Ten Ways to Infuse Exercise With Joy

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During our Revitalize retreat this winter we explored the various ways we deplete energy and how important it is to our resilience to renew our energy across four domains - one of those domains being the physical.

We spend energy daily – all the tasks we do, all the worries we carry, all the little hassles that come and go, and even the engaging things we partake in – these all consume energy, and like an elite athlete, if we want to sustain ourselves rather than burn out, we need to balance this energy output with periods of recovery and renewal. Moving our bodies helps us develop the strength to ensure we have adequate endurance for productivity. We think, we feel and we sleep much better, and our ability to tolerate stress increases when we have moved our bodies.

Exercise and Cognition: Working Smarter

In a study of eighty executives over a nine-month period, those who worked out regularly improved their fitness by 22% and demonstrated a 70% improvement in their ability to make complex decisions as compared with non-exercisers. Seventy percent!

Making it Mindful….Joyfully

Exercise may require nudging our comfort zones, but unless we’re training for the Olympics, we don’t need to push ourselves to falling-down exhaustion or to hobbling around for the next week until our muscles recover. Movement is fun, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. For some of us, sweating buckets, feeling the strain of the muscles and the surge of adrenaline is pure delight because it gets us indelibly into our bodies. For others, a walk on a crisp afternoon can do the same thing.

The key is mindfulness.

Here are 10 ways to bring mindfulness and joy into having a body:

  1. Take it outside: Whether a stroll, a jog, bike ride, a sun salutation, try to do it under the sky.

  2. Give the eyes a break and let one of the other senses take the spotlight, like hearing. Bring yourself into the present moment by letting all the sounds of the space or environment wash over and through you, from birdsong to the hum of the fridge (avoid assigning preference to certain sounds).

  3. Change up the venue: If you usually take certain routes (walking, biking, swimming), go in a new direction. If you usually exercise in a gym, find a different space, even if it’s the bedroom.

  4. Free movement: With or without music, move without stopping—tell the monkey it’ll only be five minutes. Dance, yoga, tai chi—it doesn’t matter. Allow yourself to find movement that makes your body feel good without any "shoulds" attached.

  5. Get away from home if possible: The monkey-mind can pose hard-core distraction at home. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come to the mat only to get suddenly seized with the need to dust my baseboards (or check my e-mails).

  6. Explore a new form of exercise: Hula hoop, monkey bars, aerial yoga, swimming, roller skating! Beginner’s mind usually brings us right into the present. Savour the new ways of moving like you would admire exquisite landscape. When the internal critic pushes embarrassment at you, chuckle it off.

  7. Make it a meditation: This works best with some sort of repetitive exercise. Choose a symbol or an idea to hold in your mind during the session, notice how it might morph or blossom as it remains in your attention.

  8. Partner up: Having a friend along for the ride is motivating. If it’s someone close to you, chatting or venting may help release tension—also, it makes the time pass (and if you’re doing something new, you can share the experience).

  9. Stay present: If it’s too much of a struggle to quiet the internal narration in your brain, guide it to present tense (and if you’re with a friend, you can include them by making your conversation stick to present tense). It’s quite a challenge and tends to settle us into silence, which is rather the point.

  10. Breathe: Let the breath be front-and-centre with your attention. Let yourself come to a place where each breath is a blessing.

~Nancy

*Check out Nancy’s thoughts on the “no pain, no gain” myth over on her yogajourney108.com blog.