Intuitive Exercise: First StepsSep 17, 2020
It’s strange that we live in a culture where trusting the vessel we live in is more difficult than trusting the advice of a stranger on the internet.
Such is the effect of a few hundred years of patriarchy and capitalism where the unrelenting vigor of the messages telling women their bodies are unacceptable has all but severed the connection to our own instincts and intuition.
This is especially true with regard to food and movement where media and marketing for the industry is a mine field of shame and disparagement designed to lead us further away from ourselves and our power.
All is not lost, however. Blessedly, the river of knowing and wisdom remains full and flowing within all of us and reclaiming that wisdom is as simple as being willing to crouch at the edge of the embankment, cup the water in our hands and take a drink.
I remember very clearly the time period when I first started playing with the idea of exercising intuitively. Although I didn’t exactly know that was what I was doing at the time, I had come to a significant turning point in my relationship with food, exercise and my body. After over 20 years of compulsive behaviors, I had finally hit a wall of exhaustion. The misery that had been my constant companion whether I was fit or unfit, lean or fat had suffocated the vitality of my life for too long and I was desperate to try something, anything different. Boldly, I realize now, I took a giant step away from food restriction of any kind (diets, cleanses, detoxes, lifestyle changes, etc) and let go of all manner of workout programs and scheduling. No more gym or fitness class memberships, no need to do some form of exercise every day and no calendar tracking of workouts or sign ups to fitness challenges. I threw every bit of structure and all my carefully curated workout and food rules out the window pretty much in one fell swoop. I was ready instead to attempt listening to my body.
It was terrifying at first.
I was thrust right up against my 20 plus years of body-hatred conditioning what felt like hundreds of times a day and the urge to slide back into my comfort zone of restriction and exercise obsession pulled at me constantly.
The desire to try just one more program (because maybe it would be different this time…) felt like a powerful ocean wave whispering promises to take me to a new shore. Yet I resisted. Somewhere deep inside, my soul seemed to understand that this was just another rip curl of lies looking to pull me under once again. Each time I struggled, I would remind myself of the painful relationship I had been in with my body for so long. I would come back to the fact that what I had been doing since I was 17 to try and change my body had never ever “worked” in the long term. On the toughest days, I assured myself that this was just an experiment to get a glimpse of what it looked like on the other side and that I could always go back if things here ended up being too much for me to handle.
Thankfully, this was not the case. As my experiment continued, I began to have the tiniest glimpses of a life and mind not dominated by thoughts about my body or when and where my next workout fix would be. The brief moments of peace eventually started to string together as though brick by brick there was a new path unfolding for me to walk along and after a year or so, I finally began experiencing more days of relief in the form of body neutrality than ones of anguish and body hatred. I was still moving my body during this time but far far less than I ever had in the past and strangely, people didn’t respond to me any differently. It was as if they didn’t really care whether I was fit or not.
I won't pretend that this wasn't an emotionally difficult journey. If the decision to heal childhood traumas and free oneself from oppressive and damaging culturally supported behaviors were as easy as signing up for a spin class challenge, we would all be doing it. And just because you make it to the other side, doesn’t mean the siren song calls to return simply stop. As insulated as you try and make yourself, the barrage of images telling you that you are not doing enough to make yourself "healthy", "well", "fit" or "lean" will continue, and chances are the majority of people around you at the office, in your family and in your circle of friends will go on participating in the distortion of diet and exercise culture. Unfortunately it will likely continue to be the norm for a while.
Trusting your body is a radical act. Choosing to no longer use exercise as a tool of punishment or control is a radical act. Understanding that your body doesn't need changing is a radical act.
This path requires you to be a radical.
I can’t tell you exactly how exercising intuitively may look for you for our body stories are all unique. What I do want to offer here however are some concepts that continue to work for me in my own practice; ideas you can play around with if you feel pulled in this direction. I also want to simply let you know you that exercising this way is possible. That this is exactly where I’ve been for the last 9 years, moving regularly and pleasurably according to the intelligence of my body. And feeling a deep sense of peace with and appreciation for movement itself.
Intuitive exercise practices are born through body trust, something we are taught early on as consumers and especially as women, to dismiss. Because of this, one of the first steps in finding more ease with exercise is connecting to your body and reacquainting yourself with that lost treasure.
My body knows what it needs.
My body’s desires can be trusted.
My body finds joy in movement as well as in rest.
My body finds nourishment in rest as well as in movement.
Use these mantras or find others that invite you into your own wisdom. Repeat them regularly, journal about them or put them in spaces where you’ll see them daily. Remind yourself that your body signals you when it needs things like water, food or sleep and begin to understand that movement is no different. Start believing that your body actually wants to move, that it doesn’t need to be pushed and prodded with weapons of self hatred to do so.
And when you're ready for more you can connect to Intuitive Exercise: Next Steps, part two in this intuitive exercise series.
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