We know that exercise is important. Plenty of articles are published daily extolling its benefits. And it’s true. Exercise is powerful. It’s great for our hearts, lungs, and minds. Exercise helps to alleviate anxiety and boost our mood. Exercise quiets racing thoughts and sharpens our focus.
And, sure, all of that is great.
But it’s not so great when exercise feels like a punishment. It’s not so great when we dread it and drag ourselves to the gym or some fitness class we’re super annoyed about taking.
So many of us see exercise as a chore—a boring, awful, wish-I-was-anywhere-but-here chore.
And that’s a shame. Because your time and energy are precious. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
What if moving your body was actually joyful for you? What if moving your body was calming or invigorating or interesting or nourishing?
The way we move our bodies can become another way we care for ourselves. Genuinely care for ourselves. Which means that we don’t follow the shoulds of exercise. We don’t have to pick something that incinerates calories or accelerates weight loss or builds muscle.
Rather, your only requirement can be that the movement you engage in actually helps you to feel good—however you define “feeling good.”
So, to start, stop participating in physical activities you don’t enjoy. Stop participating in activities that bore you or frustrate you. Stop participating in activities that feel like a punishment for being “bad” for eating something you actually wanted to eat.
The second step is to experiment with various physical activities, and to notice how you feel and what you prefer. After all, there are myriad ways to move our bodies. For example, maybe you’ll find that you like to engage in different physical activities at different times, depending on your needs (taking a brisk walk when you need to feel empowered; taking a restorative yoga class when you need to feel relaxed). Maybe you’ll find that you do love taking certain classes at your local gym. Or maybe you’ll find that you prefer to take solo walks around your neighborhood.
Below are a few other physical activities to consider:
- Put on your favorite music, and simply dance. You don’t need to set a timer, or have any specific requirements. Just dance until you don’t feel like dancing. Give your sense of pleasure permission to speak up. In other words, when dancing stops being enjoyable, stop.
- Find a yoga practice that resonates with you. This might be a restorative yoga class at a nearby studio that feels welcoming and honors all body types and abilities. Or you might try a practice at home. (Personally, I love anything that Anna does.)
- Take a nature-focused meditative walk. This great tip comes from Becca Anderson’s book The Buddha’s Guide to Gratitude: The Life-Changing Power of Everyday Mindfulness. Specifically, she suggests starting by taking a deep breath in and then letting it out. Next, walk and breathe normally, and notice your surroundings. “Look for pockets of nature—is grass peeking through the cracks in the sidewalk? Are there trees and bushes anywhere? How about flowers? Look for green plants, brown earth, blue or gray sky. Is it cold or warm? Bright or cloudy?” As you observe your surroundings, avoid judging what you notice. “[L]et them be what they are.”
- Reconnect to what you loved to do as a child. Maybe you loved making up silly dance moves. Maybe you loved skipping and hopping. Maybe you loved to play basketball or run around the park. Maybe you loved to jump rope. Maybe you loved hula-hooping. Maybe you loved riding a bike. In other words, remind yourself that movement can be playful—and see what feels fun, light, and playful for you today.
Ultimately, you don’t need to force yourself to participate in a physical activity because it’s supposedly “good for you.” You don’t need to berate yourself because you’re not a “gym person,” because you actually hate sports, or because you’d rather do sooo many other things than exercise (and, of course, please do those things!).
Ultimately, think of how movement can add to your life. How can it enhance your days? How can it help you to compassionately care for yourself?
In short, moving our bodies is actually good for us when we actually enjoy it. So let enjoyment guide what you choose to do—and skip anything that doesn’t fit that criteria.