How are you shaping up?
Lockdown has been difficult for many reasons. From losing loved ones, physical and mental health issues, economic worries and sheer boredom, we have all been affected in different ways. Finally, it feels like there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The weather has improved lately, from the bitter cold of February, and the Government have started planning for a gradual return to normality.
All well and good, but for many of us, despite our best efforts, as we start to part company with our pyjamas and face the reality of getting properly dressed and leaving the house regularly again, we’re faced with a harsh reality … we have grown! And not necessarily in a way that we’re happy with.
Lockdown and exercise
Let’s face it, lockdown exercise was a challenge. Gyms were shut, evenings were dark and even the most remote of footpaths has been knee deep in mud after weeks of heavy footfall and rain. Despite that, many of us tried to stay active, walking as often as we could or signing up to online classes. But lockdown life has also meant spending more time in the kitchen, less time engaged in calorie burning rushing round and an all-around more sedentary lifestyle.
So, the first thing to bear in mind if you feel like you’ve gained weight, lost fitness, or are just not in the shape you’d like to be in - is not to beat yourself up. You’ve survived lockdown, possibly one of the most unusual and challenging events of the century. I really believe that that in itself is an achievement that shouldn’t be underestimated.
The temptation now of course is to hit the fitness routines hard, to try and get into shape for summer. After all, the thought of staycationing in a giant-sized onesie is probably not how you’ve dreamt of the long August holidays. But before you dig out your dusty running shoes, or sign up to that all-inclusive gym membership, hold on…
We all know keeping active is good for us. But it can sometimes be pretty hard to force yourself to turn up to that painful HIIT session. Or when you’ve made a promise to yourself to go running 4 times a week, but it hurts, you don’t enjoy it, and you’ve had a really difficult day. You start to dread it and sooner or later, you stop doing it.
Does that mean you’re back to square one or is it time to cue intuitive exercise?
Intuitive exercise is about avoiding rigid exercise routines, listening to your body, and exercising accordingly. And by doing so, increasing your chances of staying active. It’s about thinking of exercise as an act of self-care rather than punishment. It means instead of forcing yourself to that workout class, ask yourself what your body feels like it needs.
Imagine, you’ve been bent over your desk and stressed all day. You finish your last piece of work and just need to stretch your back for a moment and rub your shoulders which are aching. Maybe then, rather than go for that gruelling HIIT session, you should try a 15-minute gentle stretch yoga class instead. Do it online, light some scented candles, play gentle music and suddenly exercise feels a little bit like a guilty pleasure. How nice!
And if all your friends are out there trying Couch to 5KM but you hate running, then why not find something you do enjoy instead, like dance, Nordic walking, swimming or Tai Chi.
If you actually find what you’re doing satisfying and rewarding, you’re more likely to do it, and carry on doing it. Which is far better for you than starting a hardcore bootcamp, sticking with it for three weeks, then giving up and reverting to do nothing.
It’s really just an extension of mindfulness, asking yourself how you feel before, during and after exercise. Do you feel energised or exhausted? Did you love it or hate it? What was your motive? Weight loss, core strength, mental health, just to feel good or social pressure and guilt? Are you exercising for yourself or for others? Have you given yourself a pat on the back for what you have manged to achieve rather than feeling upset with yourself for what you haven’t? And have you given yourself time off to allow for rest and recuperation?
Chinese medicine and exercise
Intuitive exercise is not a million miles away from the Chinese Medicine approach to exercise. Much like Western medicine, Chinese Medicine recognises that the body derives energy from activity and movement but believes it’s important to avoid either excessively vigorous exercise or no exercise at all. Instead, we believe in the principle of Yin and Yang energy balance and maintaining a balanced flow of energy. Excessive and vigorous physical exercise risks depleting your Qi life energy which is crucial if you want to maintain your wellbeing. It makes total sense really, if your exercise is literally physically exhausting, it’s just not going to be good for your overall health.
Instead, Chinese Medicine encourages nourishing and nurturing activities that boost our wellbeing and health such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, walking and swimming. It’s ok if you still want to include more vigorous activities in your exercise routine such as running and aerobic activities (Yang style activities), but it’s important to counterbalance these with Yin style activities such as Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, stretching and walking.
Exercise and the menopause
For us ladies of a certain age, weight gain, and low energy levels risk becoming a perpetual source of anxiety. As you already know, there’s a lot of things at work here and vigorous exercise can actually do more harm than good.
As we age, our Yin energy naturally tends to deplete, and we may start having hot flushes and other unpleasant signs. Too much exercise can result in us drawing into our already depleted pool of Yin energy and cause “running on empty” syndrome where we are unable to relax, sit still and do nothing. Instead, we’re fidgety, always on the go and just as we sit down, we inadvertently find another chore to fulfil. Needless to say, this sort of activity leads to “catch 22” situation when we’re already overheated but because we’re unable to stop and replenish our cooling Yin energy, we create even more Yang energy which in turn heats us further.
To help, Chinese Medicine advocates Qigong exercises which are designed to cultivate our Qi energy by slow and gracious movements, clearing any congestion or stuck emotions from our bodies. You may remember I wrote about last month. The five “Yin organ” exercises are simple, quiet exercises designed to support the health of that organ. The five exercises reflect the five most important organs of the body - the lungs, kidneys, liver, heart, and spleen each in turn then reflecting other aspects of the body or mind.
Planning your exercise, or not
If you want to practice intuitive exercise, setting aside time each day for exercise may seem, well, counter intuitive. But it comes back to seeing exercise as self-care and setting a period of time each day for you. You don’t have to rigidly map out what activity you’re going to do each day. Indeed, if it’s pouring with rain, you may decide a session of acupuncture is going to do much more for you than an endurance session in the wet.
Be creative and plan exercise that is fun! Cycle or walk to the shops instead of driving, do some digging in the garden rather than bake that cake, crank up the music and dance your socks off in the living room or go on a picnic with the kids. It all counts!!
If the Chinese Medicine approach is more your thing, then incorporate some meditation into your day (it really only has to be 5 mins), practice yoga or get in touch with me for some advice about Qigong. Done at a slow pace, with mindful breathing, they can be done in a corner of the bedroom on a wet day and I find that both my mind and my body benefit with improved mental wellbeing, a sense of calm and focus.
If you know me, you know I also recommend acupuncture. Whilst it might not be exercise, it does help you regain than sense of calm and balance, and perhaps more importantly can also help with other issues which may be blocking you and holding you back from exercise. Stress headaches, aches, pains, injuries and underlying health issues are all things with which I may be able to help with.
Get in touch about getting active
When I started writing this post my aim was to talk about exercise, but actually, it’s really about balance. I do feel your pain if you’re trying to squeeze into that favourite pair of trousers or dress. I know the summer suddenly feels like it’s not too far away. But instead of going hell for leather at a new fitness regime, why not try a kinder, more consistent and balanced approach?
If you’d like to know more about acupuncture, Chinese Medicine or Qigong exercises why not get in touch. I am currently offering 30 minutes Zoom acupressure sessions. The feedback in respect of these so far has been amazing, and you can book a session here.