I’ve taken a break from all forms of exercise for the past few months – and, it was possibly the best thing I could have done. My relationship with exercise has, ironically, always been unhealthy.
Whether it’s memories of mandatory cross-country races in junior school, or phys-ed classes in high school – I was always the chubby one, no doubt last in the race or finding a reason to bunk classes. Whether the self-esteem issues were there to start, or came as a result, I’m not sure.
Fast forward to late-high school and early university years, the exercise of my childhood now took the form of gym. Unsurprisingly, no more enjoyable than compulsory phys-ed classes of years before. It was the cliched cycle of signing up for gym contracts, not going, hating myself for not going, cancelling contracts – only to sign up again a few months later, when I could convince myself that “this time would be different“. Sound familiar? I’m sure that my most abusive relationship has been with myself. This went on for a decade. Many gyms. Thousands of Rands. Countless hours spent hating myself.
Do you know what’s more exhausting than any gym session? The self-hatred and guilt you put yourself through for not going.
So, a few months into this year, I decided to stop the cycle. To put an end to the self-inflicted self-hatred. And, you know what? It’s freeing. Completely liberating. Just living – sleeping in, spending evenings doing whatever I choose – free from thoughts of “but, you should be at gym”. It’s been wonderful and it’s given me the chance to change the way I think of exercise.
I’m now ready to start moving again – and I say “moving”, because I will never again join a gym. Glass boxes filled with machines and lyrca don’t motivate me. I spend my days in a glass box with air-conditioning – that’s not how I want to reward my body at the end of a day. And yes, I now want to use exercise to reward my body – not punish it. Whether that means yoga to strengthen and lengthen muscles, running to expand my lungs and get my skin glowing or a cycle along the promenade or walk in the forest just to breathe. To live.
My body’s had enough hatred to see it through many lifetimes – the last person it needs it from is me. Exercise shouldn’t be yet another form of punishment.
So, I want to start moving again. Without fitness trackers, without timing myself – I want to rely on feeling. And, possibly, for the first time in my life – listening. Listening to what my body wants. Letting it recover when it’s tired. Pushing it when I can. Being kind to myself – and, if some nights, that means a hot bath, followed by pyjamas and series in bed – then, that’s what I’ll do. And, I’ll do it with love.
When I start moving, it’ll be because I want to. Because I want to strengthen my body and allow it to do more. Not because the self-hatred has won.
Maybe, given time, it will learn to love me in return.