Can I tell you a secret that’s not really a secret? Sometimes, I get overly anxious about my exercise. Sometimes I tune out from what my body really wants and needs and I can’t stop myself from thinking ‘you should be out there running, you should be at the gym, how many times have I exercised this week, how many calories have I burned, what is my target again, have I hit that, maybe I should increase it because I’m sitting down all day at work…’ and it goes on and on.
I lie in bed awake in the middle of the night panicking that I will miss my alarm and I won’t be able to fit in my run before work. I worry that I have stayed up too late to really get out there. I worry that the temperature will be too cold and my asthma will decrease the quality of my run when it clenches my airways shut mid-stride. I worry that I won’t make time for exercise after work. I worry that the years that it took me to become a runner and be comfortable with my body and learn how to maintain a healthy weight will be wasted because I haven’t made enough time to exercise.
My exercise story started late, and when I finally understood the way my body responds to exercise and how to teach it to love running, I took off with vigour and passion. I became a runner. I became a woman who knew what it took to balance my food and my exercise to control my weight. For the first time in my life I was in control.
But learning doesn’t have an endpoint. True and valuable learning continues over our lifetime.
But there are two sides to this story. Two sides to the truth.
One side of the truth is: I feel best when I have a high amount of exercise.
The other side of the truth is: I feel even better when that high amount of exercise is complimented with an appropriate amount of rest.
And the third side of the truth is that I am still learning how to achieve this balance. Last week I ran my heart out – four days in all. I cycled too, and yoga-ed, and walked, and ice-skated – and I felt great. But on Monday morning I knew that I couldn’t subject my tired and sore legs to their normal six miles at sunrise, and on Thursday I didn’t have time, didn’t have energy – I needed to sleep and rest. My body was asking for something, and this time I listened.
The anxiety was still there, is still there, but I’m tempering its drive with some solid, self-loving reason. I am not going to put on twenty kilos overnight because I missed one run. I am “allowed” to have two rest days in a week. I have all weekend to go for a lovely long run and a lovely long walk, and next week I will plan a little better. After a heavy week, a light week should follow: an ebb and flow like the tide.
The aim of my exercise, the learning objective if you will, is to create a practice that I can sustain over a lifetime. Ritual and routine is important, but so is flexibility and freshness.
So I am learning that while running will always be at the core of my exercise practice, other forms of movement can be just as nourishing, and challenging. Yoga was an awakening: my balance is poor and someone came along and replaced all my stretchy bits with concrete it seems. Ice-skating was another awakening: how long had it been since I had really scared myself, really challenged myself, to learn a new way to move my body? Too long.
Both of these reminded me why I fell in love with exercise in the first place: it connects me to the physical, reminds me to live fully and truly in this body, to be grateful to my body for carrying me over this earth, holding me here, giving me capacity to love and help. Exercise isn’t always about burning calories or training hard for a goal. Sometimes, in our increasingly cerebral and digital world, it is what connects us back to the vessels that we take for granted – we feel our breath, hear it move in and out of our body, we listen to our heartbeats rise in our ears, our muscles burn, they learn and grow, and we remember that this space, the inner/outer of a body is truly where and how we live our lives.
So while anxiety will always be my partner in exercise, as it is in so many other aspects of my life, its voice is no longer the only one I hear. I hear the voice of reason and self-love telling me to rest for a day. I hear the voice of a tired body saying, have a nap. I hear the voice of an overfilled mind, just go for a walk and tune out the world. I hear a chorus drowning out the guilt and the worry and reminding me that a truly nourished life is about balance in all things.
Tell me, dear reader, how do you find balance between exercise and rest? Do you get anxious about not fitting in enough activity, or are you at peace with your practice? Do you have a favourite way to exercise? Are you a routine or by-the-pants person?