I had a conversation with some friends about yoga last weekend. One said she loved it; another said she was put off by the wibbly-wobbly spiritual stuff that seems to come as part of the package.
I thought this was interesting, because although I have certainly been to yoga classes where I was invited to pray to the goddess, the indisputable mental and emotional benefits of exercise suggest that our psychological selves are more closely bound up with our physical selves than traditional religious or “spiritual” (horrible word!) doctrine would like us to believe. We exist in our bodies, not in our immortal souls, which is why eating well and exercising make us happy as well as healthy.
So I am pro-exercise, as long as you can do something you enjoy. I really love Pilates and swimming, but I wouldn’t say I do either with great vigour. It doesn’t matter: the simple fact of taking yourself away from your everyday environment and using your limbs rather than your mind for an hour, especially if you spend most of your time sitting at a desk, has benefits way beyond the calories you might burn up while you do it.
Of course, if you spend an hour sweating over something you hate, like – ugh – hockey, you’re unlikely to end up happier, because the small buzz that the exercise generates will be overshadowed by growing dread at the thought of having to do it again. Finding exercise stressful rather than fun is an easy way to slip into the body-hate mindset that is so pointless and harmful. At school, I was awkward and ungainly and the last to be picked for sports teams, and although that was completely to do with my own adolescent hang-ups and had nothing to do with my actual body, which worked about as well as anyone else’s, the pain of Being Bad At Sport long outlasted the point at which anyone apart from me cared how fast I could run, or how often I could return a serve in tennis (answer: never).
Now that we’re grown-ups it doesn’t matter if we can’t run or hit a tennis ball, because we can choose to do something else instead, but I let that ancient anxiety poison my relationship with exercise for too long.
So if you hated PE and used to hide in the cloakroom to try and get out of it, take heart. It’s not about how many Twixes you burn, it’s about using your body to have fun. Try something off this list, and let me know how you get on:
- Belly dancing
- Synchronised swimming
- A pogo stick