More than Exercise: 10 Ways to Turn Physical Punishment into Total Nourishment


Sweat and laugh every day. ~ Yogi Bhajan.
These are some of my favourite ways that transformed my workouts from feeling like a self-imposed penalty to a source of  growth and renewal.
If you’ve had a difficult time beginning regular exercise, these ten tips may make the leap more enjoyable for you.
If you have experienced an injury, overtraining or exercise addiction, these tips may help you to restore balance in your body and your self.Wherever you are with exercise, they will certainly nourish you and strengthen the connection between body, mind, and spirit.
Experiment, shake things up and, above all, have fun!

1.  Add music.  I’m not talking abut the workout playlist you created so you could run faster, push more weight and time your intervals.  I’m talking about music that inspires you to move.  Motivates you to dance.  Puts a smile on your face and a spring in your step.  Makes your knees start to groove in crazy ways they’ve never moved before, coercing your hips and feet to come along for the ride. Try some African drums or didgeridoo.  Let your whole body move and sing!  Make this spontaneous dance your workout.

2.  Go ‘au naturel’.  Take it outside.  Whatever it is.  If you enjoy your  daily run, take it to the trails.  Soak up some sun, fresh air, the colours of the sky, the trees and the scenery.  Don’t keep your focus on the feet, rather notice the detail and richness of what’s around you.  Smile at others that pass or just smile for yourself.  Absorb the sounds and the sights.  Walk near a body of water, bike through tree-lined trails, hike around a lake, swim in an outdoor pool or skate on an outside rink.  Take yoga to the deck, qigong to the lawn or tai chi to the park.  One of my favourite memories is of swimming in a large outdoor pool while on a trip through California with my Mom a few years ago. We were in Chico, a city with which we both fell in love.   It was night with only the colourfully-lit palm trees as my light.  The air was balmy and the water temperature was perfect.  As I glided back and forth from palm tree to palm tree, a shooting star brightly and quickly blazed across the clear night sky.

3.  Breathe.  The quickest, simplest and most powerful way to restore the connection of the body to the mind and the spirit is through breath.  A few minutes of conscious deep breathing before you start an activity brings your focus completely to where you are and what you are doing. Then guide your attention back to the breath as often as you can during exercise.   Every inhalation draws energy and vitality to you and every exhalation releases tension and eases you into your activity. You are completely engaged.  If struggle arises, use the breath to move your body and calm your mind.   Finish with several minutes of relaxed breathing, inhalations that draw right down into the belly and exhalations that empty the lungs completely and drop the shoulders, melting in full release.  Make the art of breathing your exercise of the day.  Consider learning a breathing technique like sitalibreath of fire or alternate nostril breathing to add to your daily routine.

4.  Hydrate with herbal water.  Add a bit of fresh or dried herbs or a weak herbal infusion to your water bottle.  Choose invigorating plants like mint, cinnamon, ginger, orange peel or cardamom for an active outing or soothing herbs like lemon balm, chamomile, rose or lavender for your evening walk or yoga practice.  Enjoy a single herb, make up your own blend or use your favourite prepared herbal tea.  One large fresh mint leaf added to a water bottle is very refreshing on a long hike, ride, run or yoga practice.  Chilled coconut water with a little lime is a cooling drink on a hot day and provides much needed electrolytes that may be lost during exercise.  The taste, scent and effects of the herbal water will engage your senses and enhance your experience.

5.  Set an intention.  This one I have lovingly borrowed from the practice of yoga.  Before beginning your activity, perhaps while you are engaged in your deep, full breathing exercise, ask yourself what you would like to set as the intention for your activity.  This can be goal oriented but rather than go for a personal best, how about going for a personal cause.  Try dedicating your activity to another person who needs help, or a group.  Often when I am engaged in a solar plexus chakra practice, performing 108 heart presses or sun salutations, I break it up into sets and dedicate each one.  It’s fascinating where I can draw energy from when I dedicate the merits of that energy to a specific person, cause, humanity or the earth.  Or simply set an intention for enjoying the activity or your surroundings, your co-participants, your breath, your day, your body, nature, life.  Is there something you’ve been struggling with?  Put that issue out there and see if a response hasn’t formed by the time you’re finished your routine.

6.  Connect.  Grab a buddy or small group and take a lesson in something you’d like to try; belly dancing, acro-yoga, african dance!  Adding a friend may reduce the cost of classes while providing motivation, support and someone to share a laugh.  If you are used to doing an activity on your own, occasionally join a class or group and enjoy meeting new people or simply soak up the energy and support of community.

7.  Find stillness.  Take time at the start of your exercise to be still. Engage in breath, intention and connect to your surroundings and how you are feeling physically and mentally.  Ask yourself what you need from this particular activity.  What is the best way to nourish yourself this day.  This may shift your exercise, directing you towards something more conducive to optimum wellness.  Trust this process and go with it.  Let your body reveal what it needs.  After the activity, spend time in stillness.  No thoughts, don’t review, critique and judge your performance.  Know that it is complete and let it be.  Stillness can be enjoyed in meditation after exercise or while in long-held stretches, allowing total surrender of your body and mind with every exhalation in the stretch.  Breathe, release and continue your day renewed.

8.  Add energy.  Learn and practice yoga, tai chi or qigong.  Milleniums-old techniques were developed precisely for guiding us towards wellness and connection of body, mind and spirit.  Focusing the mind, breath and movement into one synergistic dance, these practices lend themselves to both an individual and community setting.  Providing a daily tool for self assessment and correction.  Even if your activity of choice is completely different, incorporate one of these energy-based disciplines into your daily routine.  Fifteen minutes morning and/or evening is a gift you give yourself of a balanced start and end to each day.

9.  Play.  A game-centered activity like hopscotch or jump rope with the kids sounds fun.  When’s the last time you played tag or leapfrog?  (Wow. I just googled ‘leapfrog’ and got pages of hits on computer games.  For those who don’t remember or never played the physical activity game of leapfrog, here’s how: leapfrog rules.)  Take up a recreational sport in your community.  Tennis, swimming, baseball, basketball, soccer, beach volleyball.  Also a great way to meet people and learn new skills.  Laughter and play are beneficial to our health and effectively engage us in the present.  What did you play as a kid?  Revisit it, just keep in mind, you may not be quite as agile or flexible as you once were… safety first!  Hula hoop!

10.  Give back.  Start or join an event that gives back to the community.  Whether it’s an organized spring trash clean up or a 10k run for charity.  Perhaps a yoga class in a senior’s home or an outdoor games day for underprivileged kids.  Initiate, co-create, join in or volunteer to connect through movement in your community.

Here’s an idea for an activity that encompasses all ten tips;  Outdoor yoga with a large group, intentions and donations going to charity, you and a friend with your bottles of herbal water and yoga mats in hand as you get set to experiment with playful poses accompanied by live guitar and drums.

Namasté


What ways do you use to nourish yourself?

Over three years ago a doctor told me that, given the nature of my spinal injury, I should be shuffling around in pain. I remember thinking, Now, why would I ever want to do that?  He asked me what my secret was.  Many of them are listed above.

I won’t tell you all days are pain-free, however, there is very little shuffling around going on.   Life is good!

Stephanie
atONE Holistic Living

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