Living Your Life: Exercising

Oh man. This was something I used to avoid at all costs. I can’t imagine a person more sededant than the person I used to be only a few years ago. The most exercise I got was walking from the car, to go to the liquor store and then back to play video games. I was the picture of unhealthful living. But something changed in me soon after a major shift in my life happened.

Shortly after my divorce, I started to run. I began with two miles in my local Commons every few days. I had quit drinking at the time and was looking to get in physically better shape than I had been. Which wasn’t difficult because anything was better than the shape I was in when I started running. I didn’t really have a goal or a focus when I began my workouts, I just began. No training regiment, no plans to run a race. I just got it in me one day and started.

Looking back on it now, my ex-wife had began running shortly before we divorced. I feel that this may have been a way for me to process some of the emotions I wasn’t able to feel yet around our separating because I was still numb from the un-dealt with trauma from my parents divorce. Knowing what I know now, I would have done things differently. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and I was pretty much clueless.

But running has been a way for me to stay connected to myself, in taking care of my health, to friends, by picking up running buddies along the way and also a way to stay connected with something positive through the different stages of my life. An anchor so to speak. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a good way to connect, and stay connected. Which has been worth all the while.

As I continued to run, I picked up some milage and started running races. 5ks at first. Nothing to difficult, but it felt good to put a goal to my training. To give myself some much needed structure. I eventually worked my way up through 10ks, 10 milers and finally half marathons. These were fun, and I got to run with friends I made along the way and old ones I reconnected with. But part of me felt I was doing it more for the t-shirt than the achievement. Or maybe I needed a physical counterpart to my achievements. Either way, physical fitness was something that was part of my routine, but not quite self-care yet.

Yoga is another way I’ve learned to connect to myself in a healthy way. I started by taking classes at my local Y. The classes were held in a ballet studio. The walls were lined with mirrors, and I would go during the evenings. The instructor would put LED candles around the studio for ambient lighting and we would practice our flows in the soothing environment.

More recently I’ve begun doing yoga at my home, before the pandemic. I wasn’t able to get to the classes regularly anymore for a variety of reasons, but have found a routine that works for me after some trial and error. But the same ways I was feeling about my running routine, I was feeling about my yoga practice. I didn’t have a goal when I started doing yoga, and I feel the same reasons for starting running applied to my yoga practice as well.

This was because my goal, when I started working out, was to look good naked. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, but this was my main goal. Not to be healthy or to take care of my physical health. I wasn’t even sure what the physical benefits of exercise were at the time. I knew that it was healthy, but that was about the extent of my knowledge on the subject.

So now that my perspective has shifted on the subject of exercise, and most of the things I’m doing now, what are my goals now? To be honest, I haven’t really given it much thought beyond “it’s good for me”. And this makes me a little sad. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into these hobbies, only to find out that, first I was doing them to look good naked, and second, I couldn’t find a reason why I kept doing them after I had realized that wanting to look physically fit isn’t the healthiest reason to be exercising, because beauty fades. So how do I reconcile the time and energy spent on these hobbies?

Well first, I had to take a look at how I was feeling about myself. I had previously been about 40 to 50 pounds overweight before I started exercising. I was drinking a lot of alcohol and eating unhealthy, so this was no surprise. But what I hadn’t thought about was the standard I thought I needed to live up to, that had been drilled into me by my caregivers and society in general. These images mostly revolved around what it means to be and look like a man.

For a very long time, I thought that a man had to look like Brad Pitt from “Fight Club”. How unreasonable is that standard! But my caregivers were not confident in their own feelings of security of how they looked, so there was no way they could pass on a healthy self image to me. So in turn, I picked up the unhealthy version of what it meant to look like a man by society, advertising and the entertainment industries. I know this is something that women usually struggle with, imposible beauty standards, but men are also inundated with unhealthy messages of how we should look as well. And what’s worse is, we are the ones who are putting out the standards for everyone. So it’s difficult to garner sympathy for men’s image standards when we’re the ones setting them.

