I’m a huge proponent of vigorous physical exercise for just about everyone. I think culturally we’re too cautious about advocating physical vigor in many situations.
In the last 4 or 5 years there’s been a surge of research indicating that exercise should be prescribed where it’s often been contra-indicated – deep into the senior years, after certain surgeries, in the midst of many chronic illnesses, etc…
This fits my instincts about fitness: we were meant to move – a lot, and in all phases of life.
I won’t talk here about all the myriad physical benefits and which types suit which situations, that’s for other blogs. I want to address one weird and very specific hard exercise perk that everyone who’s experienced it knows about, but doesn’t talk about much in fitness forums: crying.
You may not think of crying as a benefit of any kind, but bear with me for a minute.
Our bodies are straight-up holding tanks for every tough emotional experience we’ve ever had.
We’re built to feel our feelings. Strong feelings move through our bodymind like weather fronts, bringing storms of rain or wind or whatever. Ideally, we allow them to move right through us: feeling them when they’re here, allowing them to morph and change at will, and letting them pass on when they’ve run their course.
But that’s not usually what happens. More often than not, we start to feel something we’ve been conditioned not to like – anger, fear, grief – and we immediately do one of two things: vent that storm out at somebody else (road rage, anyone?) or we stuff that sucker down deep inside where we’ll hopefully never have to feel it again.
In my experience as a health coach, many of us are pros at door #2: stuffing our feelings.
It seems so handy at the time….I can’t possibly feel this awfulness right now, thank you, please go away and come back never. And here’s a nice serving of pasta to help you STAY gone….
Well where do you think that feeling goes….?
Feelings carry energy, they have substance, they are something. We know this instinctively even though our collective western mind doesn’t quite believe it. Feelings can literally punch you in the gut. They can make your hair stand on end or your heart fall out. They are forces of nature inside your body – just like the hurricanes and the storm squalls outside.
When you “stuff” a feeling, it goes deep inside your body.
Without even knowing you’re doing it, you clamp your jaw, tighten up your belly and “push” that sucker down – right into your tissues. That’s why eating food helps feelings stay down. Eating (preferably dense foods or a lot of anything – salad doesn’t usually cut it) is like putting a weighted lid over whatever feeling you just shunted inside.
So guess what’s great for popping the lids off stuffed feelings inside?
Moving that body.
All kinds of movement can help you balance your emotional state, but vigorous physical exercise is one of the best tools you have for popping the cork on your stuffed feelings. You’ve read about how exercise is a great stress reliever, right? That’s why.
Think of hard exercise as a high-pressure valve for your mood.
Maybe you think you’re “not an exerciser”. You don’t like sweating or planks hurt, for god’s sake. Well I’m here to tell ya that impacted anger/fear/despair in your body is a lot worse. Those impactions can irritate you inside like sand in a clam until you start generating a lot of padding to insulate and protect those tender areas. They are deep metabolism saboteurs. And much more seriously, they can eventually blow up your blood pressure.
So lace up those sneakers, friends (or any kind of walking shoes!) and get moving. Obviously you need to be safe – if you’re on meds or your heart’s at risk, be sure and check with your doctor about how to safely begin an exercise program. But most people are perfectly fine to walk outside for 10 minutes – and that’s all it takes to start.
“Vigor” for you will look different than for me or for Rowdy Ronda Rousey. But you’ll know it when you hit it. If you’re anything like me, you might even burst into tears occasionally. That’s a beautiful thing – it means you’ve gone deep and released something old and stuck. If you let it happen, it can be a tremendous relief, and it lasts.
And actually, you don’t even have to hop around or lift heavy weights to get there – gentle and sustained yoga holds or dancing at home with your eyes closed can do exactly the same thing. The point is to “activate” your body. Find your personal endurance edge and play around with it a bit, experiment with moving right up close to it and not running away.
It can help you release very deep, very old weights you’ve been dragging around. It will make you fitter and more resilient, in more than physical ways. And for all the folx in today’s world who are feeling unempowered ~ for whatever reason ~ strength in the body can build strength in our minds and will.
Try it and see.