This January at Brownble we made a commitment together to go on a journey towards health, particularly when it comes to eating and our daily habits. We've discussed basing our diets on whole plant foods, and practicing mindful eating for portion control. We haven't however, sat down to talk about one of the biggest components of maintaining a healthy weight and body: exercise. Let me start off by saying that I'm not talking about working out as a means to burn calories and get the perfect body, whatever that means, I want to share my personal way of looking at exercise with you, and how it has completely changed everything for me.
Let's see if this sounds familiar? We go to school as kids and have mandatory PE. Some of us do great in team sports, some of us fake injuries to get out of it, and some of us flat out hate it and just go through the motions. I can honestly say when I look back, that my current daily exercise habit, came precisely at the hand of the fact that I was absolutely terrible at team sports, awful at gymnastics, and was so nervous on days I had PE that I would get sick to my stomach. I came from a single parent family, and my mom, who raised me on her own had a physical disability.
I can't believe I'm about to confess this "out loud" since I spent years of my childhood avoiding situations in which people would find out about it, but I learned to ride a bike at the age of 12, and to this day I have never learnt to skate. Catching a ball or kicking it for that matter, was a thing for other households with more normal things to worry about. My mom had to ask her friends to teach me these physical activities, which made it embarrassing for me since I was older than the other kids, so I would just say I had other interests like dance or music. I was terrible at sports in school. Being surrounded by competitive classmates and being part of a team was a nightmare, since I would always miss the ball, get hit by the ball, duck from the ball, you get the gist. It just added even more anxiety to this issue. All I did on occasion was swim, which I was mildly good at and competed in sometimes, but I didn't love it.
It was my disastrous performance at school (and my obvious unhappiness come third period PE) that made my teacher tell me that there was another option. I could run. I had never run track before, or stepped on a treadmill, but there was no competition about it, no team mates to let down, no precision to deal with. My teacher said I could just wing it, all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other and run until the bell rang. By then I was going to ballet class every day, so my stamina was pretty good. I can still remember what that first run felt like so clearly. I remember what shoes I was wearing, that the sun was shining, and that I ran for miles. This moment changed everything for me, and perhaps out of all my teachers, he ended up being the most important one in my life because he taught me a really big lesson: WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME.
I never ran track officially, or competed, but I have never stopped running since that day. I've gone to gyms, fitness classes, tried spinning, pilates and yoga, and these have all come and gone and come again, but running has never left my side. When I stop to think about it, I think it's because of two things, one, it was the first time I could be myself without the anxiety I always felt for being different, and two, it made me feel amazing! That repetitive feeling of stepping one foot in front of the other, the wind in my face, that feeling of almost flying that comes after the initial "why oh why did I think it was a good idea to go running today?" (yes, I have those thoughts too sometimes because I'm human).
This is a very long way of telling you, that incorporating exercise into your life, and which exercise you choose, has to come from a place like this. It also has to come from a place that is different from calorie burning and the size of your waistline. Sure, these are great side effects, but the minute you fall into that "eat and work it off" mentality, things start getting messy. We overeat thinking we'll work out later, or we'll overeat because we worked out, or exercise simply becomes this element of torture that reminds us of when we've been "bad". I want you to toss that all out with the trash tonight. I want you to find your "PE story" and what your were doing when you felt that first sense of magical accomplishment, I want you to find the one workout (or combination) that makes your heart sing. The one that makes you feel like a million bucks after you're done.
If you're not a runner, don't run, if you hate gyms, don't go to one, if you love dancing dance your heart out, if you love the companionship and are competitive, join a team sport. There is a workout out there with your name on it no matter how lazy you think you are. Why? Because our bodies are designed, from our toes to our fingertips, to move as much as possible throughout the day. Scientific fact. Period.
I would never tell you what to dabble your toes in because we're all so different! I hate competition and having to live up to someone's standards, I don't like exercising with other people, I love the solitude of the whole thing. I don't like dancing in front of a whole class in spite of the fact that I studied dance and ballet as a kid. I hate riding my bike near traffic, and I will duck if I see a volleyball coming my way EVERY TIME. We need to do a little digging, try some new things out, eventually, we'll find our match.
What do I do for exercise?
I've told you about my love affair with running. I still run, in a lovely trail, about 3, sometimes 4 times per week, but this has changed over the years. I have times in which I'm running almost every day and weeks in which I can only sneak in two. I have a rule however, I exercise every single day. Yes, every single day. Why? because last year I discovered my other workout match made in heaven: weight lifting, through the amazing women behind Tone it Up. They offer countless videos on youtube, the most amazing dvd's, and all you need is your living room floor, a set of weights and a yoga mat. Here's the best thing though, every single week, on Sundays, they provide you with a weekly schedule of workouts. That's right, it's basically a personal trainer in your pocket who tells you exactly what to do every single day. I fell in love with them instantly, and soon I will have been doing their daily workouts (on top of my running and yoga) for one entire year almost without missing a session. This amazing success, which I can honestly count as one of my biggest accomplishments (it has been so powerful on so many levels!), is partly due to the amazing women behind it, and partly because I discovered that I just love feeling the strength that comes with lifting weights. It gives me a high very different from running which I can only describe as superhero power. I'll say it again, find your match, and you'll never want to be without it.
Spin, run, walk, climb the stairs to your office, surf, play soccer, swim, zumba like it's hot, namaste your way to health, walk the dog, join a gym, try pilates, hike in nature, climb a mountain.... find your bliss, and do something physical every day.
Soon you'll notice that exercise is much more than creating a calorie deficit.
There's one more thing I need to tell you about my mother, something known only to the people who were close to us at the very end, but that I think might inspire you and make you see things in a new light. My mother had been ill all her life, I saw her go from walking to wheelchairs, to bed rest, to canes and crutches and walking again, to wheelchairs again. Towards the end of her life at the young age of 55, she was a double amputee (both legs... although she didn't survive long past the second). I saw her lose her body slowly and painfully, I saw what it means for a body to not be your own anymore. She was very much alive and joyful, but her body belonged to machines, doctors, nurses, not to her. There's something so exhiliarating and wonderful about feeling "in your body", strong and in control. That is what exercise is for. It reminds us that we are alive, and one of the lucky ones to be able to jump, skip, hike and yes... run.
I hope that with this post you can all do a little digging of your own to find your match, and that it inspired you and changed your mindset about exercise. That's the first step. I do however know how challenging getting a new routine going can be, so in our next post we'll be tackling some practical tips that can help you along the way to moving that amazing body you possess. Our bodies are designed for movement, and they will thank us every time, in more ways than we can imagine.