Exercise and Kindness

“Be kind to your body during this pose.”

These were the words of my yoga instructor as she coaxed her participants through one of the most challenging poses, the warrior lunge series, during my Sunday yoga class. A quadriceps and core driven move, this pose requires stamina, strength and perseverance. 

I was surprised by these words. I come from a background of intense training accompanied by tough messages like “keep going” and “push through pain.” What was even more surprising was how I reacted to the words. I immediately relaxed my tense muscles, which in turn allowed my breath to come through deeper. This in turn enabled me to lunge deeper and to hold the pose with focus and strength. In short, being kinder to my body helped me to work harder!

It made me wonder: have I been sending the wrong messages to myself all these years during exercise? Have all my tough messages produced the opposite results?  Let’s examine the evidence. 

As I wrote in my article for OptiMYz, “Danger Zone – Staying Injury Free” (Dec. 09, Vol. 2), my knee condition is largely my own fault.  I ignored obvious warning signs and exercised through extreme pain, all in effort to keep going.  Had I been, say, kinder to my body, I may have been able to avoid two surgeries.

There’s a fine line between pushing yourself and over doing it. It’s a lesson I have learned the hard way and continue to learn. So how do we find a balance between being kind to our body and also pushing it to new growth? I believe it’s through respect and acceptance.

Not sure what this means? Here are some tips:

  • If you are experiencing a chronic pain, or if you are recovering from a nagging smaller injury (a bruised bone, a sprained ankle, etc.), respect your body by allowing it time to heal; 
  • If you are feeling sluggish during a workout, allow it to be so and work within these limitations. 
  • If you are performing a challenging move, allow your body to be natural in the movement. If you can only bend so far, or lift so much, don’t push it to do more. Just let it be.  

Imagine if you arrived at the gym with no expectations for your body. Imagine if you didn’t put pressure on yourself. Without this self imposed pressure to do more and be better, you would probably feel more energized. And as a bi-product of this natural energy, you would probably work harder. 

So, the next time you’re at the gym, allow your body to be as strong as it is in that moment. And remember: be kind to your body – after all, it’s the only one you’ll have.


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