I was an artistic kid and an only child. I would spend hours alone painting, singing, writing stories and playing dress-ups with my dog. I was never bored in my own company and never lonely. Not once in all my years of playing by myself did I feel the urge to go for a jog or rip out a sprint. My heart was just not drawn in that direction.
To my misfortune I was not a skinny child. There are kids who are skinny and kids who are not and oftentimes, kids from both camps can be non-sporty. The problem is that the non-sporty, naturally skinny kids do not get singled out and told “Hmmm, you’re chubby, you should really go for a run around the field!” The naturally skinny kids get a free pass. They get to own their non-sportiness and get on with the shit they actually enjoy; whatever that may be. In their stratosphere, they are not made to feel guilty for not having the urge to go for bike ride. They are not made to feel unhealthy because they would rather read a book.
For years I made myself exercise because I felt bad for not wanting to. I tried to force myself into playing team sports and even tried to tell myself I enjoyed it. I didn’t. Team sports amongst teenage girls are cruel and vicious. If you missed a goal or dropped the ball, you had a whole team of people to rip you down over it.
I was taught early on that being not-skinny was not good enough, so it’s little wonder I had issues with my weight. By my late teens I was eating very little and forcing myself to endure hours of exercise each day. All in a bid to achieve some kind of correctness. I’d wake each morning dreading all of the exercise I would have to do. A walk, a yoga class, another walk then a swim. But is it enough? I’d wonder. When will it ever be enough? I spiralled into an anxious depression that emanated from a sense that I was not good enough.
It wasn’t until after I had children that I finally made peace with my body and soothed my relationship with exercise. Ironically, my body was far from the taut teenage figure I had deemed not good enough. I was puffy and stretchy but finally, I loved all of me. This not-skinny body had birthed two beautiful boys! It had fed them and nourished them and snuggled them when they were sad. My magical body looked nothing like the genetic 1% we see in the media but I didn’t care.
Slowly I started to exercise again. Not to reach a goal. Not to be something different than what I was. But to honour the body I had. I loved this vessel of mine, so now I needed to keep it healthy and treat it well.
So how do you force yourself to exercise when you don’t like gyms or you can’t stand the thought of jogging? The trick is not to force yourself at all. Find something you like doing and do it.
I love swimming. I love the feel of my body gliding through the water. I love the silence in my ears and the sound of my breath bubbling out of my nose underwater. I swim because it’s fun and calming. I like to lift weights; it makes me feel strong in my body. I like to do yoga; it calms my mind and stretches my muscles. I like walking in a sunny day or riding my bright yellow bike with my kids. I like running after geese and jumping waves at the beach. Some people like dancing, some people like kung-fu, others like table tennis and spin classes and burlesque and pole dancing. Do what you love. Do something fun! It doesn’t have to be about a goal. It can be about the moment. Use exercise as a mindfulness practice. Slow your mind and feel your body.
Despite finding something you like doing, there are always going to be days that you don't feel like doing it. And sometimes there are valid reasons for this - heavily menstruating, exhausted, unwell etc. But there are also times where we don't know what's good for us. The trick is to learn the difference between being really not up to it and when you're self sabotaging. Yes! Our inner voice may tell us we're better off watching bravo and eating chips than exercising, but it's lying! Usually it's when we just 'can't be fucked' that we need to exercise the most!
Exercise is a necessary evil. It must be done if you want to live a good happy life. If you get down in the dumps, feel flat and blah, get bad PMS and don’t sleep well, you NEED to exercise. Just do it.