When January 1 hit this year, I did the complete opposite of what most people do on the New Year: I **stopped** exercising. While most people were committing themselves to new exercise regiments and to losing weight, I was doing something quite different: eating whatever I wanted, and not exercising until I got the full go ahead from my body. 31 days later, here’s my story.
I started my experiment 31 days ago. Well, at the time I didn’t know it was a 31 day experiment. In fact I didn’t know it was an experiment at all. I was experiencing nerve pain in my sacral area, and although it didn’t actually hurt to exercise, I decided to temporarily stop as I was afraid of making the experience any worse. This “decision” to stop exercising didn’t feel so much as a decision as a simple movement of giving my pelvic and sacral region a break from repetitive movement. It was a way I could really take care of myself and honor my body.
Almost right off the bat I found myself surprised by how perfectly fine it felt to not exercise. This was truly remarkable for me! What surprised me even more was that long after I my body felt ok to exercise, long after the nerve felt fine, there was still no movement to bring exercise back into my routine. I couldn’t have imagined this in a million years. I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me back track.
I’m an avid exerciser. In my early years I was a competitive swimmer, then later I was into yoga and martial arts. Then it was a hodge podge of yoga, swimming, running, hiking, weights. Over the last 6 years my exercise of choice has been running. I **love** running. I love it so much that I rarely take a day off. When I travel, my running gear comes too. For months, years, I’ve been running nearly every day- anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes. (Sometimes adding in tabatas, yoga, biking, hiking, or walking.) If you were to have told me that I would have stopped running one day, cold turkey, and not start up again even though my body was fully capable, I’d not have believed you. I mean I REALLY would have said, no, that’s not me. I’m a runner, and I love running. It’s just assumed that I run. Every day.
Why do I love running so much? My love of running seemed to be married to my love of these 5 experiences, forming a sort of symbiotic love affair: 1. Energetic release. 2. Being outdoors/the sun. 3. Engagement with my body. 4. Engagement with my self in its totality (mind, spirit, body). 5. Staying fit. Running is how I experienced these 5 very important things. Without running, how would I satisfactorily experience them? Here’s how these 5 loves have been able to be sustained over the last month sans running. Here’s how my life survived, without exercise.
- Energetic release. When I first started my private practice as a somatic therapist I was doing a lot of intuitive consultation. I had the sense that I **had** to burn through the energy that I’d connect with as I worked with clients. The second I noticed that “had”, I knew an experiment was on it’s way- whenever I feel myself up against a “have to” kind of energy, I challenge it. I gave up exercise for a while and learned that I didn’t actually need to run- I could process through this energy in other ways. (Eventually I went back to running, not from need but for fun.) The same concern was a bit in the back of my mind as the month of January progressed. I was cognizant that I was not moving my body very much, and I had a few people tell me that it was important for my system that I exercise to release stagnant energy. (I actually often advise this to my clients, because moving the body **is** a great way to release energy) However, I continued to study my own system and was surprised to experience that it had found other ways to “burn through” energy, mainly through spontaneous body movement, body work (massage, MFR, etc), and embodied inquiry. Utilizing these modalities left my system feeling quite taken care of.
Misc. side notes: I enjoy the energetic release that I experience with exercise and running. I seem to do just fine with out it, so my system didn’t **need** it, but I do look forward to re-engaging with my body in this way. And to be fair, it’s not like I didn’t experience any kind of physical exertion- I had plenty of sex, and that in and of itself can be a most enjoyable way to release and burn through energy.
- Being outdoors/the sun. I LOVE the outdoors. In fact being out doors is what motivated me to start running about 6 years ago. I was tired of being inside without direct access to the sun in the wintertime and realized I **could** be outside in the direct sun! One of my favorite things about running is to be in the fresh air (ideally in the direct sun), air on my skin, and experiencing nature in all her fascinating splendor. I never would have guessed how ok it has been to not be “out in it” over the last month. Maybe it’s because I have amazing windows in my home and amazing woods and sky to look at through them. Maybe it’s because I spent a week on the beach at the end of December. I’m not sure, but somehow this has not been a problem. I have learned that although I still love nature and being outdoors (and still adore the sun), my happiness is not contingent upon being out in it. That feels quite liberating- the **need** isn’t there any longer.
