Category Archives: Inspiration

The Fitness of Playing: Making Exercise (More) Fun May Be a Key to Keeping Yourself Doing It

Image Courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Too many people find it difficult to exercise often enough to stay fit and healthy. The reasons for this are complex, for sure. But I’ve come to believe that one big barrier to exercising regularly for many people is the fact that they simply haven’t found any physical activity that resonates with them enough to make it fun, or at least fun enough to want to continue.

We, as humans, love to have fun. Laughter and playfulness can help make physical activity fun and engaging, drawing a person to return to the activity in question again and again – not because they think they “should” in order to stay fit, but because they actually enjoy the activity and look forward to doing it…or look forward to how great they feel after doing it, as the case may be.

This is one of the lost concepts in fitness plans and programs and ideas for too many people, creating an obstacle to health and fitness. There’s a sense of exercising being a blah, icky, necessary evil that people have to endure if they don’t want to end up overweight or out of shape or both.

It’s true – exercise plans can indeed be boring and distasteful. Also true is that what one person loves and savors and find works wonders for them and lights their inner fire may draw an exactly opposite response from another person.

It’s so common for each of us as individuals to assume that everyone else wants what we want and thinks how we think and will experience what we experience in the same way with the same reaction. We also take comfort in numbers, so having others affirm that our choice is indeed the route to fun and enjoyment makes us feel happy and secure, and there’s nothing wrong with that – unless we find ourselves pressuring those who maybe don’t have the same response or reaction even harder to do what we do, making them feel bad or guilty that they’re not having the same enjoyable experience (which almost inevitably will push them even farther away from trying that particular form of exercise, or possibly any form of exercise).

One of the most important things for each person to work out for him or herself is to find a way to bring playfulness, joy and fun into his or her exercise plan or program. I’m not saying that this will be easy; it can take time to find a physical activity that is actually enjoyable. If a person is really out of shape, almost any activity may be uncomfortable, but still – figuring out a way to make it fun and to involve some laughter and lightheartedness can help make it seem less repugnant.

How do you make exercise fun? Try the following approaches:

  • When kids play, they don’t necessarily have to have a “point” to the play – nor do they have to have a time limit that makes it valid and worthwhile. Remember that 5 minutes of walking is better than doing nothing at all – or a few cat-cows, or pushups, or crunches, etc. It all adds up. Make it a game to see how many small chunks of time you can exercise throughout the day, if that helps you get more movement in;
  • Keep it lighthearted and don’t take it too seriously – if you don’t reach your goal for a particular workout on a particular day (in terms of time, distance, length, weight lifted, skill learned/mastered, etc.), let it go, and just be happy and pleased that you made the time for yourself to play at all;
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new, to look uncoordinated and silly doing it, and to laugh when you don’t – or do – succeed. When I teach yoga, it fills me with joy when students get caught up in the moment of trying a challenging pose or sequence, whether they giggle at not quite getting it or beam with joy when they finally do get it. This is exactly what I’m talking about – forgetting all of the “stuff” that awaits outside of the yoga practice, and just being present and playful in the moment;
  • Exercise with others, and make it an enjoyable social occasion as well as a chance to improve your fitness. You can have an exercise buddy (or two or three) with whom you meet up to exercise a few times a week; you can work out at a gym or sign up for a class; you can join a dance or yoga or martial arts class; you can get involved in an outdoor activity that is inherently social (rock climbing and bouldering certainly are!); whatever you choose, having other people involved can help add an element of fun and joy, even if you’re working your body hard;
  • Add some music that makes you happy, lively, and focused – music makes us move and can add pep and vigor, helping you kickstart and potentially prolong your efforts at moving;
  • Don’t give up right away if you can’t find something that you enjoy; take your time and try lots of exercises and approaches – perhaps you’ll cycle through a whole variety of different activities in search of something that motivates and inspires you, and perhaps something that doesn’t light your fire at first will gradually come to be something you feel you can’t live without. Whatever the case, don’t give up – and again, remember that doing something active, even for 5 minutes at a time, is better than no exercise at all.

Turning physical activity into something that you look forward to, that isn’t a tummy-turning chore that you must endure, can help make for a much more healthy and happy relationship with exercise and fitness. You may find yourself actually looking forward to your workouts instead of finding excuses as to why you’re too busy or too tired after work to make it happen.