So now that I know the standards that I’m up against, how am I dealing with them? I think for me that I need to remember the good times that I’ve spent out on the road, or in the yoga studio. How do I feel when I’m actually doing, instead of what the outcome will be. For example, I don’t know if I’ll ever stop checking myself out in the mirror before I hop in the shower, but it will be better to focus on the times I remember enjoying my runs. Or a relaxing time I had a yoga session instead of how I look here and now.

And this is more difficult than it may appear to be at first glance. Everybody wants to be in shape, but the image of health, i.e. the perfect, chiseled body, seems to be more important than actually being in good health. This is why it is so dangerous to focus solely on how you look naked. A well sculpted body does not always translate into the picture of health. It’s a step in the right direction, but not the sole indicator.

For me, the picture of overall health is determined by a few varying factors. Regular exercise being one of them, but also a healthy diet, clean and organized living space, healthy attitude and relationship to my work, and tending to and enjoying my hobbies. Staying physically fit is just one aspect of my overall health.

When I began working out in my early twenties, I started with lifting weights with a few friends. The goal was to get as ripped as possible so we could pick up women at the local bar. Looking back on our plan now, it seems a bit ridiculous. But we were also in our early twenties. So a lot of the things that we were doing and thinking were on the ridiculous spectrum to some degree : )

Lifting weights did not last very long, and my next iteration of exercise became running. As I said above, I started about ten years ago, after my ex-wife left me. I’ve been running ever since, and this is something that is a bit more sustainable than trying to lift as much weight as possible. It was with running that I learned how to push myself beyond my limits of what I thought I was capable of achieving. This is where I learned stamina. And after running, I picked up yoga.

Yoga has been a go to choice of exercise for me for a while now. The first time I went I was hungover, and went with my sibling to a class at our local gym. It was an unforgiving 40 minutes. Since that day however, I’ve learned to enjoy getting in touch with my body through yoga. Where I learned to push my limits with running, I learned how to sit with the discomfort in yoga. If I was having a particularly difficult day on the mat, I learned how to stay, until the difficulty passed.

Running and yoga taught me patients with myself, and how to stick with what I was experiencing. Regardless of how difficult it seems to be at the time. Because life gets difficult at times. And we don’t always have the patients or resources to sit with ourselves when times get tough. But the good news is, that this is something we can cultivate through practice. And exercise is a great way to begin to cultivate these attributes in ourselves.

In case you’ve never thought about the prospect of getting a workout routine started for yourself, let me give you a run through of how I got started. So you’ll at least have a reference point to get involved if you’re feeling up to it.

I started with running, which was fairly easy. All I needed was a pair of running shoes, some workout shorts and a T-shirt and a stretch of road. As I said above, I started working out in my local commons. For me, two laps around equals one mile. So when I did four laps, I was at two miles, no extra equipment needed.

But I eventually graduated to longer runs and runs with friends. For these runs I didn’t need to buy any special equipment, but having an app that keeps track of my workouts for me has been invaluable. I use MapMyRun to track and keep a record of my runs now. Currently I’m also using it to keep in touch with a friend of mine who is training to run a marathon. It’s a great way to stay connected while also offering a bit of moral support during what can be a tough process.

It’s also nice to look back at your runs and see how you’ve changed over time. How your runs have evolved during the evolution of your running journey. You are able to track times and miles, through time. Remembering old routes and old split times can be a fun way to remember your connection with the sport.

For yoga, I started off doing classes, like I said above, at the local Y. There are likely many studios where you live, and yoga has a good reputation for being all inclusive. Also, practicing with a group of people can be a great way to keep yourself motivated to get out of your house, and on to your mat. For me, as I said above, remembering those times when I was on the mat in the intimately lighted room was what brought me a sense of calm and ease. I have fond memories of that studio and that community. And those are the memories that last.

