Exercising Intuitively

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I don’t know about you, but I spent years under the “No pain, no gain” spell. I exercised and “worked out” regardless of my internal or external conditions. I often felt those uplifting endorphins, but the high always faded. I never felt much peace, calm, or confidence in its wake because I was terrified to skip a day, rest, or modify according to my body’s messages.

It wasn’t about what I loved to do or how my body wanted to move. It was about trying to fit into the culture and whatever size clothing I deemed acceptable at the time. It wasn’t about communing with nature or connecting with my body. It was about burning calories, carbs, and fat.

Then I would reap what I’d been promised: happiness, confidence, health, love, and approval. The only problem was that the promises were never delivered. Maybe for a minute as I soaked up all the compliments about having so much “willpower” and “discipline.” But I lived in constant fear of veering off my rigid schedule.

Eventually, I learned that the cultural programming around movement and rest was seriously faulty and outdated. With help, readiness, and willingness, I made a major upgrade. I began to ask my body, rather than my mind, how it wanted to move and rest. And I listened.

I couldn’t decipher my answers at first because asking my body what it wanted was so new. Plus, the soft inner knowing was drowned out by my internal drill sergeants’ regimens and rules. If our minds are congested with traffic, we’re not likely to hear our hearts grounded wisdom. It takes courage and lots of practice to weed through the brambles of our brainwashed minds and decipher our body’s wisdom. But it’s in there. We are born with it.

One day, while I was on a lovely walk in the forest, I was sadly reminded of our cultural brainwashing. The trail I was on was virtually silent, so it was impossible to miss the conversation of two joggers passing by. They were in the midst of a conversation that went something like this:

Jogger one: “I hate running. Every part of my body hurts.”

(Just to be crystal clear, this was said while running!)

Jogger two: “I know. I feel so much better when I walk, but I’m afraid I’ll end up looking like my mother if I don’t run.”

Jogger one: “I feel great when I walk, too. Nothing hurts. When I run, my knees hurt, my hips hurt, my back hurts, everything hurts.”

And then they were gone. I could almost see the invisible whip at their dusty heels.

Wait! I wanted to call after them. If you hate running, you don’t have to run. You need love and reassurance not cardio you hate. You can slow down. You can listen to your body’s wisdom. That’s what intuition is. That’s why we have it. 

So, how about you? Are you adhering to the cultural rules at the expense of your body’s needs and desires? Are you forcing yourself to exercise in ways you don’t even like or ways that actually cause your body harm? Are you rebelling from all the pressure and finding it hard to move at all? Are you ready for an internal upgrade?

How about asking your body how and when it wants to move and rest? After years of being ignored, your intuition might be timid, but the more you ask, the clearer it gets. As you experiment with listening, you may experience some fear. There’s an element of unknown prior to change. You can welcome and tolerate being emotionally uncomfortable and still treat yourself with kindness and respect. You can learn first-hand that emotions pass and old beliefs can be updated. You can get support from someone who understands. You can learn how to befriend your body and have a healthy relationship with pleasurable movement and fulfilling rest. You do not have to forsake your body in order to get love. You can learn how to love yourself and get what you were looking for all along.

View on Psychology Today

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