When I was in college, my dorm was right near the gym. I would head there most nights, after dinner, coaxing a friend or two to come along with me. While this wasn’t an unhealthy habit, it wasn’t surely healthy either. I truly enjoyed working out. I liked chatting with a friend while we were on the elliptical, “studying” while riding the bike, and even running the stadium stairs and feeling like a bad ass. This was all fine. The not so great part was the idea of needing to workout – not just for health, but to balance a super unhealthy lifestyle. I did cardio so I could go to the bar. I used the calorie trackers so I could go eat more dessert. I worked out to make sure I didn’t gain the freshmen 15.
Over the years, I remained loyal to this way of working out, no matter what style I was choosing. I got bored with walking, so I learned how to run. I ran daily, even in the snow (which I actually quite enjoyed). I ran when I was sick, and when I was well. While this wouldn’t seem like such an unhealthy way of working out, I realized I was on an unhealthy path one day on vacation. I had been working out steadily, for about 50 minutes 5-6 days a week. My abs were the flattest they’ve ever been. I was enjoying the workouts, and I felt good. Until I wasn’t in my normal daily schedule. My boyfriend (now husband) were long distance then. I hadn’t seen him in a few months and we were meeting up to house hunt for a weekend. We stayed at a hotel, spent our 3rd anniversary together (the first time we’d ever seen each other on that date), and I freaked out about the potential of not working out. I worried that my abs wouldn’t stay flat, that I might not stay buff, and I hit the treadmill for 50 minutes. Looking back, that was when I should have realized my healthy habit could quickly become an unhealthy one.
Years later, after being labeled a “health nut” by many, I turned to yoga. I enjoyed the bit of peace I found during it, and of course, the workout. I decided to sign up for teacher training, and it was around then that I realized moving my body was about more than just my weight, abs, or even heart health. I realized and learned that moving my body was just that – moving it and honoring it. And that changed everything.
When I released the idea of movement being just a workout, I released a bit of the dread, obligation, and duty to exercise. Rather than feeling like I had to do a workout as an obligation or check on my to-do list, it became a way of honoring my body, treating it kindly no matter what the day, shape, or movement. This meant movement became a way to clear my head, to connect to myself, to feel more, to live more. I still ran, but now it was for the pure joy of it, knowing I could stop at anytime. I ran longer, faster, and stronger than ever before. I flowed in my yoga practice, going deeper into poses to grow more and release more. My digestion improved, my stress and anxiety decreased, and I continued to honor my body. By giving up working out, I was free to move my body however and whenever I chose to – or not.
I now run occasionally, signing up for a race or training if I feel like it. I start my day with a few sun salutations (yoga) because it helps me wake up. I do barre because it the strength I feel during it surprises me every time. I walk to clear my head and release tension in my muscles and bones. I hike in the woods to reconnect with nature and myself. And if I don’t feel like moving, I stay still.
The next time you lace up your shoes or hit the mat, stop and ask yourself – am I doing this to honor my body or am I doing this because I feel obligated to? If it’s to honor yourself and your body, get to it. If it’s as an obligation or duty, put it on hold. Take a time out to figure out why it feels like an obligation – is it the time of day, the length of time, the person you are with, or perhaps the workout itself. Instead, find something that makes you feel alive and free, something that makes you feel like you are honoring your body in every way.
What is your favorite way to honor your body? What obligations have you let go of, or plan to let go of? Leave it in the comments below to reaffirm you commitment to releasing the workout.