I’ve never liked the sort of competitive exercise in which most school kids take part. Team sports, races, none of it appealed to me. Now this is probably because I’m not good at them, and never have been, but still… It could also be because when I was young I hurt one of my ankles and tore some ligaments, so running and dancing and all sorts of weight-bearing activities were painful at best, impossible at worst. When I look at the options available to a school-aged me, swimming was about the only thing I really enjoyed. And even in Ireland’s wet summers, swimming is not something most people can do in their back gardens. So I grew up knowing that exercise wasn’t for me.
Then my dieting days started and I realised that exercising would give me extra calories. So I started exercising again. I convinced myself I enjoyed the high intensity aerobic work-outs that trends like kickboxing, Tae Bo and Les Mills provided. I enjoyed the stress and strain on my body, I ‘worked through’ the pain of my ankles, both of them becoming more and more injured. I ignored the signs my body was giving me that I was pushing it too far. I ignored the fainting and the vomiting during exercise sessions because – well, it all meant weight loss didn’t it? And I could always continue the session with a few miles of a swim if anyone stopped me working out in the gym.
And then I found Beyond Chocolate. I started addressing my eating. I read the chapter in the book on Movement and thought, ‘This sounds great, I must try it.’ And I put the book away. I continued to work on my eating, listening to my body, seeing what food it wanted, really stretching my comfort zone in terms of food and what was and wasn’t acceptable to me. But exercise still wasn’t something that figured largely in this new world of mine. I didn’t feel like I owned my body, I still felt like it was merely the vehicle to carry around my brain.
I decided earlier this year that something had to change. I wasn’t feeling particularly good about myself at all and I knew at least part of the digestive problems I was having were to do with my lack of movement. My job had evolved from being quite physical early on in my career to being mostly desk-bound. I just wasn’t moving at all.
I got a exercise trainer and joined Audrey’s “Beyond Exercise” coaching group earlier this year because I figured, ‘What harm could it do?’ I found my brain was still convinced that ‘movement’ was a replacement for ‘exercise’ and if I wasn’t sweating and fainting and panting at the end of it, it ‘didn’t count’. Count for what, I’m really not sure, but it didn’t count. The seminar challenged these ideas – or rather Audrey, in running the seminar challenged these ideas. She pointed out that moving my body in a way I enjoyed could help with all sorts of things – self-care, owning my body, being my own guru……. And she was right of course.
It started with small things.
I incorporated the exercises that help my ankles remain in a reasonable condition into my daily life. My colleagues are now used to me standing on one leg for part of a stand-up meeting, or rotating my ankles or whatever exercise I feel like doing. This alone makes a great difference to my mobility in general and lowers my pain to bearable levels. In June 2014, I struggled to walk across Finsbury Park in London without crying and now I can walk for most of the day around our local town.
Once my ankles were in a better condition, I was able to open my mind to new kinds of movement. I realised that even 10mins of movement a day helps me feel better, so I incorporate that 10mins in the morning. I meditate first thing most mornings and then do a 10min stretch, or the warm-up to Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms Endless Wave, or a 10min routine from my yoga app. And I feel better for it.
I say most days, because if there’s one thing Audrey and Sophie taught me is that ‘never’ and ‘always’ are two words guaranteed to lead me to failure. Perfection is not what I’m after here, just a general level of care and movement to keep this body of mine going for the next 40 or 50 yrs. And I find that by incorporating these 10mins every day, I’m more likely to move more later in the day. I’ve already done my movement for the day so anything extra is a bonus – and I get a lot of bonuses these days!
I don’t tend towards structured exercise these days. I will sometimes join my husband when he’s lifting weights. I will dance around the kitchen to my favourite song. I attend a circle dancing workshop every few months. I will follow a yoga routine as best I can (‘round’ and ‘stiff’ are still two words you could easily associate with my body so yoga is not the easiest for me!) But what worked for me was putting aside that time in the morning, telling myself I am worth the effort of doing this to start my day right. Essentially, I am worth it.
My advice for those who, like me, have learned that traditional exercise isn’t for them? Look outside traditional exercise. Walk, look at the weird and wonderful options there are out there for movement – circle dancing, 5 Rhythms, Open Floor, belly-dancing, hula-hooping, trampolining……there are options out there. And separate out the activities that are thoroughly enjoyable and the ones that come under the category of ‘body maintenance’, like my ankle exercises for example.
But most of all, do something 🙂