Intuitive Movement and Building a Better Relationship with Your Body.

Today let’s talk about YOUR relationship with YOUR body. Do you have a long history of hating, punishing, or avoiding it? Do you think of your body as an enemy, or as a friend?

Often I hear from folks something like “ I want to exercise more and feel better in my body, but I don’t know how to start.” And I know as a therapist and personal trainer that this does NOT mean the person doesn’t know how to move their body, or hasn’t thought of a million different ways they could add exercise to their day. It means:

-I can’t conquer the self-defeating thoughts that come up each time I consider exercising.

-I feel too embarrassed to be seen doing the kind of movement I want to do.

-I don’t ever feel comfortable moving in the ways I feel like I “should”.

-I’m struggling to overcome all the dread and negative associations I have with exercise.

-Fears of judgment and comparisons to others are SO LOUD that I can’t enjoy exercise when I try.

It is really, really hard to enjoy moving your body when this brings up an overwhelming tide of negative self-talk as well as physical discomfort.

I recommend two things as first steps toward a better relationship with exercise:

  1. A shift to tolerant or neutral self-talk
  2. Honest, completely self-centered assessment of what you need and what you like.

Let’s look at #1. I’m going to do a deep dive on self-tolerance and my scale for self-talk in a future post, but for now, just consider how you can neutralize the way you talk about and think about your body. It doesn’t need to be stars and rainbows, but it can’t be negative. This can be as simple as reframing “ I hate the way I look in these clothes” to “ I’m not going to think negatively about my body today”. You’re not saying you’re going to love up on your body, you’re just refusing to engage with the negative. This is hard, but I promise it makes a world of difference in allowing you to exist peacefully in your body and prevent body image from getting in the way of what you want for your life.

#2. This could probably be a complete post in and of itself as well. Noted. Here is the short version, in bullet points.

  • Sit down with no phone, social media, tv, etc ( nothing to steal your focus or draw your mind into comparisons) and ask yourself how you want to engage with your body. Not “How do I want to change my body”, but “What do I want to do in the body I have RIGHT NOW.”
  • Consider your why. Why do you want to do certain things? Is it to enjoy more active time with the people you love? To have fun? To get back to an activity that you used to really enjoy? To improve your health? If thoughts about losing weight or looking different come up, try to look beyond them- losing weight is often a desire to feel more comfortable or in charge of your own health. Looking different may be a desire to have more body acceptance or feel better about your body. Movement can help with all of these things!
  • Now think really realistically about ways that you have actually enjoyed moving your body in the past or things you’ve always wanted to do. Ignore “ shoulds”. If you will not and could not enjoy sitting on a stationary bike for 45 minutes, then spin class is not making it onto the list! There is nothing that should or shouldn’t be on the list- it could be walking more, dancing in the kitchen, practicing headstands, playing frisbee with your kids… all movement counts, and things that fit in your life and that you will enjoy are going to be sustainable, which is key for building a movement practice that sticks and actually benefits you in the long run. Consider current limitations here too. For example, I want to hike because I love the outdoors, but right now I’m getting strength back from a broken foot so I need to start with walks in my neighborhood and build up to being able to manage uneven terrain and longer distances.
  • List out the barriers. Lets get nitty gritty: What do you need to address to start comfortably engaging in movement? Do you need some clothes that feel good to work out in? Do you need a buddy because you’ve never enjoyed moving on your own? Do you need time, a place to do your desired activity, guidance, equipment? A rockin’ playlist? Make a plan to address the barriers and fully set yourself up for success.
  • Finally, pen it in! These habits are going to take a while to become automatic, so you probably need to carve time out of your busy schedule and intentionally consider when you have time, space, and availability to move. I stick it on my google calendar, fitting  in 10 minutes of weight training, a 20 minute walk between sessions on busy days and chunking out bigger periods of time for a bike ride or family time at the park on weekends and lighter work days. I’m at least twice as likely to fit these things in when they’re on my schedule and I get a few reminders throughout the day.

Tips: 

  • It doesn’t need to be rigid. This is about what you want to do, so be flexible and change it up whenever you want.
  • Use whatever resources you need. Hiking groups, running groups, dance classes, personal trainers, health coaches, group exercise classes: All great for building accountability and community if you like them, and takes pressure off you to make your own route or plan.
  • Always, always keep your “why” in mind. This is what makes it worth it to build a habit and make a change.
  • Have fun. Play. Find something enjoyable that you can look forward to- this will be SO much easier to sustain.

Published by Mary Feamster, LPC

Charlottesville-based therapist passionate about helping people improve their mental health, move well, and be well.

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