You may not know it, but cultural messages about exercise often mess us up. They’ve definitely messed me up in the past. I’d like to tell you a little bit about my exercise story and then relate it to exercise and all of us in general.
My Story about Exercise
I loved movement when I was little. I went to a really cool elementary school that had awesome gym classes in which we got to roller skate, do gymnastics, and play on unicycles and stilts.
I loved climbing trees, running fast, riding my bike all over the place, and jumping on trampolines. I loved playing.
And then I entered middle school, and it seemed like no one played anymore, and suddenly movement turned into exercise and was a tedious chore you had to do.
I didn’t want anything to do with it.
Luckily, my mom had an intuition that I liked dancing, and she signed me up for a local aerobics class, and I was smitten. I LOVE dancing.
I fell in love with movement again and felt alive like when I was a little girl.
Cultural messages about exercise mess us up because they make us forget that movement is playful, and exercise can bring us joy. Hoop dancing is one of my favorite forms of dance.
But to be honest, I still often struggle with practicing regularly movement, and there is a pretty simple reason why:
Because ever since middle school, in the back of my mind, I have equated exercise with punishment.
It is a chore you are supposed to do.
You are supposed to do it to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight.
If you don’t exercise, you are a lazy slug, and that is unattractive.
Cultural messages about exercise mess us up because they scare us that if we don’t exercise, we are automatically a lazy slug.
When I think of exercise this way, it turns movement into something that I shame myself with. So it is pretty easy for me to talk myself out of exercising because, really, who needs more shame?
Shame is No Fun
And when I think of exercise this way, it isn’t nurturing or freeing or playful. It is something I worry about. Am I exercising enough? Am I exercising hard enough? Am I exercising long enough? This is anxiety-producing.
Recently, however, I had a breakthrough in my thinking of exercise.
I have been a little more stressed out than normal lately, and the other day it was really getting to me. I thought to myself, “Okay, this has got to stop. I need to move to work out this stress.”
And I did.
I danced and did yoga. And I felt great.
And the next day, I felt calmer, and more peaceful. So I decided to exercise again because I wanted to maintain my peace.
I did more dancing and yoga. And I felt great. And the next day I felt stronger and more flexible. So, I decided to exercise again because I wanted to keep feeling strong and flexible.
I did more dancing and yoga. And I also walked in the park. It felt great.
And the next day I felt calm, peaceful, strong, flexible, and I had some really good, creative ideas. I decided to exercise again because I wanted to keep feeling all these wonderful things.
I just kept going.
So, I did more dancing and yoga and walking, and it felt great, and I thought, “Whoa. I have exercised four days in a row. And it was no big deal. What else can I do?”
And I suddenly thought, “I want to do EVERYTHING. I want to run, bike, swim, climb trees, and lift stuff.” Why? Not because I wanted to maintain my weight or lose it. And not, technically, for my health. And not so I won’t be a “lazy slug”.
Cultural messages about exercise mess us up because they make us forget how much fun it is to outside and go on adventures.
I want to move and play and try all sorts of things because I love how my muscles feel when I move regularly, and I love being able to do new things. It is fantastic being able to meet different challenges I encounter during the day because I have been having fun moving in all sorts of different ways.
Our bodies are amazing, and they love to move and play. And when we move and play, we nurture our minds and spirits, and we blossom in the process.
So, think about moving and playing today. It is one of the best ways to show yourself love.
This picture was taken at the Salt Flats in Utah.
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