Something I ask my clients to do is to listen to their bodies. This is not an uncommon phrase – Listen to Your Body. In the Mind Body Eating context, questions to ask of the body might be: What kind of nourishment does it need? How does it want to move? Now I know many people will say to me, only half-joking: “my body needs cake” or “my body doesn’t want to move”. And these answers may not be wrong!
Of course what is really meant by “listening to the body”, is to tune in, to be present IN the body or to be “embodied” as Marc David from the IPE* would say, to notice over time what works or doesn’t work for it. We are only really able to sustain changes or new habits that truly work for us. This is the reason why radical diets and punishing exercise plans seldom last long enough for us to see long-term results.
I started running nearly two years ago. I’d been walking for ages, but I felt that my body needed to move differently. I used a running app to help me get from not being able to run at all to running 5km. There was no timeframe. Although the app promised me I’d go from couch to 5K in 8 weeks, I took my time, repeated days on the program until I felt good and ready to move on. Slow and Steady is my personal motto, so it felt appropriate that it took me a year to be able to run 5km without stopping.
Once I had achieved this goal, I just wanted to settle into it, do it a few times a week until it felt easy. I had no ambition to run further or to enter into running events. I worked a little on improving my time, and generally I enjoyed my runs.
Over the past few months, however, I started finding it more and more difficult to complete 5km without some intermittent walking. There was no physical problem I could put my finger on. My lungs felt fine, and I had no pain, but my body (or was it my mind?) just felt fatigued. I thought that getting plenty of rest during the summer holidays might sort me out, but it just got worse – I started walking more and more in between joyless minutes of running.
A few days ago I noticed all the other people who were running (not walking) along the coastal path here where I’m holidaying. I realised that I had been comparing myself to them over these last few weeks, and also over the past months to friends and acquaintances who run marathons! And instead of getting motivated or inspired, I just felt so inferior for struggling with my “little” 5km run.
Theodore Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy”, and in this moment I agreed. Some people challenge this idea, explaining that we can actually find our humanity and gratitude through comparison (here, for example). I agree that it can. And I have also seen the damage comparison can do when it comes from a place of low self-esteem, when it can lead to feeling “less-than”, not good enough. I had not been enJOYing my running, even though I like exercise, because I was trying to do exercise like someone else, instead of doing what my own body wants. Comparison had indeed stolen my joy.
Listening to my body two years ago about how it needed to move lead me to running, but then I got caught up in the measuring and pushing that running culture sometimes encourages. And I stopped listening!
So when a few days ago I wondered how I could get back to loving exercise instead of dreading my run, I asked myself these questions:
Why do you exercise? Answer: for the health of my body and my mind, and for the joy of moving.
What do you want from your work-out? Answer: to keep my heart rate up and to keep breathing.
Are you training for a marathon? Answer: No.
What is wrong with intermittent running and walking? Answer: nothing!
Today I had the best workout I’ve had in ages. I did my own thing. I walked and I ran. I didn’t care what everyone else were doing. I was present in my body, breathing and sweating, and loving the music in my ears, the smell of the ocean, and the glorious feeling of the sun and the sea breeze on my skin!