But if you’re more the type to practice on your own, there are plenty of places to find videos online to help you start your own yoga practice. I like Yoga with Adriene for my practice. She has a ton of free videos, and is definitely experienced at her craft. I’ve been to a lot of studios, and Adriene is one of the most positive and knowledgeable yoginis teaching.

Adriene often does 30 day yoga challenges, or journeys, as she calls them. These are great ways to jump into a workout that will keep you moving through a set amount of time. If you’re feeling motivated, these journeys can be refreshing as long as you’re willing to commit to the time.

If you don’t have the time to squeeze a practice into every day for 30 days straight, she also has videos by length, and by skill level. For example, she has a playlist for yoga basics called, “Foundations of Yoga“. These are videos that go over the basic shapes, or asanas of a yoga practice. So when she says “we’ll be meeting in downward dog”, you’ll know exactly what she means.

Adriene also has playlists organized by length of time and by skill level. When you go to most classes in a studio, the length of time usually extends from 45 to 60 minutes. Sometimes these are just what the body is asking for. But we don’t always have that much time to put into a class. I know for me and my schedule lately, I’ll be lucky if I can find 30 minutes to get in a workout.

Adriene has a few playlists that have practices that are anywhere from 10 minutes, to 50 minutes. These have been great for me lately where I find I only have about 30 minutes to hop on the mat. And if you do some searching, you can also find practices that are specific to different areas of the body.

For me, I’ve been working mostly on a total body experience. But I’ve also wanted to focus on areas of the body for preventative care. Areas such as the back and core. So I can keep my posture and body in good working order as I age. She also has videos for yogis that are also runners like me. So I can get an extra stretch in my hamstrings, to help keep my runs injury free.

Next, it’s important to find a block of time for you to practice. Something you can commit to, so you’ll know you have a certain time each week to get into your workout. For me, I try to keep the time as static as possible. I know that my best time to workout is directly after work, and before I jump into the rest of the day. I try to keep my days off workout free so I have some rest time.

I currently have three days in a row blocked off for my workout. One day running and the following days yoga. It helps me to keep the days static during the week, but if you have a crazy schedule, like my friend training for the marathon, you may find yourself out on the road at ten o’clock at night, rounding off that eighth mile. Whatever your schedule may be, find something that works for you and something you’ll want to stick with. Workouts can get derailed pretty easily if you don’t stay on top of them.

If you’re more social, find someone to go on your workouts with. When I was running in the upper miles, I had a running buddy who I would consistently run a five mile route with on a weekly basis. This was a great way to connect, but also have some company along the way. Although I gotta say, it gets difficult (for me anyway, my running buddy had no problem with it) talking after the second mile in 😀

And don’t forget, these are only my workout routines. There are so many different ways to get involved physically. I have a friend who boulders and swears by it. That has always seemed a little intense for me, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t look like a good time. Tennis is another great way to expend some energy. I tried to pick up swimming while I had my Y membership, but to no avail.

The key is to find something you enjoy and stick with it. That way you can enjoy all the health benefits that go along with your new practice. Speaking of health benefits, both yoga and running improves cardiovascular health. Yoga helps to improve strength and flexibility. While both practices leave you feeling in a better mood over all. There are so many benefits to exercise that it is in your best interest to find something you connect with and do it regularly. And don’t worry, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

So if you haven’t thought about starting an exercise routine, maybe now is the time you find something that suits your lifestyle and disposition. Maybe you’ve always wanted to get into hiking. With fall right around the corner, there is no better time to get out into the mountains. Just remember to find something you enjoy, make time for your new practice and stay committed. It’ll be worth the effort, and you’ll feel better in the long run. Peace : ) and thanks for reading!

Image Credits: “DIY Yoga” by timsamoff is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Self-Care Sundays! Coming to Terms with your Fear and Neglect of Self by Creating Healthy, New, and Self-Sustaining Habits, Part 2.

