What we get wrong about exercise

Reflecting on what I shared last week about burnout recovery with exercise as an example (Read here if you missed it ), I realized something was missing.


Over my 17 years as a group fitness instructor and now 13 as a yoga teacher, if there is one thing I have learned about exercise it’s this:  not all exercise is created equal.  This doesn’t mean that in general some form of exercise are better than others.  What it means is that the exercise that will work best for you is unique to you - your biology, biography, and current circumstances.


For example, I started running daily in college and did so through my 20s.  While the running helped some, it was hard on my body.  And maybe at the time, it was what I needed to deal with the depressive episode in my early 20s.  However, by the time I hit 30 my anxiety was at an all time high and my body hurt - my feet hurt, my hips hurt, and my knees hurt.  So, I shifted.  I still exercised intensely, but did other things instead of running.  And while that helped my body feel good again (no more pain!), I still felt super anxious.  It wasn’t until I shifted to only one intense workout every week or two with weight lifting and moderate cardio the other days and yoga mixed in, that my anxiety calmed down to a more functional level.


So how do you know what type of exercise is right for you?


There are some ideas about this within Ayurveda (a holistic medicine approach from India that is a sister science of yoga).  Since I’m not a trained Ayurvedic practitioner, I can’t say much about that.  What I can share is that we all have a constitution or “dosha” (i.e., our body make up) that tends to indicate what exercise may be the most helpful.  Those that can shift if we have an aggravation in one of the doshas.  For more on this check out this very brief article.  If you are interested in determining your dosha, this is a quiz for it that I have found useful and accurate.


While Ayurveda can help direct us to try out exercise that fits our dosha, that may or may not be what we need at exactly this time in our lives or it may not be something we enjoy.


The answer?  Experiment and pay attention.


Try out different forms of movement (or as a client of mine likes to say “body blessings”).  Notice how you feel before (e.g., excited or motivated, dreading it, somewhere in between), during, immediately after, and both throughout the day and the next day or so.  Perhaps track it in a journal.  Then, review what you have learned about yourself.


Maybe on days when you are tired you are the type of person who needs some lighter yoga or a stroll in nature or perhaps you need a run to “wake up” and feel energetic.  Perhaps when you feel anxious or stressed a run or dancing helps you release it or perhaps you need to get some yoga in your body.


As you pay attention to your movement experiment, try to get a sense for what types of regular exercise/movement/body blessings nourish your body and help you feel good and do those while they work for you.  If that ever shifts (e.g., as you age, while pregnant, going through menopause, raising young kids, being retired), then experiment again with a focus on what truly helps you feel good.


In our society, so often we want someone to just tell us what to do.  But the thing is, rarely does someone else know what we really need.  Further, most of us (at least for me) don’t like to be told what to do.  While it seems like it would help, a lot of times being told what to do with our bodies can be met with resistance (which can be a good thing).  So for this, I’m sharing a quote to ponder:


“Anything you want to ask a teacher, ask yourself, and wait for the answer in silence.”

~Byron Katie



Deep down, you know what you really need.  Try to be still and quiet enough to hear it.


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