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This November, we’re going to be talking about exercise, movement, activity. Last week we talked about intuitive eating. We’ll continue some of that conversation here today with intuitive exercise. The idea is the same, only instead of talking about our food choices, we’re considering our movement choices. Specifically, I’d like to share with you what I learned from doing yoga daily for 6 months, and what I’ve learned from almost stopping in the past 10 months.
My yoga story
At the very end of May last year, I decided to do yoga. I was in a difficult place emotionally, and I had heard that yoga was supposed to be helpful. I did an intro to yoga class when I was in university, so I knew a little bit. I found someone who I liked on YouTube (Yoga with Adrienne), and I had done a few of her videos in the past. She has a series called 30 days of yoga that she recorded back in 2015, and I decided that was where I’d start1. So every morning for 30 days, I would get up, put on something I could move in, and put on the next video. I enjoyed it so much that I kept going. If I was out of town, I would bring my yoga mat and do whatever felt right. When I was at home, I would follow a video.
Then about 6 months later, at Christmas, I didn’t. We went out of town to visit family for the day and left early, so I didn’t do it before we left, and I didn’t do it when we got back. Since then, I still do yoga from time to time, but I haven’t had a streak longer than 10 days. More recently, I have been “on the mat” about 6 times in a month. And even those are just stretching instead of something that feels like yoga.
What was great about doing yoga every day
What I love about yoga is that it has such a wide range of intensity. You could do a very gentle session where you don’t feel like you’re really working your muscles, or you could do a very intense session where it makes you sweat. Both ends of the spectrum, and everything in the middle, can be yoga. This is what makes it possible to do it every day. If you’re sick or sore or tired, you stick to the gentler end, and if you feel more like challenging yourself you can do that too.
I found that I got a lot stronger. I noticed muscle groups that I had never thought about before, especially in my upper arms and shoulders. As I got stronger and felt more confident that I could do the yoga poses, I wanted to challenge myself more.
My posture got a lot better. I noticed myself standing differently, without even trying. I felt like I was an inch taller. I felt more confident as I moved through my whole day.
I gained a lot of flexibility. I was never able to touch my toes with my legs out straight. Even in grade 3 when I joined a dance class, I couldn’t do it. But at some point along those 6 months of yoga, I was able to gain a lot of flexibility. I could now bend down and touch my toes.
I started meditating at the same time. Right after I went through my yoga session, I would set a timer and do a seated meditation. I felt better able to notice and name the emotions that I felt during the meditation and throughout my day.
What happened since I stopped my daily yoga practice.
When I was no longer doing yoga daily, at first I was still doing it at least 3 or 4 days a week. I still felt good and felt the same benefits.
Then I got a puppy. For a couple months, he wasn’t able to make it through the night without a trip outside. So I was much more tired in the morning, but the puppy wasn’t. He didn’t know to come to me when I called him so I couldn’t let him run off-leash, and I certainly don’t run. So that meant after our walk, I’d have to sit on the floor inside and play with him, not that I really minded. But it meant that I ran out of time to do yoga before work.
Now that I do have time for yoga, because the puppy can run off-leash during our walk, I haven’t started back up. And I’ve noticed a few things.
I’m nearly as strong in some ways, but less in others. I feel less stable especially when I’m transitioning between poses, so my core is less strong. But with all the walking I do, my legs are just as strong as before.
My muscles are much tighter and I have lost some of the flexibility I had at the end of those 6 months. I have to bend my knees a little more to touch my toes.
What does yoga have to do with intuitive exercise?
For me, yoga was a keystone habit2 for intuitive exercise. When I did yoga every day, I had a daily reminder of how good it feels to move my body and use my muscles and challenge myself. After I tapped into some intuitive movement first thing in the morning, I would to do it throughout the day. I would get up and stretch from my desk more often. I’d notice the tightness in my neck and stretch it out. I would notice my back was tight from sitting and I’d walk around for a bit.
So what’s the point of this whole story?
1. Intuitive exercise or Intuitive movement is enough.
Our bodies feel better when we move. Stiff joints and muscles loosen as we move. The more you do, the more you want to do. That said, not everyone needs to run an ultra-marathon or lift 500 pounds. If you like pushing your limits, then maybe you’re like my husband and working towards extreme goals is for you. But maybe you’re like me and just want to do yoga, walk, and do the occasional canoe trip or hike.
In both cases, you can use the idea of intuitive exercise. You can pay attention to how the exercise or movement makes you feel. You can learn when to push it, and when to rest, based on how your body feels and responds.
