Saturday, February 4, 2012

Finding the joy in exercise

I have recently started running again after 5 months of doing absolutely nothing as far as exercising goes. I use the term running very loosely here. Some days I am running whereas most other days I am jogging but mostly trying to avoid tripping. (Enjoy the visual!)

Exercise has always been a big part of my life. I have been blessed with a body that is naturally pretty athletic and a passion for moving it. I am one of those crazy people that really do enjoy exercising. It makes me feel strong, capable and helps me clear my mind. I also enjoy the sense of accomplishment that it brings.

From age 10 to now there have been very few times in my life when I haven’t been actively taking part in some sport. In middle and high school I swam competitively and played water polo. In college I have done intramural sports, fitness classes and spent a lot of time in the gym. A year and a half ago I became interested in triathlons and have been hooked ever since.

I truly believe that exercising should be fun and should be done for the right reasons. A little disclaimer here: the reasons that are right for me may not be the reasons that are right for you and vice versa.

Just like a lot of other things in my life I have been stuck in the cycle of compulsive/obsessive exercise many times. I have started out doing something because I truly enjoyed it and then got sucked in to the point of no return. Part of this is eating disorder related and the other part is just my drive for achievement. Right now I am learning where to draw the line and that the line for me is a pretty hazy one.  

Yesterday I went for a wonderful run. Not only did I run a decent distance but I was connected to everything around me and my body. I wasn’t listening to music but instead focused on the beautiful scenery. My body felt good and my legs felt strong. I honestly felt like I could have run forever. The run wasn’t planned, a distance wasn’t mapped out, no time was involved and I don’t actually think I even had my watch on. (Which is also a heart rate monitor and does a bunch of other fancy things) It was awesome.

Now let’s rewind to a few weeks ago. I had set my alarm the night before to get up and run the following morning. When the alarm went off I hit snooze about 3 times which is unheard of for me. When I finally did get up, running was the last thing that I wanted to do. But off to the closet I went to get my sneakers and running clothes. I was dreading this before I even walked out the door. As I walked past my roommate’s room I was jealous that she was still sleeping. (As if anyone but myself was stopping me from doing the same.) About two miles into the run I stopped and said wtf? I was tired, my body was sore and my mind was berating myself for motivation. At that time I realized that motivation wasn’t what I needed but instead to go back home and do something else. I walked the rest of the way home and then went on with the rest of my day.

These two instances are very different and it doesn’t take a genius to see that. The difference wasn’t my ability or motivation but instead my reasoning. Yesterday I wanted to run because it was nice out and it sounded like a great way to start my day. Last week I went running because I felt like I should and honestly to burn some extra calories. The desire and want wasn’t there at all. Every fiber of my being was telling me that I didn’t want to do it but off I went. And the experiences were drastically different.

When it comes to exercise I am not someone that needs to be pushed or motivated. In fact, it’s the days that my mind is doing the pushing that I really need to back off. I do not believe exercising should be used as punishment or with the sole purpose of losing weight. I think it should be used for positive reasons and only if it’s what you wish to be doing.

I know that every run for me isn’t going to be as amazing as the experience that I have described above. There have been other days where I am half way into a mile and I feel like a snail could pass me. Some days I end up walking a lot more then running/jogging. But it is those days when I notice the difference and I really see how much my attitude has changed. I consider those “runs” as successful as all of my other runs because now I define success differently. It isn’t about time, distance or speed but instead about enjoyment, being in touch with my body and having fun. I am still VERY competitive and do plan on signing up for a few 5k’s and possibly even a half marathon soon, yet I don’t plan on following any rules or training plans.

Running isn’t for everyone. It’s important to figure out what type of exercise is right for you, if you choose to exercise. I know some people that love yoga and Pilates. The one time I tried yoga I was almost kicked out of the studio because I turned into a 10 year old immature boy that found every position hilarious. Some people enjoy working out at the gym. For me, being in the gym isn’t fun and it just turns on that compulsive part of my brain. I have a lot of friends who enjoy fitness classes yet I was not blessed in the rhythm department.

Like I mentioned above, I love exercising and I am pretty positive that it will always play a big part in my life, yet I want it to continue to be something that I enjoy. I don’t want to continue down the same path that I have been down many times. For me, it’s about stopping and asking myself “why am I doing this?’ and taking an honest look at my reasoning. It’s also about giving myself breaks and resting when I am sore and tired. Most importantly it’s about having fun.

Disclaimer: The past few posts have been talking about having fun and doing things that you WANT to do. I realize that in life we have to do a lot of things that we don’t want to do or don’t necessarily enjoy. But everything doesn’t have to be like that. I am not suggesting that you slack off in responsibilities or blow things off because you don’t want to do them. Life does require a bit of sucking it up. But for me, its learning that is doesn’t always have to be about that and that everything doesn’t work that way.

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