What’s behind all our exercising?
Everywhere I look now there seems to be some sort of weight loss program being offered or the perfect high-intensity exercise class that will burn off the most amount of fat and calories in the quickest possible time. All with the message that we need to change the body we already have with one that will be better, prettier, shiner and more acceptable.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think exercise and movement of the body is essential for peace of mind, great health and balanced emotions. But what I’m interested in is the intention behind it all. Are we actually working ‘with’ our bodies or are we just doing work ‘to’ it?
When it comes to food I often have students come to class wanting to share the perfect diets they’d eaten that week or that they had been ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ that day. And what I always say to them is this:
Me: Dear lovely student, I am not really interested in whether you have been ‘good’ this week or eaten perfectly healthy, although thank you for sharing it with me. What I am interested in is WHY you choose to eat this way, WHY did you go for the foods you ate?
You see, we can be eating so perfectly, so cleanly, so ‘good’ but if it is coming from a place of control, rigidness, trying to be skinnier, prettier, better then we think we already are then that is just as unhealthy as eating a burger and fries each day.
The same goes with exercise.
Let me start by telling you a story…
A decade ago, after I had already started eating a plant-based diet and had given up refined sugar and dairy, I was obsessed with working out. I literally couldn’t go a day without running or going to the gym, I registered my body fat levels, water content, weight, width, height, heart rate etc on a daily basis and learnt which exercises would burn the most body fat as quickly as possible.
From the outside in I looked like someone who really took care of myself. People would say to me:
‘Hey, you’re so healthy, you’re so disciplined, I need to be more like you!’
And of course this would feed me to do it more.
I really believed I was a super healthy person. Everything I ate was perfectly clean and my body was as fit as a racehorse. From the outside in I looked like I had it all sorted out.
But then I started to feel really really tired. A kind of tiredness I had never really experienced before, like there was no life left in my body. At first, if I’m very honest, it was more an annoyance as it was getting in the way of my ‘healthy’ lifestyle. But after a while the tiredness became so intense I had to do something about it.
I went to see my acupuncturist for some healing where we had a conversation that went something like this:
Acupuncturist: Nicky, can I ask you, why do you run so much?
Me: Because I love it! Because it makes me feel alive and free. Why do you ask acupuncturist?
Acupuncturist: Well, excuse me if I’m intruding, but I’ve been seeing you for a while now and it seems that you push yourself quite hard. And your inner energy, your inner resources are running very low. Are you sure your body wants to do all this running? Or is it you that wants to do it all?
Me: Hmmmm…… (Speechless and a little annoyed!)
Acupuncturist: What would it be like if you were to stop running and pushing yourself? If you want to heal yourself deeply I would highly recommend you try this.
An instant rush of panic and fear ran through my body and heart. I went home and immediately picked up my journal.
Me: What would it be like if I stopped running for a while?
Me: But how will I stay thin? How will I feel good about myself? How will I feel strong and free? Won’t I get fat? Will I be good enough? How will I feel in control of my life?
Wow! A whole world of low self-worth, fear and unmet needs had been lying dormant under all that pushing. I realised that although I had been working my body daily I had not once really listened to it. In fact I was completely ignoring it. I pushed it constantly in the feat to be better, shinier, prettier, stronger, more loveable, more accepted. And all this pushing was killing me from the inside out. My body was crying out to me and it was time I started to listen.
So the next phase of my journey began, not just listening to my cravings but also listening to the other needs of my body.
For a period of time after that I stopped running or doing any high intensity exercise, because like with food, I needed to rebuild the trust between myself and my body once again.
Every morning I would check in with my body to find out how it felt. At first I was incredibly tired from so many years of pushing so I would have naps, long hot pampering baths, regular massages, gentle walks or go to a yoga class based on breath work.
Often I would have to face the feelings of fear and vulnerability that would arise from not sculpting, burning calories, controlling. But I knew, like with the food, doing it this way was the only and most healing way for me. I chose to trust my body and by listening and taking care of it eventually it would feel alive again and want to run, dance, and do more energetic movement.
Sure enough after a few months my energy levels began to get stronger. I began to do bodywork that I really loved, just for fun and pure pleasure and nothing to do with burning fat or calories!
I loved dancing, walking in nature, yoga, stretching, deep breathing, Tai Chi, getting massages.
I discovered something called the ‘Run Walk’ from an amazing teacher of mine where I would go for a run but when my body felt tired I would allow myself to walk a bit then I would feel another rush of energy and burst into running and then slow down and walk and so on. It felt like flying and such pure freedom! Don’t get me wrong, I love running, and there were and are many times when i just fly non-stop but it happens when my body wants to fly rather than my head pushing it.
Listening, really listening. Amazing!
Doing some kind of bodywork or movement daily is really essential for my peace of mind and energy levels. But that can come in all kinds of different forms depending on what my needs are that day. And more importantly then anything is that by doing it I am actually connecting with my body rather than dis-connecting.
Similar to our cravings (which come from the body) our bodies are the carriers of so much vital information. Our emotions, needs, physical abilities, energy levels, not to mention all our vital organs! It is almost always communicating to us exactly how it is feeling and what it needs. But first we need to listen to it.
