Our Society Is Addicted To Exercise: Here’s How You Can Exercise Mindfully
Yes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I would know; I used to be an exercise addict. But I was never aware of it until recently. Many of us don’t realize we are doing it, but the way we are taught to exercise in our society is addictive, unnatural, and unsustainable. Exercise is seen as something we “have to” do, not something we want to do.
Check Your Intention
When I was in college, I would run several miles each weekend, as well as during the week, in order to combat the stress I was under with school and various life circumstances. The running seemed to be a healthy outlet for me to manage my stress, given the alternative coping mechanisms I could have been using.
Plus, there were some girls in college who I would see at the gym all the time. They had that unnaturally thin look about them. You could tell they were struggling with some sort of eating disorder. I wasn’t one of those girls; so, compared to them, I thought the exercise I was doing was healthy. It wasn’t so much the running or the amount of running that I was doing that was unhealthy – it was the intention behind it. I ran, not because I enjoyed it, but because I loved the “runner’s high” I got when I finished a run. I actually really disliked the act of running itself. Sometimes I would have a “good” run, but most of the time I just liked the feeling I got when the run was over – that feeling of accomplishment I got from completing a difficult task, combined with the endorphins that come flooding in afterward.
How it Becomes Addictive
The endorphins, I have realized, are there to help manage pain! They are similar chemicals to those that people who use opioids experience to numb out physical pain. They can become addictive, and we can begin to depend on them if we don’t have other ways to manage stress and pain in our lives.
In terms of brain function, when I ran, I was activating the reward system for completing a difficult task, as well as the opiate/pain management system; creating a powerful cocktail of chemicals that created the runner’s high. Exercise, of course, is also linked to self-image in our society. This only adds another layer of complication to the way exercise is used, not only as a tool to maintain health but as a way to fit into impossible societal standards. Our brains become doubly rewarded when we exercise, based on how they are wired for survival to want to fit in with others. But it is not sustainable, and it seems we are never able to do enough…
So, how can we find a more sustainable and balanced exercise practice that fits into our lifestyle? Can exercise actually be enjoyable? After experiencing a spiritual awakening and undergoing massive amounts of healing and transformation in my own life, I’ve discovered that it is not only possible to enjoy exercise, but I actually lost 25 pounds in the process. I wasn’t even trying to lose weight– it just happened. Here are some tips I have for sustainable, healthy, and enjoyable exercise:
Find an Activity that You Enjoy
For me, it took some exploration, but I discovered that I really liked hiking, dancing, walking, and surfing. For you, it could be that you genuinely enjoy running, and if that’s the case, keep it up! When we do exercises that we don’t enjoy just for the sake of exercising, we are actually creating a lot of resistance, and resistance will never allow us to lose weight or maintain optimal health if that is our desired outcome.
Listen to Your Body
Your body was designed perfectly for optimal functioning. The only thing you need to do to take care of it is to do more of what makes you feel good, in a balanced way. We are taught to ignore that inner voice in favor of what we “should” be doing. But the inner voice is actually how your body communicates with you. If your body does not want to exercise, listen to it. Never force yourself to do something you don’t want to do. That will only create more resistance in your life, and life will feel more like a struggle. Surrender to your body’s desires. We might be afraid that if we rest one day, we will never want to exercise again. But that’s just not the truth. When we rest, we actually allow our energy to build up, to the point where you will want to exercise again because you’ll have so much energy you need to get out!
Try Something New
This could be anything from rock climbing and skateboarding, something you may have been interested in but were too afraid to try. Maybe it’s trying some Eastern approaches to exercise such as T’ai Chi, Qigong, or yoga, exercises that were designed to work with the body instead of against it. You’ll never know what you like until you try.
Notice How Your Body Feels Before, During, and After Exercise
When we take the time to be mindful of our exercise practice, we can more easily learn about ourselves and improve our practice. This is what I did with running, for example. I noticed that I personally did not feel good while I ran. I tended to escape into my mind because it did not feel good being in my body. The goal of exercise should not be to lose weight, relieve stress, or any other external reasons. It should be to get more in touch with the body and to take loving care of it.
Spend Time in Nature
If possible, combine exercise with getting outside. Spending time in nature has so many benefits that it makes sense to try to combine the two. This could be anything from taking a hike, going surfing, doing yoga in a park, or taking a walk through your neighborhood. Exercise has now become my friend instead of the bane of my existence, or simply a way to reduce stress in my life. I truly look forward to exercising when I do it, and I have to say, my body looks healthier than ever before. I challenge you to become more mindful with your own exercise practice.
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