2. Intuitive exercise lets you get started.
Starting with the expectation that you will honour the signals from your body allows you to actually get started. You don’t have the fear that a “no pain, no gain” workout would cause. You don’t need to fear that you’ll get hurt because you are paying attention to how you feel and you can stop before an injury happens.
3. Intuitive exercise can still be done when you are injured
And even if you do strain a muscle, you can still keep moving the next day. You can be extra gentle with that muscle group and let it rest, but keep going in the ways that you still can. If you have pain when you move in a certain way, you don’t have to do that movement. You can adjust the range of motion. You can adjust the speed, frequency, or intensity of the movement.
4. Intuitive movement is more than exercise.
It is getting up from your desk when you notice you are sore. It is stretching or doing some quick exercises or going for a walk. It is a continuous practice throughout the day. It is about listening to the signals from all parts of your body that will tell you when to move and when to rest.
If you are tuned into intuitive movement, your body will also send you signals that it is time to move. You may have heard about new studies suggesting that sitting for long periods of time are not good for the body. But even without that research, we know that we don’t feel good after sitting all day. This is a gentle approach to reducing that sitting time.
5. Find something you enjoy and that makes you feel good.
For me, it is yoga. I also enjoy walking and canoeing. But yoga makes me feel powerful. I feel more confident, stronger, and more grounded. If you don’t know what that thing is for you, try them all.
Brainstorm all the types of movement you can think of, and whether you can do them on your own or with others. Then pick one. Whichever one your eyes gravitate to, or flip a coin. Then try it.
You might know right away that it’s you new favorite thing or that you hate it. Chances are good that you’ll feel a little uncertain about whether or not you like it. In that case, I’d suggest committing to it for 1 month.
At the end of the month, you’ll know whether you want to do it for another month or not. If not, go back to your list and pick another. You might find something that you love to do each and every day. It might change over time or you might want to switch it up every month.
6. Life changes. Change with it.
As your circumstances change, you’re habits need to shift. If you suddenly don’t have the time and energy to do your morning exercise, you have a choice. You could find a different type of movement, or you could find a different time to exercise.
Either way, be compassionate. You might find down the road that it is actually really important for you to do yoga first thing in the morning there’s no reason to be upset that you stopped. Find a way to shift things around or take advantage of another life change.
7. Habits can shift or disappear even when you enjoy them
A habit that you have done for months or years can be broken, even when it is something you enjoy and is good for you. It is easy to let things fall away. I’m not trying to scare you away from trying to make habits (that would go against the mission of this blog!). I’m am encouraging you to be compassionate when this happens to you.
An example of compassionate self-talk
I could have felt guilty or angry or shameful. At first, I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t realize how little yoga I was doing. Then when I did, I made excuses. I said it wasn’t important. I said I didn’t have time. When I starting thinking about how I would start writing about the practice to “move”, I was able to think a different way.
I got curious. I thought about why I stopped the daily habit. I acknowledged that when I was still doing yoga 3 or 4 times a week I still felt good about it. So doing yoga every day felt less important than when I first started.
I reassured myself that, of course, I would not feel able to do yoga every morning when I had a little puppy waking me up at night. Of course, I would not be able to do yoga for 30 minutes at once because the puppy would get bored and get into trouble. It is what life is like with a little puppy. I was able to let go of the excuses, because I didn’t need to make any to myself. I did the best I could at the time.
Now the question becomes, “What is most compassionate thing I could do going forward?” I decided that would be to refocus on doing the yoga every day. Not because I must. Not because I need the exercise. Because it feels good. Because I enjoy it. Because I miss having yoga in my life.
Now that I’ve made this decision, I will still need compassion. I may still take a couple of attempts to bring yoga back as a daily practice. I know that by putting this on the blog, I’ll naturally feel some obligation to do it. I’ll need to be aware of that and I’ll want to ensure that I am practicing self-care by letting go of the need to please you. If my yoga practice becomes an obligation, rather than an expression of self-care, I’ll lose the point of it. For me, it is about self-care. It is about showing up for myself and getting the blood flowing into my muscles. It is about feeling strong and confident. But most of all, it is about connecting to myself, my body, and my intuition.
Intuitive exercise is about using your intuition to choose how and when you move. Our bodies and our minds feel better when we are active. So let’s find a way to be curious and compassionate as we build movement that we love into our lives.
Let me know what you thought of this article. I’d love to hear your experiences and your reactions to these ideas.
- I found it super easy to follow, so it’s always where I tell my friends to start. :)
- James Clear has a great article on keystone habits. A keystone habit is one that makes it easier to do other habits