TW: brief bit about eating disorders
At School I hated exercise. It was always competitive. Any team related sports made me want to hide in the toilets. Luckily, teachers randomly sorted us into teams, otherwise I would have probably been one of the people who was last to be picked. Even my love for swimming was dampened because of the focus to speed up.
There was nothing said about how exercise makes you feel. For some, the competitiveness of sport works in their favour. For me, exercise has always felt like a chore. When the pandemic hit, and slightly before this, my workouts became solely about losing weight.
Rather than treating my body with the love and kindness it deserved, I was attacking it for not fitting the unrealistic ideals society promotes. I became miserable. No matter how much or how little exercise I did, I would constantly beat myself up for not trying hard enough.
To my body, I am sorry for treating you with such un-kindness. I am sorry for getting trapped in the toxic world of diet culture. I am learning how to move for fun. Rather than punishing you, I have decided to give you joy.
As I write this, I am reminded of the first time I really found joy in cycling. Whilst travelling on my own in Taiwan, there were a couple of days where I hired a bike and went off exploring. Being on my own, riding a bike, allowing myself to get lost, gave me time to clear my head and gave me a different outlook on what it means to feel free. I remember at one point the heavens opened – I was soaked through and didn’t care because in that moment I felt gloriously happy.
A couple of weekends ago the sun was shining outside, and in the spur of the moment I dusted off my bike and took it for it’s first spin of the year. There was no goal for speed or how far I would go. Many cyclists overtook me and I didn’t care. I also stopped and took a break whenever I wanted to. It felt so good to cycle for fun; to free wheel down a hill and just enjoy the ride.
This year, I once again started 30 days of Yoga with Adriene. I am a huge fan of Adriene. She reminds you to do everything at your own pace, and offers different variations of poses. She doesn’t berate you for taking a break when you need it and will often sing your praises for just turning up to the matt. I also love that she randomly bursts into song half way through the practice. Oh, and how could I forget Benji; the most adorable, chilled out dog ever!
Adriene does a 30 day yoga series each year via her YouTube channel. I did the 2020 one, slowly, throughout the UK’s first lockdown. Going into a third lockdown at the start of 2021 felt like a good time to pick up this year’s 30 day yoga journey. It was going well until I got a random virus and was sofa/bed bound for two weeks. I had completed day 8 before this, but decided to start from the beginning. I’m glad I did because my body had been so weakened by the virus, I struggled just trying to get into dog pose.
On day 25, the theme is Love. Adriene reminds me that doing yoga should also be about having fun. I love the feeling of my body opening up after a day sat in front of a screen. I love noticing how I am becoming stronger. I love that I don’t beat myself up for not doing yoga daily. By not forcing myself, I feel good when I’ve done it and actually find myself on the mat more often than the period when I was pushing myself to do it.
There is something so freeing about swimming in open water. For a while all my troubles float away. When I immerse myself in cold water, after the initial shock, I feel like I am coming alive.
Last summer, swimming was the only way I could move without punishing my body. The previous year I had got back into swimming by training to do a 2km outdoor swim. For this I wore a wetsuit, but getting back into the water again last summer, I knew the wetsuit was no longer going to fit. Unable to take part in swimming events – for obvious, global pandemic reasons – I decided to just enjoy the summer, swimming in outdoor spots whenever I was able to.
Being forced to slow down with swimming helped me find a way to swim that I now adore. Not that I regret taking part in a swimming event; it was an amazing experience and I was also able to re-learn how to swim front crawl in a straight light, without losing breath (pretty handy technique). But from last summer, I realised that I love to take in the scenery and my surroundings whilst I’m in the water. The slower pace suits me better, where training caused more stress. I love how calm immersing myself in cold water makes me feel and can’t wait to back in nature really soon.
What do you do to move with joy?
Also, read my original inspiration for the post by my mate, Alice, who eloquently describes moving (and shaking) with joy.