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The Thing That Almost Killed Me Is Bringing Me Back To Myself

I have a long and complicated relationship with exercise. When I was in my 20’s I started to train hard, like really hard, for Marathons, Triathlons, 5k’s, 10k’s, races running up mountains. And I would get my heart up really high and keep it there for a really long time.

Then I got sick and couldn’t train any more. Really sick, like I had to quit my job sick. That was over 17 years ago. I have struggled with exercise ever since. A big part of me wants to do it for good reasons – because I love it. And for not so good reasons - because I want to keep my body looking a certain way.

But since I got “sick” I have had difficulty tolerating exercise although I have continued to try with varying levels of success and frustration. I had the hugest revelation recently. Although I haven’t run in a few years I tried running recently (in an effort to keep up with my kids and dogs.) And I tried something different – Firstly, I talked to myself the whole time. I said things like, “you’re ok.” (In that tone of voice that Amy on the TV show Heartland uses when calming down her spooked horses.) And secondly, I kept my awareness on the sensations in my body, like the whole time. And I found that I tolerated the exercise in a way that I haven’t in 17 years! This is huge for me you guys!

But what I realized is that I’ve never tried to exercise with my awareness on my body. I remember when I was training so hard all those years ago, I had the conscious thought that I could not “be in my body” when I was training because it hurt too much, and I wouldn’t be able to push myself hard enough. I would always distract myself with a podcast or an audio book. Or I would be in my head thinking about how hard I needed to try to achieve whatever goal I was trying to reach which had nothing to do with how my body felt.

So now for the VERY FIRST TIME EVER – I am actually “in my body” when I run. Not in my thinking brain (although of course my thoughts wander,) and not distracted by something in my earbuds. And sometimes it doesn't feel good exactly, but because I am feeling my body, I KNOW I am ok, and I tell myself that. I feel and I reassure.

Something very interesting is happening. Firstly, I am tolerating it without getting sick which for me is HUGE. But something else is happening too. I have found that my body image is changing. Although I have gained a bunch of weight during the pandemic, I feel better about my body than I have ever before. I think it’s because I am actually feeling my body rather than being stuck in my mind’s perception of my body. I am appreciating my body for what it can do, rather than how it looks. And this may sound odd, but I am building a trusting and loving relationship between me and my body.

Here is what I now do while exercising.

1. I put my awareness on (notice, feel) whatever sensation is the strongest in my body as I am running. For me that is usually my chest and throat.

2. I Assess that I am within a “safe” intensity range (even if the sensations are uncomfortable.)

3. I reassure myself that I am “ok” (in that tone of voice used with spooked horses.)

4. I try to maintain my awareness on the sensations arising in my body.

5. When I realize that my mind has wondered to a thought, which it always does, I gently bring my awareness back to the sensations that are most prominent in my body and repeat steps 2-4.

I invite you to take off your ear buds and try to get into your body next time you are exercising. That's a good time to build mind body awareness because sensations are heightened, and it is easier to feel.

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