We were not designed for exercise. We were certainly designed for movement, but not exercise. In our culture exercise has taken on a harsh connotation of militant command: “YOU MUST EXERCISE TO BE HEALTHY! IF YOU DO NOT EXERCISE YOU ARE LAZY AND DESTINED FOR FATNESS WHICH MEANS YOU WILL BE UNHEALTHY, SICK WITH TERRIBLE DISEASE, AND SHAMED FOR YOUR LACK OF SELF-DISCIPLINE AND ABILITY TO CARE FOR YOURSELF.”
So we do one of three things (or cycle through a combination of the three):
1) Muster up the motivation to start an exercise regimen, setting the expectations high with little to no regard for our nature or needs, thus setting ourselves up for failure: “I need to lose _______ pounds, so I will get up at 5:30 am every day and run ________ miles. Maybe I’ll even do a marathon! I’m not a morning person and I hate running and I hate being in the cold and dark, but I can do this!” Three weeks later “I can’t do this. I need my sleep. I am terrible and have no discipline and only fall into bad habits. I am so bad.”
2) Express vehement and righteous hatred for exercise and declare that no one shall ever see us run unless a bear is chasing us. So we don’t even get started because “Meh. Who needs it?”
3) Start a workout regimen and get so obsessed and righteous with it that everyone we know should do it too, regardless of their nature and needs, because it works and that’s how we should all get healthy and we’ll all hold each other accountable and we’ll all love it because we’ll all get skinny, toned, and feel amazing!
When I was at the gym last week I noticed a woman walking on the treadmill. I noticed her because her body was decorated in elaborate butterfly tattoos, which made me think about my Grandma E. who loved butterflies. I clamored onto my elliptical machine (I use this in kindness for my cranky knee), which are lined up behind the treadmills, and I studied the woman from behind. She had a larger body, dark brown hair pulled into a messy bun, a turquoise tank top, black leggings, and leopard print sneakers. If she hadn’t had all the cool butterfly tattoos, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed her strolling along.
Until she started dancing.
Smooth as silk she began to hop-skip in rhythm with her walk stride, which was a mere warm up before she began to spin and twirl to the movement of the music she was clearly hearing in her earbuds. She raised her arms and moved her hands like flowing ribbons in cadence with the easy shimmy-shake of her hips. The treadmill had become her dance partner, a steady and trustworthy support under her moving feet, giving her momentum for her fancy footwork and body movements. Her lips silently formed to the words of the song and her eyes never once focused on keeping balance or wondering what other people might be thinking of her. It was the most beautiful, inspiring, and dare I say, sexiest thing I’ve ever seen at the gym.
She wasn’t done, though. Once the dance was over she raised the treadmill to a steep incline and got in mountain climber position, bending way down to grip either side of the conveyor platform with her hands. Then she climbed, bringing knee to nose, knee to nose. Without warning she began to hop her legs out and in, out and in, like lower body jumping jacks in mountain climber position.
After thoroughly confusing the machine to the point the treadmill was like “MOTION CONTROL UNIDENTIFIED. SYSTEM INITIALIZING.” In other words, “WTF IS HAPPENING!?” She switched to a different treadmill and danced again. When she was all done, she grabbed the journal she had tossed onto the floor behind her machine, kneeled down, and scrawled her thoughts onto the pages… in orange ink. My Grandma E.’s favorite color was orange, which became my favorite color the day she passed away.
This woman wasn’t exercising. She was dancing, enjoying her movement while tuning in with what her body already loved doing. She cared so little about the numbers tracking on the treadmill dashboard that she literally obliterated system stats and used the machine as a tool to assist her in joyful movement.
And this, my friends, is what we’re designed for. Joyful movement. Freedom to move our bodies in a way that feels good to our nature and needs with no regard to regimen, number tracking, programming, and rigid expectations of how we should be moving. As a culture we’ve distorted exercise into this “thing we have to do if we want to be healthy.” You don’t have to exercise to be healthy. Instead, discover movement your body and mind enjoy that make your heart happy, and when you do, health will follow.
If you’ve ever chastised yourself for not sticking with a workout program, it’s not because you’re lazy and undisciplined. You’re likely uninspired and out of tune with how your body actually wants to move. Ditch the regimen (and the unkind self-talk!) and approach yourself with curiosity instead.
What kind of movements do you love? What exercise tends to make you go “ugh”? Answer the question “My body feels great when____?”