About 2 years ago I made the decision to stop going to the gym and exercising so intensely. To some of you, this decision might feel confusing - why would I stop doing something that’s so “healthy”?
I want to start out by stating that every single thing I share below is a personal experience. It is not meant to shame people who go to the gym or to pretend that I know what’s best for anyone else. It is simply an evolution of my own personal relationship with movement and my body meant to inspire those who are seeking a new perspective.
The truth is that I had a massive awakening around my own inner stories about exercise. I knew deep in my gut that moving my body wasn’t meant to be so mind dominated. I realized that absolutely everything I knew about exercise came from an accumulation of beliefs that did not belong to me.
At 10 years old when I was struggling with binge eating and feeling ZERO motivation to move, I felt that something huge was missing in my life. I realize now that I was craving a deeper and more intimate relationship with movement and my body. But I had no one to show me HOW. Everywhere I turned I saw something that didn’t resonate with my soul. Girls at their first practice of the season throwing up from being so overworked, mandatory sprints, dance classes where I constantly felt body shamed for not looking like everyone else, being rewarded for how perfect our splits were and embarrassed if we couldn’t get there. Movement felt like hell to me because there was not one coach, instructor, or person in my life who could teach me how to enjoy it.
I realized that most people walk around believing that the only way to achieve anything they want is to struggle. This is a belief that has been ingrained in all of us for generations.
It’s common to think that getting or maintaining your ideal physical body comes through hard work, challenging yourself, and pushing your body to its limits.
But what if that’s only “true” because we all believe that it is?
We live in a society that values scientific studies and the experience of others over listening to the wisdom of our bodies. And while I think that we can learn a lot from experts, research, and others who are on similar paths to us, none of that should ever make us discount our own feelings and intuitive guidance.
The way I see it is this: if something you read or hear makes you feel expansive, alive, and more connected to yourself…follow it.
If something you read or hear makes you feel scared, heavy, and disconnected from yourself…question it.
I came to the realization that the beliefs I was holding onto about movement were making me feel more disconnected to myself every day. My ten year old self was crying out within me to show her another way.
It’s not that I hated working out. I actually really enjoyed a lot about it. But I started to become aware of certain feelings and beliefs within me that were based in fear and keeping me disconnected from my body and from the joy of movement.
At 18 I had begun a strong gym regimen that lasted for about 7 years. It was rare for me to stray from my 4-5x per week schedule. But two years ago, I started to become aware of certain aspects of the gym that were keeping me stuck in an old narrative around fitness.
1. I started to walk into the gym and tune into the energy there. I noticed that so many people looked miserable. Hanging over the stair stepper, yelling, grunting, distracting themselves with TV, music, podcasts, etc. Forcing themselves to chug some unknown neon blue powder to trick their bodies into believing they have enough energy to do what they’re doing when they actually don’t?
This is not to judge anyone who does this - but I started to wonder how this collective energy was affecting me.
This made me realize that I want to enjoy sacred time with my body. I wanted the movement I was doing to feel so good that I didn’t need to dissociate to get through it or consume something to mask my body’s cues and need for more rest. I questioned the belief: does it really have to be hard to be effective? If I have to distract myself from it to get through it, is that really what my body needs?
I realized that I so badly wanted by body to move a certain way, look a certain way, and reach a certain level of physical fitness, but not once did I ask my body what it was needing first. I just tried to force it to follow my routine believing that my mind knew more than my body does.
But I started to wonder, would I see even better results AND feel better doing it if I just listened to what my body was asking instead of ignoring it?
2. I also noticed the lack of safety I felt to try new things. Even after 7 years at the gym, I was afraid to listen to the way my body wanted to move. Having worked with trainers in the past and being in a relationship with a future Physical Therapist, I have a solid foundation of “proper form” on most movements. But the truth is, every single body is different and what might be proper form for someone else isn’t necessarily what’s best for me.
For example: having long femurs but being told my knees can’t go over my toes in a squat. Although there are many newer studies out there explaining that this cue isn’t necessary for everyone, I can’t tell you how many times an exercise instructor or gym rando has tried to correct me in the name of “safety.” The fear of being approached or judged by others for listening to my body pulled me away from myself and led me to feel like I was constantly on edge making sure I had perfect form.
And I know that is is possible to just ignore others and go on with your workout. However, as a woman in the gym, it can be really challenging to let your guard down and zone out into your own little world. For years I tried my best to ignore everyone else and focus on myself. And I did it successfully, however, I never truly felt relaxed or able to explore what my body was needing.