Last week, I went over some ways we get caught in the trap of neglecting ourselves. Either by the lessons taught to us in our youths by our caregivers, or the habits we’ve cultivated in our day to day routines. This week I’d like to talk about some of my self-care rituals, how I’ve developed them, and why they are important in their own specific ways. Hopefully, my routines will give you some ideas and motivation to start and cultivate your own self-care rituals. So, lets hit the ground running.

I started running in my early thirties, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that it’s become a part of my self-care routine. Partly because I’ve only recently started my self-care routine. But also because it’s a place where I learned how to reach and set goals. The pleasure of finding ease in the work of the longer runs but also the friendships I developed with my running buddies along the way.

In my youth, teenage years and twenties, I was sedadent. I was adverse to work, all kinds and clocked so many hours playing video games that I don’t like to think what I could have accomplished had I utilized that time towards more productive ends. But I was also living with the effects of years of neglect and abuse. I had no direction, and noone I felt I could turn to. To give me advice and direction on where to go or what to do with my life. So I was doing the best I could with what I had, and what I had was a lot of free time and video games. In short, I needed to get out from in front of a screen and get some fresh air.

So I started running. I began after my divorce, I feel as a way to deal with some of the guilt I was harboring for leaving my ex-wife (she had started running shortly before we broke up). Later it would become a way for me to find peace while being in the midst of stress. An apt metaphor for life, but it also represented connection with others as I had picked up a handful of running buddies along the way.

But it became part of my self-care routine because I had come to enjoy being on the road. Not only the fond memories but also the reconnecting with the part of me that wants to take care of myself by way of my physical health. I finally felt like I had an outlet to express myself. Making my physical health a priority was a step towards making peace with the parts of my neglected self that was paralyzed by fear. In front of a screen, beer in hand avoiding the work we all have to get after in life.

Yoga was another way for me to reconnect with myself, only for different reasons than with running. I had experienced a lot of traumatic events in my childhood. So much so that I was in a constant state of dissociation from the time I was eight, until very recently. Fear and anxiety were emotional states that were always humming softly in the background. Save for the times that they made their way front and center to my emotional body. Then I was plunged back into reliving the traumatic emotions I experienced in my youth.

Whenever I stepped foot inside my body, the immediate and intense urge to use a method to self sooth would come crashing in. Drinking coffee and alcohol being two of my go tos, but video games and anti-anxiety meds and other forms of distraction were also outlets I used to sooth. I rarely touched anyone and feared being touched by others due to my lack of trust. Most of my trauma happened at the hands of my caregivers. My body was a place filled with paralyzing fear and horror.

When I started practicing yoga regularly, I had only ever done it once before and it was not a good experience. I went with my sister. I was hungover, in a gym where everybody working out was staring at us, in front of a picture window where harsh rays of sunlight where beating down on us. It was an unforgiving hour.

I’m not sure why I started again after the last experience. But when I began my practice in ernest, it was different in almost every way. I went to the Y, where they had just built a new facility and class was held in the ballet studio. The room was large, spacious and private. There was soft light from LED candles placed around the mirror adorned walls of the studio. Soothing, ambient music was playing quietly in the background while the instructor walked among the students correcting postures with a polite and gentle touch. This was the place I learned that under certain circumstances, I could learn to come home to my body again. To trust myself and others.

Since, I’ve started my own practice at home. It’s been an indispensable way to connect more fully with my senses. I usually burn a candle while I practice, to help to engage more of my awareness and be wholly present in my body. And it’s still tough work. But reconnecting and being present in my body while knowing I’m safe as I am has opened up new ways of staying present with my emotions and learning to trust that safety. My body no longer feels unsafe.

Food was another way to reconnect with myself. My unhealthy relationship with food started almost from day one. I was always overweight growing up. I ate for flavor instead of nutritional value and was never given proper direction on how to cook for myself, or what healthy foods to eat were.