- Engagement with my body. I love to experience the form of my body. I love to feel how the muscles and bones feel/engage. I love to experience how differently the muscles and bones engage when I’m running on flat landscapes as opposed to up and down hills. I love the experience of my feet hitting the pavement. I love the expression of breath coming through my body- my lungs expanding/collapsing and all that comes with that movement. I love to experience the different burns and heats, and sometimes colds, throughout my body. I love the exhilaration of sprinting across a busy street. Lots, TONS, of body engagement come with running and exercising. But guess what? Body engagement didn’t stop when I stopped running/exercising. Attention still went to the body, albeit in different ways, which were equally fulfilling in their own way. There are a million ways to engage the body- don’t limit yourself to one way! Feel the body/form going up the stairs. In the shower. Getting in and out of the car. Walking to get the mail. Sitting on the couch. Laying in bed. Feel and engage with the body using attention!Misc. side notes: While I did engage with my body in a variety of different ways, I didn’t do it in the same specific ways in that I wasn’t engaging musculature or aerobic activities. For example, I didn’t do anything that mimicked running up hills. So, as a person who really likes to kinesthetically experience muscle engagement that comes from sustained repetitive movements like exercise, I did miss this, and I look forward to connecting to my body in this way again.
- Engagement with my self in its totality. Said another way, I like to explore into rabbit holes/do inquiry while running. I like to explore my thoughts, my stories, sensations, my emotions, my perceptions, my reality- and running is an easy way for me to kinesthetically connect inwardly to the energies attached to perceptions. I journey with people somatically for a living, so it’s no surprise that I was able to do this just fine without running as my venue. Not only do I engage in lots of embodied inquiry on my own, I also had a lot of body work over the month too, during which times I’d jump head first into rabbit holes as people worked on my body.
Misc. side notes: I am most curious about this one… It’s difficult to **know** how not running truly impacted me in this regard. I’m curious how it will be to re-engage in physical exercise again. I’m looking forward to finding out!
- Aesthetic appearance. Ok, I admit it. I exercise and run because I enjoy having a fit, athletic body. After I stopped running I did worry a bit about how much weight I might gain. And as I kept not exercising, I kept getting more curious about this! I was pretty surprised that I didn’t gain any weight, although that may have been because I lost some muscle. Appearance wise, I probably have lost some muscle (I didn’t do measurements so there is no way to know). What I’m most interested in, however, is that not much changed with my appearance. All of my clothes fit the same! For those wondering about my food intake, I still ate whatever I wanted. Maybe because I was not burning calories I wound up eating less. I just know that I ate whatever I wanted, which is my usual approach to food.
I love how I came face to face with, and saw through, a series of assumptions about myself and my life through this 31 day experiment. Before this experiment I thought the quality of my life- my functioning, my happiness and my satisfaction of life- was tied to running. I came to directly experience that my system thrived without engaging in an activity that I thought I needed, which feels really liberating. I can choose to run or exercise, but that I don’t have to. I got to directly experience much more freedom inherent to being, so to speak- not contingent upon external forces or particular actions. I also got to “study” my system in much more subtle and conscious ways. One thing I was able to become aware of was how at times a subtle “wanting to get rid of” type of mindset was behind running. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that but for me there was something delicious about the increased fine tuned attention that became part of my life sans running. There was more conscious rabbit holing/going **into** the bits of my lived experience, as opposed to a trying to bypass or brush anything aside.
I’m not advocating that everyone stop exercising for a month. What I am suggesting is this: What kinds of “have-tos” are in your life? What does your happiness depend on? What kind of compulsions are part of your every day life? Pick one and play around with it. Change your routine up a bit. Do things differently. For some people this might mean adding exercise for a month! For others, drinking tea instead of coffee. Swimming instead of biking. Trying a sport or an activity you’ve always wanted to try but never have! No TV in the mornings. Going to bed 30 minutes earlier. Driving to work the scenic route. Hugging your child for 5 seconds every night before bed. Sex three times a week. No computer for 1 hour before bed. A walk at the lunch hour. Stairs instead of the elevator at work. The options are limitless! Experience life in these new ways and notice all that comes with it. A month is not a super long period of time, but just long enough. Give it a go! I’d love to hear about your experiments, feel free to email me what you notice. Also, if you have compulsions that you’d like to shift but just don’t know how, please contact me and we’ll talk about how I might be able to support you on your journey.