For more tips on how to incorporate exercise into your life as a mainstay, check out How to Kick Start Your Workouts & Recommit to Fitness and The Long & The Short of It: How Little Time You Really Need to Make Improved Fitness Your Reality.

Taking a Time Out: Why You Should Make Time to Relax Part of Your Fitness Plan

20160222_132607The slow-paced practices of Yin and restorative yoga give the practitioner an opportunity to slow down and create a conscious space to take a literal time out. A time out from busy-ness, from emails and texts and social media, from screens and demands from others, and from physical activity that requires a ton of energy or muscular effort.

While it’s true that many people need to increase their levels of physical activity to optimize health and fitness, reducing stress and learning to relax could also contribute to improving health and fitness for many people, too.

Yin yoga involves stretches that are held for a few minutes at a time, aiming to increase range of motion in connective tissues (rather than muscles). People often think it’s their muscles that are tight and restricting their range of motion. This can be true, but I’d guess that at least as often, a restricted range of motion is a result of long-held structural patterns that have developed in the body over time. Yin works to gently and persistently try to encourage an improved range of motion in connective tissues that have become tight.

Restorative yoga is a passive practice of deep relaxation. The practitioner uses props such as blankets, bolsters, cushions, pillows, straps, blocks and so forth to put the body into comfortable, relaxing positions. Restorative yoga allows gravity to do the work to encourage gentle opening in certain poses. Restorative yoga creates a meditative, calming place, free from stress.

It may feel boring or like you’re not doing much when you first start out in practices like these, especially if you have a particularly busy or stressed-out mind. You may think you are wasting your time as you think about all you could get done during your time out from the rest of your life.

It can actually be much more challenging to stay focused, present, and engaged in Yin and restorative practices when compared to faster-paced physical yoga practices. The more you practice, though, the more benefits you are likely to find, as you work to calm your mind and encourage your body to relax.

My personal experience reflects this: As I’ve practiced more Yin and restorative yoga, I’ve found long-held areas of tension starting to release. I’ve consciously worked in my practice to “tell” these areas to relax, scanning my body, noticing tension, and then directing my focus to the tension and feeling it relax as I’ve learned to identify and release it.

I’ve regained a lot of mobility and range of motion in my climbing-gnarled fingers, especially – mobility I had taken for granted as gone forever. I have less delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) than ever, even though I work out harder now than ever before. I sleep better, more deeply and easily. And I am much less stressed out.

A few benefits you might experience from including a more relaxing practice in your life:

  • Reduced muscle tension, soreness, DOMS
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved sleep
  • Better weight management/weight-loss potential
  • Improved mood and mental clarity

All of the above work together, actually. Chronic stress can mean chronically elevated cortisol levels, and elevated cortisol can keep you in a perpetual “fight-or-flight” state of being in your body. This encourages the body to prepare for emergency, which can make it want to conserve resources. In other words, it makes the body more prone to holding onto fat, and can make you hungrier as the body tries to shore itself up for the emergency situation, too.

Not enough sleep is also linked to being overweight and weight gain. Muscle tension and soreness can be direct results of stress, too, and this chronic tension and soreness reduces flexibility as well.

If you don’t think you have the time to take an hour or so out for yourself to stretch out and relax once a week, or you find it unbearable to do so, consider starting with a shorter period of time.

Try to give yourself five or even three minutes to close the door, turn off the lights, leave your phone outside, and turn your mind off, focusing just on your breathing and scanning your body for tension. If playing soft, relaxing music helps, go ahead.

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One of the most relaxing restorative poses is so simple: you just lie down next to a wall, and then swing your feet and legs up so they’re propped above your head up the wall. Your legs don’t need to be straight if that’s not comfortable for you.

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If this doesn’t work or you don’t feel relaxed in this pose, try simply lying down in a comfortable position. Your knees can be bent with the soles of your feet on the floor or mat or bed if having your legs straight doesn’t feel good.

Let your hands rest out to your sides, palms up, and try to relax your shoulder blades.

Close your eyes, soften your jaw and your face, and bring your awareness to your breath.

Scan your body consciously for areas of tension. Encourage them to release.

Relax. Let go. Be present. Enjoy.

You deserve it.

Read more: Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” Is Public Enemy No. 1