Unlike most people, I do not schedule my workouts, follow a specific plan or “commit” to moving a certain amount each week.
I don’t even like to use the term “exercise” or “workout” because saying “movement” feels more aligned. I move when my body asks for it, in ways that my body appreciates.
Sometimes, this means hops around the house, do handstands and skip to music. Other times, it’s a formal class where I get to hone in on my Bowspring practice. Often, it simply means a few minutes of jumping on my mini trampoline during the day and 10 minutes of Bowspring stretches and breathing before bed.
Over the years I’ve trained my body (and mind!) to be movement oriented, but not movement driven.
For one, I never exercise out of guilt or obligation. I don’t value my workout days over my non-workout days, and I never shame myself when I don’t exercise. I know this is an extreme viewpoint and not accessible for everyone (yet).
Over the years, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of my body; an ability to listen to it, and act upon what I hear. With that comes the truth that exercise is not always right, that I often need to rest instead. Sometimes this means I don’t exercise for a week or two, even a month or two.
When I stopped teaching Bowspring Yoga in December of 2017, I knew I needed a break from exercise. You see, for six years I was required to exercise. In order to teach, I had to maintain my own practice. When I stopped teaching in December, I also completely stopped practicing. When January came and went without exercise, I started to feel worried. The thoughts were building up in my head…
you really should go to class
you will lose all of the skills you worked so hard for
you are losing muscle definition!
you’ll never get back on the train if you don’t start now
you promised the teachers and students that you would be back
Yikes. Those thoughts felt scary and REAL. I also had a knowing in my heart that I wasn’t ready. So I made a commitment to myself… I would not go to class until I felt drawn to go, out of desire and not guilt. Trust me, that is WAY easier said than done.
I can’t count the number of days that I woke up in turmoil because I had planned to go to class but just couldn’t do it. The guilt was all consuming.
But I waited.
I meditated, checked in with my body, went on walks, and did slow stretches at night.
I listened. I ASKED.
What do you need, body?
How can I support you?
Finally, three months later, I was inspired to take my first class. I cried. It felt amazing to practice out of pure desire, not for some external or fear-based reason. Then it was another few weeks before I stepped on my mat again. This time I was more patient.
Since then, I’ve continued to develop trust and understanding with my body. I MOVE when inspired. I MOVE to feel good… in my soul, not for my ego or external validation.
When I don’t move, that feels good too. I flow with movement, I let my body move me. I’ve let go of attachments to what it means to be a “Yogi” or an “athlete” or “fit."
Oddly - and this must be mentioned - I haven’t lost any fitness. My body is strong, it’s flexible, it’s healthy and balanced. I watch my mind carefully and am always aware of the motivation behind my movement.
The more I let go, the more I feel like moving. I ride the wave of my natural energy and it’s fun!
You may be thinking, “Well, it’s easy for you Dana, you have XYZ.” While every body-type is different and we all need different levels of activity, I don’t believe that this process of “move when moved” is inaccessible to you or anyone.
The reason we force ourselves to exercise when we don’t want to is that we do not TRUST ourselves. In fact, we’ve been taught to not trust ourselves. We’re taught that all answers are on the outside, that motivation must come from external reasons, and that if left to our own devices we will become unhealthy. Those are marketing fear tactics. And they’re effective.
What I’m offering is NOT that you stop working out and “quit” for three months, like I did. While that may be your path, it’s more important to realize that you have a divine movement and flow that’s right for you. The “work” to get there is to slow down and start to pay attention to the motivation behind your movement.
Each time you plan to workout, notice if you feel resistance.
Do you know why you are going?
How does your body feel?
What thoughts and stories is the mind telling you about this workout?
You might say “I always have resistance, but I always feel better when I go.” While that may be true, you only know one side of the coin. What happens when you choose not to go AND (and I must emphasize this) don’t douse yourself with guilt, shame or judgement for not going?
That is the work, my friends.
You are not defined by your workouts.
Your worth is not defined by how “fit” you feel at a given moment.
Your HEALTH is much more than your physical appearance.
Your mental health and mindset are powerful contributors to your physical health.
Pause before you go to a workout. Check in with your body to see what you really need. Maybe it’s a nap, light stretching, self-massage, sex, to clean up or cook a nourishing meal. Maybe it’s a workout. It doesn’t matter WHAT you do, rather WHY you are doing it. Take care of yourself, and everything else will begin to align.
To begin to trust yourself, you must first become present and listen. Find time alone each day without distractions… no phone, no book, no partner. Just you (and maybe your cat or dog). Then start to ask how you feel, what you need and what you can let go of. Don’t expect answers right away. Just keep asking the question.
If you try this, I’d love to know!