By Ignoring and dis-connecting from our bodies we are cutting off a huge part of ourselves. And so inhibiting the amount we can really and truly be present and available in our lives.
By healing the relationships we have with our bodies in this way we allow a whole world of life force, love and creativity to surface. A softness and a vulnerability that is in each and every one of us, allowing us to feel more deeply connected to ourselves, to others and the world around us.
And lastly a note on losing weight – I have done every possible exercise and diet there is and have been both skinny and over-weight in my life but none of it has sustained or lasted. The only time my body has started to drop the excess weight and kept it off is when I started healing the relationship I had with it. Only then did the weight start coming off, and stayed off.
I guess I trusted myself more and felt safer with myself. I mean, how would any of us feel if we were in a relationship with someone that ignored us every day and dragged us around forcing us to do what they wanted to do? Not great right? I would probably pile on the pounds too… as a way of protection!
So if you identify with any of this and feel like you may be disconnected from actually being ‘in’ your body, ask yourself this question:
Why are you doing the body ‘work’ that you’re doing? What is driving you? Your body or your head? Or are you not doing any kind of movement or connecting with your body at all?
The first step is to even know which one of these are you right now.
Oh and by the way….. not doing any kind of bodywork or movement is another way of not listening and dis-connecting from your body.
I learnt a very powerful practice during my training at The Concord Institute of Integral Studies, which I will now pass on to you. This exercise really helps me to reconnect with my body’s needs and I practice it each time I have gotten out of balance once again.
I have practiced this exercise many times now and each time I am amazed at how much healing, insights and nourishment I get from it. I have also found sharing it with someone else a very healing and powerful exercise.
The 10 day bodywork endeavor
- For 10 consecutive days commit to listening to your body and honoring it completely.
- Practice some kind of bodywork every single day for at least 30-45min at a time and journal any feelings, insights, thoughts, experiences that come up for you.
- Practice bodywork that will allow you to drop deeper into your body rather than cutting it off. This can take on many forms. I have listed some examples below that help me drop deeper in my body. You don’t have to use any of these, as your body may want something different.
- Just make sure whatever you do it is about working ‘with’ your body and not about doing work ‘to’ your body.
Share your experience with a friend or even better do the whole 10 days with a friend and check in with each other each day.
Examples of bodywork that will help you drop into your body and out of your head:
YOGA – There are so many different amazing practices of Yoga. These days I prefer to practice the kind that encourages deeper breath and slower movement so I can really ‘be’ in my body.
5 RHYTHMS DANCE or ECSTATIC DANCE – These are two incredibly wonderful and powerful dance meditations. They are all about coming out of the head and dropping into your body, letting your body dance however it wants to. This is really about freedom of expression through movement and can be very very healing. There are classes all around London daily and New York. If you Google it you can find them or email me.
THE CONSIOUS RUN WALK – If you feel like going for a run then try running in nature with no music on. Just run to the sound of your breath and the sounds around you. Notice if at any point your body wants to slow down or even walk, then allow yourself to do that. Then notice if you feel like running faster, allow yourself to do that. This is an incredibly freeing and beautiful practice and really takes the pressure off running flat out if your body’s not really up for it. It also takes the focus off pushing, burning calories and losing weight.
BODY BREATHING – Some days the best I can do is lie flat on my yoga matt and just breathe. Softening into my body and breathing deeply into my abdomen, relaxing all parts of my body as much as I can. This can be both very relaxing and also very confronting as so many emotions are stored in our body. A very nurturing practice. On my busiest days and most tired days this is usually where I end up and I find very helpful and healing.
SHIATSU or MASSAGE – An amazing way to give your body some nourishment especially when you really are in need of touch and just need to lie back and receive from someone else.
MEDITATION – There are so many types of meditation. Now a days I just sit for 20-30min and allow my body to breathe naturally, softening more and dropping out of my head. Practicing stillness for me is so helpful in my busy life.
TAI CHI OR CHI GONG – This is such amazing bodywork that engages with our body’s energy fields. So beautiful, powerful and nourishing on all levels.
BODY SCRUBBING – Such a great way to stimulate the energy in your body and get your skin glowing beautifully too. Using a hot wet flannel and scrub your body with it in long firm strokes, always directing towards your heart. Keep doing this all over your body until your skin starts to look red. An amazing practice that can be done daily – also fantastic for discharging toxins from the body.
WALKING IN NATURE – Sometimes just going on a walk with no music or distractions is the answer to getting me back into my body and into the moment. I find this so grounding. Often I will come up with my most inspired ideas during these walks. Probably because I have dropped into my body and out of my head.
DANCE – TANGO, FLAMENCO, SALSA – Dancing can be so liberating. You are focusing on the steps and music and having fun that the idea of burning calories or pushing yourself disappears. I find dancing not only nourishes my body but also my heart. It is so fun and also lovely to do with a friend or even a stranger. It can seem scary to show up to a dance class on your own, especially if you don’t know how to dance, but believe me, once you get going you won’t remember how scared you were and you’ll be so happy you took the risk! Your body will be super happy! x
Let me know how it goes! I always love to hear from you. And please remember, this is not about doing it perfectly. Just be loving, no matter what.