I have a complicated history with exercise.
On the one hand, I loved playing when I was little. My favorite activities were hide-and-go-seek, climbing trees, and roller skating. My mom also enrolled me in a dance aerobics class when I was in high school, and I loved those classes.
On the other hand, like most girls and women (unfortunately), I went through a period in my life when I used exercise to punish and shrink myself. My view of exercise during this time definitely tended towards the “No pain no gain” view of exercise.
Pursuing exercise this way eventually became so exhausting that I started hating it. And I quit for a while. (You can read more about this here.)
I needed a break, and I am glad I took it.
Because during that break, slowly but surely, my view of exercise began to change.
After resting for a while, I started to realize I craved movement. I craved it not because I needed to shrink myself but because I liked to feel strong, energetic, playful, joyful, powerful, and capable.
So I started experimenting with different kinds of exercise that make me feel this way. Along the way, I found some really unique videos by Ellen Barrett that made me feel like a magical unicorn when I exercise.
Her videos combine elements of pilates, ballet, dance, and yoga to create gentle, flowing routines that make you feel both challenged and relaxed, comforted and stretched. She also includes a lot of cues throughout the videos that help you tap into your breath, your emotions, and your imagination.
Hemalaaya Behl also does videos that combine bellydance, yoga, and regular dance. They also make me feel great.
Whenever I do these videos, I feel stronger, more emotionally clear, and creative. Those are my magical unicorn feelings.
Instead of “No pain, no gain”, my personal exercise philosophy now is “No magical unicorn feelings, no gain.”
Why yes, I did draw a lot of unicorns growing up.
I find that when I follow this exercise philosophy, I exercise more than I used to because, well… magical unicorn feelings are really awesome. (And by the way, some people feel much better when they engage in really intense, hard physical exercise. If you are one of those folks, and those are your magical unicorn feelings, you’re cool, too.)
Since the time I grew frustrated with exercise, took a break, and started again, I’ve had an epiphany about exercise. The will to exercise is often driven by external factors. Two of the most common (especially if we are women) are the desire to shrink ourselves to “be worthy of love” and a fear of gaining weight. This makes us feel like we have to exercise to be acceptable and valuable.
These external pressures create pretty much the exact opposite of magical unicorn feelings.
We also frequently receive a lot of shaming messages about exercise. For instance, we here that we “should” exercise because it will make us healthier. Or, we “should” exercise so that we’re not lazy and don’t get out of shape.
I think we’ve been duped by weird cultural messages to believe that exercise is this horrible, exhausting ordeal that everyone hates but that we must do to be upstanding citizens.
But I don’t believe that.
I’ve realize through my own experience that all of these external pressures to exercise cut me off from my own internal desire to play and to move. All of the “should” messages make it difficult for me to hear the voice inside me that says, “Moving makes me feel joyful and strong. Let’s play.”