Today, we tend to view exercise in the same way we view sweeping the floors, doing the laundry and organizing our dresser drawers: a necessary chore, a nuisance, a should.
We also see exercise as a punishment. A punishment for eating ice cream, a brownie or too many calories. A punishment for relaxing for too long. A punishment for a fun weekend.
I’ve noticed that lately, my picture-taking has been sparse, even though there’s a camera (a great camera) in my smartphone, even though images make me happy.
Part of the problem is that I feel like I can’t live up to the stream of pretty, put-together pictures on sites like Instagram. (Why does it even matter? I’m not sure.)
But I’m going to change that.
I recently wrote this article on how to practice self-compassion when it’s the last thing you want to do. Because when we’re upset, so many of us revert back to what we know: berating ourselves.
We might do this in the moment. For days. Maybe even weeks.
We might do this after bathing suit shopping. After not running as fast or walking as long as someone else, or ourselves the time before. After an awkward interaction with our boss. After making a mistake. After doing, saying or experiencing anything we deem inadequate.
I appreciate my body.
I respect it.
I try to protect it.
And yet there are days when frustration fills
my bones at the same rate my breath does.
Days I wish I had more energy
Days I don’t understand why I’m slower
than everyone else in a workout class
Days I’m doubled over with disappointment that I’m not stronger
Days I resent my sensitivity to so many things
Days I wish I didn’t require as much sleep or caring.
So often, as we sprint through the day, the last thing we think about is our body.
The last thing we think about is the inner machinery that’s involved in the seemingly simplest of movements: opening our eyes in the morning; glancing about the room, hitting the snooze button (a few times); shifting our feet from the bed to the floor; walking (or running) into the bathroom; splashing water onto our faces; picking up a toothbrush; turning on the faucet for a hot shower.
In those few minutes, our bodies perform great feats.
Many of us leap into conclusions when it comes to our bodies. For instance, we assume that if a piece of clothing doesn’t fit us, it’s clearly our fault. It must be because we’re too curvy, our shoulders are too broad, our thighs are too big, our waist is too wide.
We do this with other things, activities and even people. Some of us play this blame game regularly. In the excellent book Yoga and Body Image, co-editor Anna Guest-Jelley shares the different ways she blamed her body.
Last Sunday I wrote about a surprising realization I’ve had about self-care: Sometimes, self-care doesn’t look or feel very much like self-care. Sometimes, it’s not blissful. It’s not serene. It might not even be enjoyable in the moment. It might not even be something you want to do.
Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like an hour-long massage. It doesn’t look like a stroll along the shore.
That’s because self-care, I’m realizing, is multilayered.
Even though I feel much better about my body than I did years ago, even though I am taking much better care of myself than I did years ago, I still feel the pricks of comparison.
When I’m in an exercise class, some days I find myself looking around. What is everyone else doing? Why am I not keeping up? Why is this so much harder for me?
I find myself feeling disappointed. Like Alex writes in her powerful post, I find myself spinning all sorts of stories. Old stories about not being an athlete or being clumsy or being too slow. New stories about how I need to work out harder and be stronger and do more.
Because we had a busy end of the year — the holidays, getting the house ready for company, getting married, having loved ones in town, submitting book revisions, working on other projects — I didn’t get a chance to reflect that much on the old year or the new year.
I feel like I leaped into 2015. Excited and grateful but exhausted.
So I was happy to find a great piece on making intentions around this time, which doesn’t make me feel like I’m already incredibly behind or missed out on something. The piece is by author Warren Berger and is called “Forget Resolutions, What’s Your ‘Beautiful Question’ for 2015?”
I think bucket lists are wonderful. It’s important to have a place for contemplating and listing your ultimate dreams, for reflecting on the experiences, activities and actions that inspire you. The experiences, activities and actions you just know you need to do. The things that are calling you.
But I also love an idea I read about in Jennifer Louden’s latest book — A Year of Daily Joy: A Guided Journal to Creating Happiness Every Day, which is filled with beautiful quotes, tips, insights and images. The idea is to create a “thimble list.”