Illustration by Phoebe Wahl,: excerpt from Gray Matters, a zine that had me in tears.
I’m working on a long-ish post about self-love and self-discipline and have been thinking about how exercise plays into that dichotomy.
Exercise came into my life after giving birth. Before that, exercise consisted of bending over to find my cigarettes in the bottom of my purse, or busting a sprint in heels to catch the ride to the next party. Getting my hair stick straight and mastering smokey eyes was hard on my triceps, and those dance moves did carve out nice calves. No, I distinctly remember saying that I’d MUCH rather starve than exercise. And I tried that, but it turns out I love food and drink too much to abstain from it.
I believe that exercise is a tool and a practice that is necessary for holistic well being. I have felt amazing runner’s highs, the swimmer’s burn and the yoga melt. I have swung on both ends of my own pendulum. That indescribably wretch of a feeling that you get from pushing yourself past your limit, it’s not pretty, but it like many other things, it feels good.
But as I morph into a country scything grandmother before your very eyes, I am railing hard against the idea that we need to constantly be improving our bodies in order to be healthier, happier and essentially better than our old selves.
What I see and hear around me are women who work extraordinarily hard at making exercise a priority. They make it a stable part of their schedules by consistently attending the class after work, waking up with the birds to fit in the run or get to the pool. They take the very limited time they have to themselves and sacrifice it at the alter of Nike, Moksha and Lulu Lemon.
In a conversation I had last week, where I was preaching about the importance of caring out some time, on a daily basis for some gentle self-care, I dropped ‘and pilates doesn’t count, ok ?’ And since, I’ve been wondering if this idea of exercise as self-care is as beneficial as we all believe it to be.
Note and full disclosure: I may also be trying to see if I’m not creating excuses for the staggering lull in my own exercise + self-discipline practice. But I’ve been far more motivated to get my exercise through digging in the garden, or climbing up the mountain with a friend, than lacing up my shoes and going for a run.
Could the stress that we create around getting a) enough exercise b) the right kind of exercise c) feeling satisfied with our exercise performance, be contra-indicative to the reasons we exercise in the first place? .
By creating these demands on ourselves and others (oh you don’t run? you should totally run, did you run today? i totally need to run… urgh, I haven’t run in ages… I really really need to run) are we not just structuring a new set of rules according to which we can give either succeed, and get a gold star, or fail, and add to the list of things that we feel badly about.
So my question is simple: do you think exercise counts as self-care and is an expression of self-love, or is it something that we do in order to prevent self-loathe? How do you juggle finding the time for yourself and the time for exercise, or are they both the same?