Let's Get Physical!
Now, for once, when I say 'physical', I'm not talking about sex - I'm talking about the long term relationship that has always given me the 'ick' - exercise. (Though...that being said, sex is a wonderful form of cardio! Plus it boosts your immune system, improves sleep hygiene and reaching regular orgasm works as a natural pain relief! So if any of you are reaching for an Anadin right now, maybe wait half an hour, give yourself some 'TLC' where it counts and let mother nature shoot her shot first!)
But when it comes to the more family-friendly exercise, for me it certainly wasn't love at first sight. I liked to dance with my friends, but that wasn't being sold to me as 'exercise'. As a child, the one universal message the world was giving me was that 'exercise is a painful, exhausting, sweaty practice that you must endure if you want to look attractive'. For most of my childhood and teens I avoided it because, generally speaking, I was quite happy with the way that I looked, and when I was feeling insecure, I would rather not eat than partake in that cut-throat sweat-fest that seemed to only be done by people that were already good at it. During PE there weren't really options for different appropriate levels, and the lesson was not to listen to your body, but to blindly follow guidance on target numbers and keep up with the class or die trying.
When I got to high-school you could choose your own 'games' options (I think perhaps they couldn't stomach telling the lie of calling what they did 'physical education', there was nothing educational about it). Me and my friends took the coasting options: we signed up for long distance running and went to the pub when we were out of sight, we stood still on either end of a badminton net gossiping and vaguely feigned playing when the coach looked our way, and we splashed around in the shallow end of the swimming pool drinking coke from the vending machine and trying not to gawp at the Italian stud from two years above doing laps.
One option that was available was actually called 'Bikini Boot Camp'. It was only available to girls, and consisted of an intensive 6 week program in the lead up to the summer holidays in which insecure teenage girls were encouraged to over-work their bodies (and their self-esteem!) for the promise of looking like the women on the telly in time for the holidays. This is an extreme example, but all over the world children are being told that their bodies should be bullied into being lovable, its influence is ubiquitous, and it's heart-breaking.
But since I've become ill, I thought me and exercise should give it another go for the sake of that little girl making up dance routines with her best friend, who didn't realize that that was exercise. There was a love there, and it's one worth rekindling. I'm telling myself all the things that the child I was deserved to hear - that moving your body has nothing to do with how it looks. That my body already looks beautiful. That every curve and ripple and fold and scar and stretch mark is perfect, and deserves to be cuddled and kissed and told so every day. Exercise is actually as important as we were told, but for different reasons, and in a very different way.
Exercise is this wonderful tool we have to boost our mood, our energy levels, our focus and our health. If you're feeling down or stressed, maybe your body is telling you that it wants to have a stretch or a play and get some attention. And it is supposed to feel good. It is supposed to be silly and playful - yes, you're supposed to push yourself, but not to the point where your leaving tearful or completely dripping in sweat and so sore that you struggle to move.
The girls leaving Bikini Boot Camp were collapsed on the grass, barely able to breathe and thinking that was a good thing! They left only having worked the parts of their body that they thought would benefit their waist line or bottom, and overworking those areas to a dangerous degree. In contrast, now when I do a little Pilates in my living room or practice my physio, I finish with little flushed cheeks, a big smile, and more energy than I started with. I go easy on myself, I'm learning about what my body needs and how it likes to move, what works for my condition and how to relieve my pain. I set small, achievable goals and I know when to ignore them too.
My mood and my energy have become more stable and lifted, I'm loving my body for how it is now instead of how it could look, and I'm going to bed proud of myself that I'm looking after myself in a way that I deserve.
(For anyone who, like me, can't follow the superwomen on the fitness apps, think about making your own routine, maybe starting with some seated positions and increase the intensity slowly if you feel like that's appropriate - and always remember to congratulate yourself, even when you fail or quit!) And if you're looking for a good place to start on your journey to starting healthier exercise habits, remember you can always start by being a little more lively between the sheets!
I will fill you in properly about my date with Victor the Venerable Vegan next week, but SPOILER: I really fancy him! In the meantime, roll out those yoga mats or find your favourite piece of erotica...and give your body some lovin' in a way that feels right!