Is Exercise Just Another Thing on my To Do List?

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?

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9 thoughts on “Is Exercise Just Another Thing on my To Do List?

  1. I’m one of those people that loves to go to the gym – but only love the discipline of weight training and energy system type training. It keeps my brain occupied only with what I am doing at the time, the same as yoga does so I don’t fall over in a pose! I think it takes years and years to learn that in fact, it is both self-care, self-love and valuable time to yourself (I don’t think I have ever regretted going to the gym, but have definitely regretted not going!). It’s about doing what sparks the joy, what makes you feel good and not what feels like an effort – maybe running is not your thing and that shouldn’t be a judgement on yourself…I hate running, my body always hates me during and after! I much prefer sprints mixed with walking than a straight run – again, keeps my brain occupied with timing sprints/walk periods. xx

  2. I haven’t really thought this out, but I really like the post so wanted to comment. Hmm… I do feel that exercise and self-care are one in the same but I also try to listen to what my mind and body needs. I don’t think it should be rigid or stressful. There are times when I want boxing. My body and mind craves it. But then there are times when all I need is yoga. Then running or walking. Our lives, well at least not mine, is not stagnate so why should my self-care/exercise be. Exercise should not be yet another stress, but I do think we should constantly be moving. (No I am not perfect at this as I too let “life” get in the way.) Oh and I have learned that I always need to be toiling in the garden.

    1. Thank you so much for your candid comment. You make a great point about the ebb and flow of life being mirrored in the way we approach our self care. Hopefully this will be something we’ll be able to teach our own kids how to care for themselves and then others.

  3. I find that if I do some yoga, barre, or walk, a few times I week I can scratch it off my mental list and forget about it. The mental peace, and relaxation from yoga lasts all week and I really enjoy the classes. I think it’s all about finding what you like, doing it when you can, and moving on. I don’t believe in any kind of obsession, but if you have a passion for working out, all the power to you. Sometimes I walk home from work and that takes an hour an a half. I do think the me time and peace of mind these moments give me are necessary. I think the word excersize should change to move & sweat, and look around, appreciate nature, and BREATH. Excersize sounds like a torture you have to inflict on yourself to be accepted by society. No thanks.

    1. What Cozy said! I have definitely exercised for all the wrong reasons. I do think that if I don’t exercise I become a horrible person to be around and the only other outlet is going back to smoking cigarettes… so exercise it is. But really, finding yoga has been huge for me. I love everything about it and I never feel like I didn’t do enough or I need to do it this many times or I can’t do this because I have to do yoga, etc. So like I said in person, I totally AGREE that it’s insane for exercise to make you insane that’s really not the point! That’s why there are no more marathons, no more tracking, no more weigh-ins, etc. FIND WHAT FEELS GOOD! YAHHHHHH!!!!

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