The Power of Exercise (de)Programming

Wakefulness. Attentiveness. Compassion.  Photo Credit: Topher Simon Photography (THANK YOU! To everyone who read and shared my post on The Biggest Loser.  We saw more than 800 visitors that day! Please feel free join us on Facebook or sign up for our newsletter over there to the right if you want to stay in touch.)

A few months ago, I was talking to my teacher about my kettlebell practice, and how I felt that it was in direct opposition to the mindful, intuitive approach I take with my yoga practice.

In a Strong First practice, things are done "the right way" and there are specific things "to be done."  In my yoga practice, things are done in a way that feels resonant and vibrant and there are things "to be experienced."  I was - honestly - starting to dread my bell work because it was triggering old feelings of frantic-ness and rigidity.

He gave me some wise - and pretty obvious - advice.  Why not approach workouts the way you approach yoga?

Be without expectations.  Approach with curiosity.  Commit to wakefulness. 

So - until 3 weeks ago - my workouts were just that.  Some days I did swings and pull ups, other days I went for a jog or rode my bike, some days I just did yoga.  No set time or schedule - just moved when I felt like moving (which was pretty much every day.)  MUCH to my surprise, I lost a pants size in 3 months without dieting.  Without an exercise program.  Without stress.  In fact - I was enjoying myself so much that I only noticed the weight had fallen off when my favorite jeans almost did the same.

SO!  Here's a VERY CLOSELY GUARDED SECRET in the Fitness Industry.  HERE is the weight loss panacea...the GUARANTEED TO WORK diet for this year!! :

LISTEN.  TO.  YOUR.  BODY.

That's it.  JUST LISTEN. Your body will tell you if you're tired and need a day off, a yoga class, a hill sprint workout (although you have to be really committed to listening to pick up on that one.)  It will tell you if you need a kale salad, a smoothie or some simple carbohydrates and fat.  The most simple and challenging thing in the world: attentive listening.  (Anyone who's in any kind of relationship can attest to that.)

Here's where things get tricky.  Exercise programs and protocols are also important.  Discipline and structure serve a very important purpose for meeting athletic and physical goals.

The KEY is -- discipline and structure also serve a very important purpose in learning to let go.

I'm currently back on a strict training program, getting ready for my SFG Recertification weekend in April, which is programmed at 5 days/week of training at a no-joke level of focus and dedication. And I had a lot of very legitimate fear that it would send me down the vortex of verbal self-abuse, exhaustion and anger...that the increase appetite associated with metabolic training would trigger my eating disorder symptoms.

But my teacher also says that "Practice makes you accident prone."  And the past couple weeks of structured training, I've had a lot of accidents.  Accidental wakefulness inside discipline.  Accidental release of expectations (which creates an amazing way to surprise yourself.)  Accidental curiosity.  All those months of practicing mindful exercise and listening to my body had conditioned me to operate within a strict discipline WHILE being present!

I've struggled a little with listening to my body when it comes to food...but mostly because it wants ALL THE FOOD.  ALL THE TIME. thanks to the increased training.  But I'm doing my best, and despite a lot of whole milk and peanut butter - I can see my abs for the first time ever.  I didn't even have abs when I was "skinny."  Ha!

So here's the takeaway (because who the hell cares about jeans size and abs):

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Take 6 weeks, or maybe you'll need 6 days or 6 months, to practice mindful exercise. Go to the gym or the park or the trail with an attitude of playfulness.  Not sure how to do that?  Start here:

Picture an exercise and notice your physical (below the neck) response.  Clenching?  Opening?  Excitement?  Do this until you find an exercise that you really freakin' want to do and do it until you don't "feel like it" any more.  Then repeat the process.  No stress about how much you get done that day, as long as you are openly curious to what your body says.  Journal each workout with a note on what you did, how you felt and what your response was - resistance? fear? hopefulness?  (I experienced euphoric sprinting at one point...)

One caveat/caution to this practice:  Your brain saying "I'M TIIIIIRED.  I DON'T WAAAAAANNA" is not the same as your body saying, "OK.  Thank you so much for listening.  We're done here for now."

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If the idea of chucking your program and/or diet out the window for a while is scary (terrifying?) - you're not alone.  Especially if you struggle with exercise addition or disordered eating, the idea of releasing control can bring up a lot of visceral fear.  And I would say that fear is a very important piece of information about yourself, so notice it and welcome it to the gym.  Then allow it to head over to the StairClimber for an hour while you play.  Because - honestly - you might lose a little conditioning.  You might temporarily set down a little bit of strength.

But I can guarantee you.  GUARANTEE.  that if you do the practice and allow your body to truly call the shots for a while (again -- your body, not your head) that emotional peace and physical contentment will follow.