How My Body Forced Me To Listen (The Hard Way)
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A few days ago I wrote about listening to your body when it comes to finding a perfect personalized diet. Today I want to share my story about finding a perfect personalized workout method using your body’s feedback and some common sense.
After moving to New York 7 years ago, I got addicted to working out. Six days a week of hard core cardio, boot camps, body pump, kick boxing, you name it, I did it all! More always seemed better. If I skipped a day, I felt guilty and failed! While working out at the gym, I did yoga every day, too. An hour long yoga routine was my restoration time, not a workout, like it would be for normal people.
I felt proud that I could push myself to workout even on a 4-5 hours of sleep, that I never gave in to excuses, and that no matter where I went I always found a way to exercise. Social life, my personal relationships, sleep, all were secondary to a good workout…
After 5 years of 90min+ of daily workouts, my body started requesting rest. When I didn’t listen, it started to break down. My periods stopped, I was constantly tired, and always hungry. Ignoring my body, I kept pushing through, thinking that if I stop, I will turn into a fat lazy lady.
The worst thing was that exercise didn’t make me that happy anymore, it turned into a chore, something that I had to do before moving on with my day. One of the reasons I was afraid to workout less is a widely accepted concept that “you get what you work for”, and that the more you workout the better shape you are in. What I didn’t understand is that having a fit body that is tired all the time is not any better than having an unfit body.
Another thing that I didn’t understand is that exercise is a tool not a goal of its own, unless you are a professional. Exercise as a tool that helps to create an optimal, healthy body that allows to enjoy life and never feel constricted by the physical discomforts.
After a few conversations with my ayurvedic doctor, Vasudha, and an enlightening book by Claudia Welch “Balance Your Hormone, Balance Your Life” I slowly started to warm up to the notion of nourishing exercise. As all things in Ayurveda, fitness in Ayurveda is personalized and based on your body type. We all are unique and our bodies have different needs for exercise. Daily activity level, stress, type of food, and health condition will also play a role when creating a personalized fitness program.
Sport By Body Type
John Douillard describes fitness preferences by body type really well:
- Vata types will typically excel in sports requiring quick, short bursts of speed and agility. They love fast, vigorous activity but can’t handle too much of it if they are going to stay in balance. If anything, Vatas need to slow down and nature often forces them to, since their endurance is not great and they tire quite easily.
- Pitta types excel in individual competition requiring strength, speed and stamina. They are fiery both in personality and desire to win. They are highly motivated and driven and are often not satisfied unless they have won. They are natural leaders and are attracted to individual sports because of their strong ego and natural competence in most sports. Pitta types must be careful not to get overheated and must learn how to enjoy themselves regardless of the final score.
- Kapha types excel in endurance and mind-body coordinated skills. They are great under pressure and are naturally calm, stable and easy-going. Because of their hypometabolic nature, they will tend to be more lazy and need motivation when exercising. They love team sports but must be sure to get plenty of stimulating and vigorous exercise as well.
Nourishing and Depleting Exercise
Most of us do not realize that high intensity exercise can be a stressor. Our body responds to exercise as an emergency. The fight or flight nervous system gets activated and this emergency response during each workout not only produces stress fighting degenerative hormones. Considering that most of the big city dwellers have drained adrenal glands and don’t have time to stretch after a workout to calm down the nervous system, extreme workouts over time can do more harm than good. This is even more true for women.
Ayurvedic Exercise Solution
It all comes down to what makes you feel healthy and vibrant. Here are some ways that I used to find what works for me.
BREATHE – To reap all the wonderful benefits from working out without harming your body and your nervous system, one has to be very mindful and listen to body’s feedback. It might mean turning off the loud pumping music or the news while you are on the elliptical and instead listening to your breath. If you breath is shallow and incomplete, slow down and bring it back to slow deep breathing. It doesn’t mean that you have to go at a snail’s pace. You can still run 10 miles and hour sprints and breathe deeply! Getting to that point might take some time though, so start easy.
BE MINDFUL - Pay attention to how you feel after a workout. If you are exhausted for 2 days after, ask yourself if it is worth it. I strive to feel energized, alive, and light in my body after a workout. If you are a data junkie, create a workout log and write down how you feel before and after. This way you will be able to observe trends.
STRETCH – I can’t stress this one enough! Stretching is good for your muscles but it is also very calming to the entire nervous system. Do it slowly, mindfully, and regularly!
What I Do Now
After quitting Body Pump classes, cutting down on Bootcamps, and limiting High Intensity Interval Training, my body didn’t turn into a pumpkin, instead, it feel healthy and energized.
gym rat - 2010
yoga, running on the beach, and hiking - happy and relaxed 2012
My periods are back to normal and my constant hunger is gone. I still love a good workout but I became a lot more mindful of my body’s signals and don’t feel guilty taking breaks. My yoga practice is more active since I have more energy and don’t need to spend an entire hour in restorative asanas, even though I still do it sometimes:). Sometimes I still err on the intensity side and push past my comfort level but my body reminds me quite quickly to stretch, rest, and restore.
Questions to YOU: What type of workout makes your body feel alive and healthy? How do you know when you are pushing too much or not challenging yourself enough?
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Stay mindful and breathe whether you are at the gym, a yoga studio, and walking on the street!