about the body and physical movement. What healthy examples of physical activity do you really have? Plus, we’ve been trained to shy from discomfort. We think that struggle somehow indicates unworthiness or inability. In reality, it is the necessary foundation of growth. The struggles/losses/failures/discomforts reveal weaknesses or shadows so they can be identified and addressed. Not to punish.
We have all taken things for granted. And we will all slip in and out of this, and versions of this, forever. But with a little awareness and a little effort, with one small addition of a good thing into your daily activities, you can break this habit and pass this limitation on your experience of life. It’s never too late (or too early) to start. It will never be easier then it is right now because now is the only time there is.
I didn’t become this way or embody this mindset overnight. It took years to gain this perspective and to live it. Those years were filled with tiny, tiny steps that eventually brought me to where I am. You see the before and after. I lived the days between. And I don’t regret my bravery facing those struggles for one second. I’m grateful for it every day.
So what is one tiny step you can take? Even if it’s speaking nicely to your body when you catch yourself with negative self-chatter. Even if it’s parking a little further away. Even if it’s stretching in the middle of work. Even if it’s adding in a banana at breakfast. Even if it’s reading about nutrition. Whatever. But the time in your body is passing whether you choose to make it enjoyable or not.
For me, I choose joy.
I hope you join me.