Creating an exercise plan to support me rather than to attain a goal or an image is something that I would have laughed at years ago, back when exercise used to mean something very different to me. Exercise use to ultimately be about achieving images dictated by societal trends, yet today it is about confirming the unique flavour I bring as a woman.
Recently I have been working from an exercise plan that I tailored just for me as a way to support my body and myself, for me to bring all of me to everything I do in life.
In creating my new plan which includes some gentle gym work and walking each or every second day, I am appreciating that the way I used to exercise and the way I exercise now. The reasons behind each way of exercising are completely different and feel completely different in my body also. You could say my relationship with exercise has completely changed as a ripple effect from the relationship with myself changing.
My Old Relationship with Exercise…
Exercise for me used to be about:
achieving or maintaining a goal weight
having a particular look
being able to be fit and strong if I needed to defend myself
a relief and false release of any pent up tension, anger, fury, frustration or suppressed/unexpressed feelings
a way to deal with issues by checking-out of life and staying in a momentum
a way to keep my body hard so as to not feel
a way to fill the emptiness I felt, to keep me busy and not have any quiet stop moments.
The way I used exercise here, although it may have ticked a few people’s boxes, wasn’t actually healthy because there was an addiction element to it. It was much the same feeling as when I smoked – if I didn’t get a hit, I felt irritated. If I didn’t get to do my exercise, I would feel low or furious and a very tangible tension, because I had not given myself the daily drug I used to relieve my undealt with hurts and emotions. My old way of exercise allowed an opening for me to be hard on myself if I didn’t meet my daily self-appointed criteria.
I was dedicated, focused and had a good working knowledge of gym exercises etc. I used it as one of the things to make me feel I was ‘sort of enough’ and I would always make sure I did a ‘work-out’ if I could – to the point that I remember turning up late to an end of year teaching staff function which was held straight after school at a pub. I made sure I got at least a half hour run at the gym. I then raced home, got dressed and caught the bus to the pub so I could drink – where I got wasted on a few drinks instantly. No part of me back then put two and two together saying healthy exercise should not be addictive and if you are healthy and looking after your body, you would not be putting a poison that destroys organs and alters you into it. No one seems to make this link and I certainly wasn't taught this growing up.
The fact is I was exercising to meet images and to feel I was enough, but not in truth to be healthy. True health supports you to be all of you and I was not using exercise back then to do that – I was using it as one of the ways to cover up insecurities by doing something or looking a particular way.
In the last ten years I have been deepening my relationship with myself and letting go of the false ideals, patterns and beliefs and supporting myself to be more of who I naturally am deep within and was born to be. From my inner-gorgeousness, I am able to bring the true me into every part of everyday life, whether it be at work, with family, with friends, doing chores, out shopping or simply being out in the community.
Initially when I first started to reconnect with myself and develop that relationship with myself years ago, I knew the way I exercised had to go.
The first shift or learning point was to let go of the old ways and reasons for exercising. I did this by just choosing to walk, focusing on my walk, the way I walked, the reason I was walking, practising keeping my mind with my body and feeling how my body felt as I walked.
This at times was as simple as feeling my feet and at other times it was feeling the flow or tension in my body, even though my mind or old patterns would try and jump in. My mind tried to be a trickster quite a few times with bringing rules into the length of walk or the pace of walk, or calculating the aerobic aspect of the walk in relation to weight, so it took me a little while to truly let go of the ingrained exercise patterns that I had adopted to the point where I am today.
My Relationship with Exercise Today…
Exercise for me is now about:
remaining with and building the connection with my body
strengthening and stretching my body in a surrendered way
being present – keeping my mind with my body and the activity at hand
confirming who I am and not losing myself to the exercise
listening to my body and deepening that communication
bringing gentleness, tenderness and playfulness into movements
feeling a fluidity and flow
quality of movement, not quantity.
The amazing part for me to feel is that even though many of the exercises are the same as I used to do many years ago . . . the quality of exercising is completely different. I have noticed the effect that has had on my body – before, during and after each session. Before exercising there is no drive now, no need for an ‘accomplishment feeling’ or need to ‘let’s get this over with’ feeling or to relieve anything – but really it is engaging with the quality of movement that then happens to affect the muscles. Me remaining with my connection while exercising, supporting the amazing woman I am. Exercise today confirms me in everyway and supports a deepening self-acceptance through the way I choose to move.
During exercise I am always aware of my breath, having a surrendered feeling in my body and being aware of how my body is feeling as it is exercising. Sometimes I am more delicate, tender or present than others and I get to feel a spaciousness or stillness feeling. If I need to lessen the repetitions or change the order – then I do so with no attachment or regimentation. After each session I have not felt exhausted or drained, or that I have pushed myself. My breathing is fairly consistent and when I walk around during or after a session it is to confirm my connection to me and not to walk off the intensity I have just put my body through, as I used to do. My body with this consistency feels strong and toned yet I do not put myself through the arduousness that I once did. Another consciousness you could say I have let go of is ‘no pain, no gain’ or the belief that focusing the mind will make the body do what it needs to do. I have a lived discovery that being consciously present, surrendered and tender with the body during exercise allows the body to only remain in it’s natural graceful movement, with no hardness but it looks amazing and feels strong because the inner quality is now being expressed outwardly.
My body today, as it approaches 40 next year is looking and feeling amazing. I feel solid and confident in myself, and know my inner-beauty and what my quality offers. So I am only left to appreciate the beauty of the support I have offered myself through my movements. I know that I am the only one responsible for how I feel each day. What a gift to give myself.
For me, listening to my body has been key in all life activities including during exercise. This allows me so to adjust as I need to, support myself to remain with myself, and my body and not get lost in my head or the demands of life. Today I bring me to life and everything I do. It is a quality that has a massive flow on effect and seems to be deepening as I grow in responsibility in supporting myself, and my body.
So now – it’s a miracle really . . . the same exercise but in a different and true quality that truly supports the body. The gorgeous part is that every time I make time to delicately practise presence in my movement, it builds and becomes a natural way of being in my general daily activities.
By Johanna Smith, Bachelor of Education (Major Special Needs, Minor Psychology), Graduate Certificate of Early Childhood, Studying Diploma of Counseling, Esoteric Complementary Health Practitioner, Woman, Teacher, Mother, Wife and Friend