Principle 9 – Exercise: Feel the Difference
“No pain, no gain” – “if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right”… heard these before? Been lured into the promises of bootcamp?
Don’t get me wrong – high intensity exercise can be great fun, and for many people, this is the style of exercise they enjoy (and their bodies respond well to). But for SO many others, they drag themselves to the 6am bootcamp class at the gym and dread every second of it. They hate that exercise fatigues them and makes them sore for days. They exercise because they think they SHOULD, or because they HAVE TO lose the weight before their wedding. They are constantly sustaining injuries from CrossFit, and they know, somewhere deep down, that this style of exercise is not what their body wants or needs.
No one is questioning the health benefits of exercise. It’s great for our physical and emotional health. But it is definitely true that not all forms of exercise suit everyone, and our cultural push towards 24-hour gyms and high intensity training is causing more harm than good for most people. Women are moving more and more towards an incredibly masculinised view of exercise. We want to be strong, we are surrounded by “fitspo”, and “strong is the new sexy” (apparently…). Today’s version of exercise is all about numbers – how far you can run, how heavy you can squat, how many burpess you can do… how much weight you can lose… how many inches you can shed. But what this doesn’t take into consideration, ESPECIALLY for women, is the importance of actually listening to our bodies. During a woman’s menstrual cycle there are certain times when hormones will dictate our strength (or lack of). There are times when all our body wants is a gentle stretch, a walk on the beach, or some time in the garden. Sometimes the most appropriate form of exercise is a night out dancing with our girlfriends. But yet, we persist to use exercise as a way to “work off” foods we feel guilt for eating, or as a way to punish – rather than nourish. Bootcamp-style workouts are all about punishment. If you’re not working hard, you’re not doing it right. This mentality is not at all aligned with intuitive eating or intuitive movement. It does not grant us permission to listen to our body’s cues and act accordingly. Instead, it tells us that if we miss that 6am class we are slack, lazy and fat (thanks weight stigma and fat phobia!).
Principle 9 is a beautiful invitation to see exercise as MOVEMENT. And on top of that, JOYFUL movement. We have previously explored how positive growth can’t possibly come from a place of push, pull, force and hate. This is so relevant when considering exercise. You can’t honour your body and enjoy movement if you’re forcing yourself to love boxing classes (even though you have a permanent wrist injury from it!). What can we do instead?
Tribole & Resch suggest starting out by examining (without judgement) how much time we spend sitting. This helps us to see opportunities in our day where we can interrupt prolonged periods of being sedentary. Yes, those dorky government campaigns about parking further away, using the stairs, and riding your bike do actually make some sense and can help us to develop a healthy relationship with movement! Engaging in intuitive movement/exercise is also about finding movement we truly enjoy. Mindful exercise follows all of the same philosophies as mindful eating – it focuses on listening to your body’s cues (without judgement), and fostering a sense of pleasure when engaging in that movement. According to Calogero & Pedrotty (2007), pleasurable activities are those which:
- Rejuvenate rather than deplete.
- Enhance the mind-body connection.
- Alleviate stress (not cause more stress).
- Provide genuine enjoyment and pleasure.
So, when you exercise take the opportunity to ask yourself how you actually FEEL – what are your muscles doing? How does your heartbeat feel in your chest? What is your breathing like? How much effort are you exerting? Is anything aching? Do you feel energised? Are you tired? Are you nauseous? Is the sweat running down your face irritating you or refreshing you?
Next, you can begin to explore which activities bring you joy. What movement do you like? Do you prefer to exercise alone or in groups? Do you like team sports? Do you enjoy dancing? Do you like exercising indoors or outside? How do you like to feel during and after movement?
Another important step is recognising and acknowledging your barriers to engaging in exercise. Is time an issue? Money? Lack of confidence? Fear of getting injured? Physical barriers? Concerns over what to wear? Do you have limiting beliefs around exercise? If so, what are they? How can you explore these thoughts and re-frame them to be more inclusive and supportive? Do you need to start following more body positive influencers on social media (and unfollowing unrealistic “fitspo” mums)? Do you have a community of like-minded people around you where you don’t feel judged? Do you have access to joyful movement? How can you gain access more freely?
By asking yourself these questions and exploring what exercise does (and doesn’t) mean to you, you will be able to tune in to your body’s needs and reflect upon what form of movement serves you well. You will become attuned (slowly) to the type, length and intensity of exercise which suits you. As with intuitive eating, intuitive movement is a skill which can be cultivated and nurtured over time, along your journey to developing a positive relationship with your body.