In my teens and twenties, I ate fast food and takeout almost every night and was always drinking beer. At least a six pack a night and my early thirties weren’t much better. I have a sweet tooth too, so I had zero self control when it came to eating sweets. I would eat chocolate almost as much as I drank beer. My family never taught me how to prepare meals, so when I was on my own at 19 I had no idea what I was doing with regards to my nutritional needs. I was completely in the dark when it came to food.

I decided to become vegan about five years ago which I still mostly am. Only on occasion I’ll have dairy when I’m not cooking for myself. On Sundays, I choose a special meal to cook, something different, or something I wouldn’t normally cook for myself as a treat. I go shopping for the ingredients the night before and usually grab a seasonal beer to pair with dinner. I also make a dessert for myself to round out the experience.

My boundaries with food were so poor that I had no appreciation of the food I had been eating. And if I continued to follow that path I would most definitely have developed some health issues. I eat more healthfully now, since becoming vegan, and my self-care dinners have really come to embody the new relationship I’m forging with the ways I’m choosing to nourish my body.

I’m learning to enjoy the food I eat. The process of making something special for myself and the research of finding something that is appealing to me. I’m learning to nourish my body as well as the experience surrounding the food I eat. Replacing the confusion and fear of not knowing how to care for one of my most basic needs with confidence and joy.

Candles and tea are other ways in which I’ve set the tone for my evening meal and post-meal experience. I’ve always enjoyed the ambient lighting provided by candle light, and since a lot of the trauma I experienced happened at night, the cozy setting helps to ease some of the stress the evening sometimes brings.

Tea, herbal is another way to set a relaxing tone to the evening while unwinding after dinner. I had been so used to being wound up from drinking so much caffeine during the day that I needed to drink five to six beers at night just to relax. Herbal tea is a healthy and tasty way for me to wind down at the end of the day. The one beer I have at dinner and the tea I have at night are ways I’m setting healthy boundaries around the ways I handle my stress levels. They are more for taste and enjoyment now, instead of relying on something to calm me down.

And finally, music and sleep. I usually listen to something soothing while eating, without words and I make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep. So I get to bed at a sound hour. Music was the first way I learned to relate to my emotions and listening to music without words helps me to attune to how I’m feeling in the present while setting a relaxing environment, not unlike the yoga studio I would first practice in. While as I’ve said before, much of my trauma happened during the night so getting enough sleep is essential for my emotional well being.

These are the rituals of my self-care Sundays. They have evolved from when I first started practicing them. I plan on changing a few things up after I pay down some debt, but essentially they are ways to attune to my emotional well being. But also reparenting myself around the areas of my life that have been neglected. First by my caregivers, but then by me as I carried on their legacy of abuse and neglect of myself.

I needed to learn how to trust myself again after all I had been through and put myself through. It isn’t easy, but the more I persist and kept showing myself that I’m here, I care, the more trust slowly but surely is taking hold and ease and confidence takes the place of fear and the emptiness that neglect leaves.

And in a way, I’m cultivating hope for the future. Something Tara Brach calls resourcing. I’m now looking forward to my self-care days and rituals. The calm and comfort that I’m cultivating on Sundays I’m now able to call on those feelings and resources throughout the week. Whether I’m in the middle of a busy day at work, or struggling with a tough run, I can call on the good memories of days past or on future plans.

I hope I’ve painted a picture of how I’ve attuned to my needs and maybe inspired some readers to start their own rituals. I’d also like to add that it takes persistence and a little tenacity. As I’ve said above it wasn’t without some struggle, which is counter intuitive to finding ease but feeling at ease isn’t easy. If you are like I was, living with a constant sense of vigilance, relaxing isn’t second nature. So be persistent! It takes time but with a little consistent self-care you’ll be able to attune to your needs and maybe loosen the grip of some fear, whatever form it may be taking. All you need to do is listen inward and show some kindness. Peace :]

Image Credits: “2015-03-18c What do I do for self-care — index card #self-care #happiness #comfort” by sachac is licensed under CC BY 2.0