Unless I am booked in for a session at my Pilates studio, I typically hold my exercise plans each day VERY VERY loosely. This means that I tend to have a general idea upon waking as to whether or not I plan to enjoy some form of exercise or relax into a rest day but for the most part I let my body’s intuition be the guide and I'm always open to changing direction based on that. The ultimate question I hold in my mind when it comes to exercise is, “What would feel good today?”
This is a dramatic shift from the days of my exercise disorder when I was chained to a very specific and cumbersome workout schedule, one that had little to do with health and nothing at all to do with what gave me pleasure. The focus back then was three fold; to tame and alter my body, to punish myself for overeating and to exercise enough to numb my emotional pain.
My current approach to exercise is a version of what many in the eating and exercise disorder recovery arena are calling Intuitive Exercise. As an ally and partner to the growing community of Intuitive Eating (which I heartily endorse), Intuitive Exercise offers a way of moving my body that releases strict rules about if, when, where, how and for how long I exercise, in favour of a system that puts my own individual body’s needs and desires at the centre of the process. Basically it’s a way of bringing my body back into connection with movement as opposed to handing it over to people and programs that don't have access to my own internal wisdom. This does not necessarily mean that you must toss aside gym memberships, personal trainers or workout schedules (although it may be beneficial to separate from them for a time depending on your current relationship to exercise), it simply means that you begin to seek out joy inducing movement practices and strive to remain in true connection with your body throughout the process.
For any of you who have been in the body shaping and/or weight loss game for a while, you likely have figured out that most fitness programs typically do not tend to create joyful relationships with movement. At least they never did for me. What they did end up creating however was a proverbial exercise band wagon that I would jump on all fired up on the structure and the workout tracking only to find out several weeks or months down the road that my body and soul simply could not sustain the enthusiasm my mind had experienced upon signing up. I’m going to guess that this scenario may sound familiar to some of you. I believe much of this so-called “loss of motivation” comes from the fact that most exercise programs actually ignore the body altogether. Sounds strange, dosesn't it? But here’s the thing; instead of listening to the body’s needs and desires and seeking out positive feeling states with regard to movement, exercise plans, programs and challenges tend to be created and committed to almost exclusively with the mind. So although we're led to believe that exercise is prescribed according to body-centric principles (exercise science and current concepts of health, as skewed as they may be), the all important voice of the body itself is actually no where to be found. The practice of Intuitive Exercise is all about learning to listen for and trust that voice.
So here's what we're told; A certain amount of cardiovascular exercise is good for our hearts and lungs. Some form of resistance training helps increase lean muscle mass and bone density. We also know that regular sessions of movement have the ability to benefit mental health. This information is not wrong, BUT it’s also not helpful in and of itself. If it was, far fewer of us would be at such odds with our bodies around movement. The data and science alone just ignore so much. They ignore the importance of ancestral and sacred ritual that was often the purpose of movement. They ignore the mind, body, spirit connection. They ignore the very complicated relationship most humans have with their bodies due in large part to a lifetime of toxic cultural messaging and media. And they also ignore the fact that a very large segment of the population do not have the financial ability and/or privilege that allows them access to the "fitness" and "wellness" that's being marketed to us. That is a really big problem. In fact the data and science are most often used as both a tool of shame and a tool of exclusion, one that many industry and health professionals mistakenly believe to be motivational. All of this makes me angry and I believe we can do better.
Humans tend to do repeatedly what feels good on some level. So why don't we aim to invoke feelings of pleasure during movement instead of plying people with statistics and bullshit body shaming. Let's help people uncover rewards that stretch beyond the physical appearance of their bodies! Let's up level our consciousness around movement! Trust me, tearing down tired old, oppressive constructs can be super fun!
What we need more of now are motivational movement “WHYs” that we can truly get excited about. Here are a few of mine;
My practice no longer has anything to do with why or how I “should” be exercising. Intuitive Exercise, for me, paints a picture that is so much richer and more colorful than anything I could have experienced when I was using movement solely to try and control and punish my body. It's given me freedom I didn't know I had been seeking.
“EARN YOUR BODY”
“EXERCISE UNTIL YOUR BODY BEHAVES”
“NO SHORTCUTS, WORK FOR IT”
This is fitness culture in a nutshell.
It stinks and I'm over it.
Maybe, just maybe, you might be over it too.
And if you are you can follow me to Part Two of Intuitive Exercise: The Art of Listening Before Moving where I'll be discussing specific tools to help you start creating and nourishing your own Intuitive Exercise practice.
Lori Race is a healer, health clinic owner and writer with a passionate message to share from her past as a fitness instructor suffering from compulsive exercise disorder.