How To Build A Positive Relationship With Exercise

In my adolescent years, running a mile in P.E. class felt like dragging my feet through quicksand. In dance, my body was free to move in creative ways, whereas the practice and concept of pounding the pavement — in what felt like endless circles — seemed like a looming dark cloud of doom.

In college, I was inspired by my runner friends and the general splendor of exercising outside by the Santa Barbara beaches, so I decided to cultivate a healthier relationship with various high-intensity workouts. Let’s be honest, my running stride is more of a steady jog and my push-ups are more like slow chaturangas, but the fact that I was able to give HIIT activities another shot counted for something.

It can be easy to get down on ourselves, especially in a society of social media comparison. It can feel discouraging when we witness things like an influencer’s highlight reels, even if we know the pictures represent an idealized perspective of anyone’s reality. How will we ever reach our fitness goals — let alone career, personal, family, or life goals — if we are constantly faced with a never-ending to-do list of self-improvement intentions?

Whether or not we have a regular fitness routine, the best thing we can do is to explore diverse forms of physical activity — just as I do as both a student and teacher to support my ever-evolving yoga practice — and to recognize that this is an ongoing journey. There is a lot of information floating around the interwebs on what to do and how to do it, what to eat and why, and how to look and feel our best. No wonder we are so hard on ourselves — how are we supposed to sustain a practice if tomorrow the media reveals exclusive, newly uncovered, completely conflicting details?

In my experience, and what I think many of us are recognizing, is that these practices and results will vary from person to person. What works for you may not work for your neighbor — just like someone who has gluten sensitivities versus someone who eats bread without complaints. All we can do, as best we can, is to pay attention, feel it out, listen to our bodies, and act accordingly.

Here are a few healthy mindset practices for you to consider for yourself. See how these suit you:

Avoid distractions. First and foremost, says yoga instructor and fitness aficionado Sarah Girard, “Decide what you’re doing before you get to your workout space. Leave your phone behind. You don’t need notifications popping up and distracting you.”

Take a break. Girard has noticed that, from her perspective, “Women do too much cardio, overloading adrenals with too much cortisol and throwing hormones out of balance… In the past year, adding more fat, more rest, and shorter varied cardio (less than 30 minutes, two to three times per week) has made a massive shift in my hormone balance.”

Appreciate yourself. Whether or not you reach your goal, thank yourself just for showing up. The simple intention to give it a shot is wonderful in and of itself.

Be gentle with yourself. So what if you mess up? Try again if you want to, and if not, then try something else until it feels like a better fit.

Do what feels right. This is not about what you “should” do based on what society tells you. This is about what you want to do for your health and what feels best for your body.

Have fun. What a gift to be able to take care of yourself in this way! Why not enjoy the process?

Although exercising is an important component to whole-body health, we must also seriously consider the implications of a generally stressful lifestyle that coincide with our before and after workout practices. One of my most trusted health professionals, Dr. Joshua Kantor of Chill Space NYC, reminds us: “The four basics to maintain health are air, water, food, and sleep. If you neglect any one of those four on a consistent basis, you are inducing more stress into an already stressed system.”

Dr. Kantor advises that we do something every day to soften our stress response. Instead of self-destructive practices like alcohol, medications, an overly-processed diet or obsessive exercise habits, we can adopt simple healthy practices like “deep breathing, exercise, taking a day off, avoiding the internet and news, getting a good night’s sleep, spending time with friends, laughter, meditation, getting outside, etc.”

Take your time, find what works best, and remember to find the joyful moments in this endless experiment. Life’s too short to beat ourselves up physically and mentally. Let’s be our own (and each others’) cheerleaders so we are all empowered to take care of ourselves in our own unique ways.