Many people think of exercise as a chore, something they must do but don’t really enjoy. Kind of like ironing. When we add exercise to our ‘to do list’, it’s often the last thing we cross off as we might prefer a glass of wine as a reward for getting through our list rather than breaking a sweat in the Lycra.
Your body as the enemy
When I was younger I treated my body as the enemy. If I drank too much on a Friday night, I’d punish myself with exercise the next day. If I wanted to lose weight, I’d deprive my body to get it to do what I wanted it to. Even scarier, I would often push through pain and injury as I didn’t believe in a soft workout. Sound familiar?
Exercise fads come and go, but there seems to be an appeal with exercise that is punishing, grueling and pushes the body to its limits. Most of us aren’t elite athletes so what are we actually training for? And why the intense regime? We just need to move our body, get the blood circulating and increase the heart rate to compensate for sitting on our arse all day.
I’d hazard a guess that for every exercise addict, there’s a whole lot more exercise-avoiders. I think it comes down to doing something you enjoy. Why would you commit to something that you dislike or that’s painful? It just doesn’t make sense.
Your body as your friend
My approach to exercise changed in my mid-twenties as a result of injuries rather than a deliberate choice. I had to seek out low-impact sports. My regime became more about what felt good (not painful), rather than getting maximum burn. Doing exercise for the love of it rather than as a chore was a real turning point for me. I walked home from work every day and I still walk about 15 km per week. Walking, swimming, yoga – I do it because I love it, I love moving my body and it feels good.
When you move and exercise for pleasure, it’s easy to incorporate into your day because you look forward to it. So exercising for pleasure is going to be sustainable and you will get results because you’re more likely to stick to it.
Exercising for punishment will not just make it harder to stick to, it also causes stress from the mental resistance or the willpower you need to maintain. Pushing ourselves when we’re exhausted, injured or not feeling well won’t help us burn more calories, in fact it may even make you store fat or burn fewer calories due to your increased stress hormones.
Burnout and exhaustion
The last thing our body needs when it’s exhausted and we’re suffering from burnout is a grueling workout. When we’re stressed and exhausted, we end up running on adrenaline. And after years of chronic stress and running on adrenaline, we start running on cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone – a bit of it is good for us, lots of it is seriously bad for us. Increased cortisol levels in the body are linked to weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, inflammation, muscle tension, depression and anxiety.
So if your body already has high levels of cortisol from chronic stress, then hardcore exercise is adding fuel to a very unhealthy fire. If you’re super stressed, can’t sleep, have lots of aches and pains and can’t lose wight even when you try really hard, it might be time to stop the grueling exercise regime and do something that’s pleasurable and gentle.
Your body, mind and nervous system will thank you for it.
Don’t take it so seriously
Many people ask me when they first start yoga, ‘how long will it take to get results?’ or ‘how many yoga classes should I take to lose weight?’
Can you see the problem here?
They won’t get results or lose weight if they don’t stick at it and they won’t stay if they don’t enjoy it. Whilst an enjoyable yoga class has a lot to do with the teacher and studio, it also has to do with you and your approach.
Do you let yourself relax into each yoga pose or are you pushing/punishing yourself?
Do you even notice how your body moves or feels or are you just focused on accomplishing a particular shape?
Are you counting your inhales and exhales or just the calories burnt?
Try to take the intensity and aggression out of your yoga practice and let your body move the way it wants to. It will thank you for it and give you the results you’ve been looking for.
Practice doing less to gain more.
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