In elementary school my least favorite class was Physical Education. At the end of running a mile on the track I’d sit down, my lungs hurting, and full of self loathing. Most of my classmates seemed perfectly content running, but I felt like a gigantic elephant dragging my 2nd grade body around that track.
As a young adult I overexercised and under-ate to maintain a body size that wasn’t natural for me. I didn’t enjoy working out, but I relied on it heavily, as a way of disciplining myself for eating. Every day I’d warm up by running around the track at the gym, repeatedly asking my knees to please behave and demanding my brain to “suck it up!”
It took a couple of injuries and a kind health care practitioner to figure out that what I was doing to my body wasn’t healthy. As I started to loosen my white-knuckled grip on my body, I started to experiment with eating based on hunger (imagine!), and my weight started on its way to a more comfortable, maintainable size.
It was extremely hard to manage how I felt about gaining weight, but at the same time it was a huge relief to realize that I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life working so freaking hard. I could finally have the time and energy to live my life.
But I still had one big question: how was I going to have a healthy relationship with exercise if I’d only ever associated it with hard work and pain? So I started an even bigger experiment. I began to audition different ways of moving to see what felt good.
I already knew what felt awful, so I knew I could rule out running (because I love my knees and want to keep them for life) and most of the machines at the gym (where I feel bored and suffocated). I tried group classes, hiking, dancing at clubs, and water aerobics. I did yoga videos at home, took long walks in the park, and jogged in the pool.
I learned that all kinds of dance completely light me up, even if I can’t keep up with the choreography in class. I fell in love with walking outside with music, feeling the wind on my face and my favorite songs in my ears. And yoga felt like coming home to myself.
These activities are pleasure, not “work,” so I won’t call them workouts.
Workouts remind me of the punishment exercise used to be, when I invested endless energy fighting my body, mind, and spirit.
Life is short, and I don’t want to waste unnecessary time and energy on things that hurt. Instead, every time I move in a way that feels good, I shed a little more pain.
With every step on a walking trail in the sunshine, I let go of a little more burden.
With each twirl on the dance floor, the need to control my body springs off my hips.
And as my belly softens into child’s pose on my yoga mat, I find that taking up the space I once feared, can be pure joy.