I tried to like exercise. I’ve tried jogging, yoga, biking, swimming, Curves, the gym, at-home videos, working out with friends, working out to music, long walks and random ab exercises. I hated all of them.
But now that’s changed. This year, I started realizing that I was struggling with anxiety. I sought out therapists and doctors, cut out coffee and alcohol, and still my anxiety lingered. In June, my friend bought me a Groupon to a local yoga studio. The studio used words like “integrative therapy” and “mind-body healing.”
“I thought you might like it,” my friend told me. And, sure enough, that studio made me start getting in touch with moving my body. Since then, I’m regularly surprised about the BS I’d built up in my head about exercise.
There isn’t, other than that they move their bodies, regularly and on purpose. I don’t know that they’re more fit than me. I don’t know that they’re naturally inclined. I don’t know if they like it, hate it or are indifferent to it. All I know is that they put on workout clothes (optional, but easier to spot them) and move.
I thought I should be embarrassed when I started breathing heavy — that it was a clear indicator I was inactive. But heavy breathing is just your body getting oxygen to your muscles. Super-fit people breathe hard when they’re going up stairs and climbing mountains too.
Walking is exercise. Swimming is exercise. Drunk dancing at a wedding is exercise. I am allowed to have fun. And when I wasn’t enjoying moving, it was because I was trying to hold myself to some made-up standard about how far I had to go, how hard I had to push and when I was allowed to take a break. The rules are fake. Your internal trainer doesn't need to be Jillian Michaels.
In March 2015 I got an opportunity to go backpacking to Havasu Falls, a 10-mile hike (one-way) carrying a 30lb+ backpack. I wasn’t physically prepared — I barely hiked and was pretty sedentary. I went anyway. It was hard. On the way out, I almost paid to take a helicopter out. Instead, it took me hours longer than everyone else to get back to the top. But I did it. (And it was still exercise.)
I can be the slowest jogger at the track, the sloppiest swimmer, the least graceful yogi. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it feels good to move.
There are avid hikers who couldn’t run a mile without stopping. There are active yogis who would struggle to do a 5-mile hike. There are weight lifters who can’t touch their toes. Instead of judging my body for the things it could and couldn’t do, I needed to start getting curious about it instead and work with where I was at.
Five minutes of yoga in the morning still makes my body feel looser than it would if I hadn’t moved it at all. Just because I can’t squeeze in a 90-minute class doesn’t mean it’s useless to do anything. Something is better than nothing.
I have heard plenty about how “yoga isn’t really exercise” or “walking isn’t enough” or “oh, it’s not really a day hike unless you go over X amount of miles." But the truth is, I may never manage to do a side plank and can still be an active yogi. You can do 1-mile walks in the desert and still be a hiker. Don’t believe it when people say whatever you’re doing isn’t legitimate. They’re only voicing their own insecurities. It’s your body. Moving it is fun. Enjoy it.
I haven’t lost any weight. I’m OK with that. Exercise is one of the fastest ways for me to deal with anxiety, feel good or to get “in the moment.” Overall, I just feel better. Those things are benefits enough. I am not just a floating brain (although sometimes I feel like one) — how I feel has everything to do with my body as much as my brain.
Zumba? Rock climbing? Almost nobody walks into new physical activities 100 percent prepared to see them through to the end. The struggle is part of the experience, and it’s OK if five minutes of shaking your ass to "Uptown Funk" tires you out. Do what you can and be happy with yourself for showing up.
To be honest, I’m not sure if this list would have convinced me to get out and move a year ago. I’m not sure anything could have. But finding joy in movement again has been a beautiful gift, and I hope you find a way to receive it, too.
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