Guest Post: Learning to Listen to My Body


women resting and in touch with body Today we present a guest post by Green Mountain alum, Julia Newman, on letting go of rules around exercise and learning to listen to her body. At one point, Julia only used exercise as another diet, her activities guided by rules and mired in measurements. Needless to say, it wasn’t enjoyable or sustainable. Today, Julia has a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship with fitness, one that meets the needs of HER body. For food and fitness, our bodies will tell us what we need if we learn how to listen. Find out how she did it.  

CrossRamp It Up!

It was so serendipitous and funny last week when, in an improv class exercise, I was assigned a partner, put on stage with said partner and told to discuss…wait for it…exercise. Someone in the class had shouted it out as an impetus for me and my partner’s moment in the limelight.

A summation of my history with exercise: did sports all the way through high school, dropped it all together during college, became the Gym Rat Queen of the Western Hemisphere during my years of anorexia (we’re talkin’ up to six hours a day of cardio), and have maintained a somewhat healthy relationship with the recumbent bike over the past few years. Moderate exercise, but not always.

So, I was on stage complete with the knowledge that the first rule of Improv is don’t lie. The second being, don’t try to be funny. I had to launch into a conversation, reveal my somewhat unhealthy and crazed relationship with exercise and not make fun of myself in the process, my usual defense mechanism. I survived, and it actually felt good to let the class know about some of the ‘real’ Julia.

While trying to find the happy medium with exercise, I’ve learned quite a lot. I’ve had to change my ideas and concepts and let go of some of the (arbitrary) rules that had seared themselves on my mind.

For a long time I felt controlled by those rules. Exercise only counts when it’s done in a gym. Cardio over weight training, always. Go 100% or don’t go at all.

It’s been a challenge to change those ideas. But the only way to do that is to actually change the behavior. I think with a lot of the fears that we have, whether they’re about exercise or not, have to be lived through in order to be rethought. I actually had to change up my exercise routine in order to believe that the world wouldn’t end if I went a day without a trip to the gym.

Getting to the nuts and bolts of the actual exercise, the greatest lesson I’ve learned and still apply is the concept of interval training. And it took a lot of practice for me to get there. For so long I had that all-or-nothing thinking that if I wasn’t going it at 100% than I might as well just go buy out the Kashi supply at all the local grocery stores. There are so many lies we tell ourselves in order to stay in our familiar box of pain.

It’s taken time, but I no longer get on the elliptical and immediately put the ramp up to ten and the resistance somewhere around 8. In fact, I never go above 5 on the ramp, and my workouts have felt much more fulfilling. All those years of going it at it like an automaton were years of hiding and shaming by body. That aggressive movement was just another way to numb away the mind/body connection. I didn’t get the endorphins, I was miserable.

Just like with hunger, listening to your body during a workout is essential. Slowing down for even a few minutes can actually give your body the bit of rest it needs to keep going. ANYONE can be an athlete. ANYONE can experience those endorphins that ebb and flow during a workout. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to know how a ‘second wind’ feels. You can walk on the treadmill for five minutes, and if the first few suck so you slow down for the third, you may find the last two minutes feel good. You may even make it through minute six.

You gotta find out what works for you. I definitely still use exercise as a tool in numbing out sometimes. I definitely find myself inspecting my body and trashing it and thinking why aren’t you changing into the body I want?! The body I need! But I am trying, I am really really trying to work through those thoughts.

For me, it had been really uncomfortable to listen to my body. It is so instinctual for me to ignore it ignore it ignore it. But, I am trying for self-sustainability. Not self-love or self-care…those words don’t work for me but if they work for you, go for it! But for so long my habits were just not sustainable, and I think a lot of why I lived that way was because thinking about the future is just too scary.

I didn’t particularly care about sustaining anything. Little by slow, I am learning what tools work for me in helping me sustain. It means being grateful for the small things, keeping my goals realistic but meaningful, and remembering that I am never alone.

So, ramp up your day! Move in a new way just once today. (A little dance session after you take your shoes off from work? A little stretching while in the shower?)

Listen to your body, find the edge of comfort. You can do it. I can do it. I am here to love and to be myself, whatever shape my body. No one can take away my sense of self. I decide, and so do you. And I support you. I am your ally, and I’d love for you to be mine. In fact, I depend on it.

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