This made me realize that I needed to create a certain level of safety for myself in order to get the most benefit possible out of the time spent moving my body. I know for certain that this is not the same for everyone, but I needed this because I spent so many years hating my body, comparing myself to others, feeling judged, shamed, and confused when it came to sports and exercise. The gym was trigger central for me. And in order to protect myself, my ego took over and I felt this intense need to do everything perfectly.
3. Lastly, it is really hard to change your beliefs about exercise when you are in an environment where everyone else is perpetuating those old beliefs. This really goes for any new habit or thought form you try to create. If you try to stop drinking, yet you surround yourself with friends who drink constantly, it’s 100x harder. If you try to stop thinking negative thoughts but you live in a home with people who are constantly spewing negativity, breaking that pattern becomes even more challenging.
I needed a break from the environment of counting every macro, pound, body fat %, and repetition. I needed to completely break free from that in order to heal and come back to myself and really find out if I could create a new reality with new beliefs about exercise.
It wasn’t easy to make this change.
The gym was a way for me to grip onto control. But I trust the manifestation process so much at this point that I knew I was powerful enough to make this shift.
Other than the environment at the gym, here were some of the other fear-based thoughts I noticed:
I realized that I had a very clear vision for what I wanted my body to look like, but that vision was just inspired by every other celebrity and fitness influencer out there. Lean, toned upper body, snatched waist, big butt, you know…
I started to question WHY I wanted this body type so badly. And I realized that it was driven by my need to prove something to myself and others. I thought it would make me feel powerful, confident, and secure.
But the truth is, there were points in my fitness journey where I DID have my dream body. And I had no freaking clue that I had it. I was too obsessed with trying to be better to see it. And even if I did notice it, I would never let myself celebrate or feel comfortable because I was too afraid I would lose it.
I realized that I did not want to live my life constantly chasing a new body instead of appreciating the one I had.
So many of us lie to ourselves saying that once we lose X amount of weight or build muscle, we will be able to love ourselves and enjoy our lives. But wanting your body to change in order to accept yourself in a never ending chase. And I didn’t want that to be my story anymore.
It’s OKAY to want your body to look a certain way. It’s okay to see yourself as your most beautiful, healthy self and feel excited about that. But the moment that vision makes you feel stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed, it’s not healthy anymore.
I wanted to free myself for a long time but couldn’t get myself to stop. I was afraid of what would happen if I “let myself go.”
That’s when my body started to speak to me. I was doing my leg day workout when all of the sudden I started to feel dizzy and got a massive headache.
I thought it was just a one time thing. But it started happening every single time I was at the gym.
At first I thought maybe I wasn’t breathing properly or holding my neck in the right position. But that wasn’t the case.
My body was telling me to stop and slow down.
And this time I knew I had to listen.
When I stopped going to the gym I felt afraid at first. But I also knew that it was time to start a new relationship with my body and that I could go back to the gym any time I wanted.
The truth is that our reality is simply a reflection of our beliefs. If we believe that doing something is going to lead us to the results that we want, that’s what we’ll get.
I know there are people who will read this and think: but you HAVE to go to the gym to build muscle. You HAVE to challenge yourself to see results.
And to that I say: and so it is.
Whatever you FULLY believe to be true will be.
If you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them. If you perpetuate beliefs that make you think life (or exercise) has to be hard, then it will be.
That’s your choice and I can respect whatever works for you. But it wasn’t working for me anymore.
I wanted to believe that walking, spending time in the sun, stretching, trying new forms of movement like rebounding, pilates, and diving deeper into my yoga practice would yield the results that were best for my body. I wanted to believe that I could move as slowly as I wanted and see even better results than when I was overly exerting myself.
I still held onto the vision in my mind of what my ideal body would look like, but I started to trust that I could get there in a way that felt natural to me. I started to trust that the more fun I had along the way, the easier it would be for me to manifest my dream body and enjoy every moment of it.
I also wanted my body to be the leader instead of my mind. I started to tell my body: show me what you love to do. Remind me of how good movement can feel again.
And it has brought me to a beautiful space within myself again. It feels like I went back and grabbed my inner ten-year-old’s hand to tell her “You were right this whole time. Movement does get to be fun for you. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise."
After 2 years of gentle movement, I realized that I needed to enter my soft feminine era fully in order to heal from the years of toxic masculine conditioning that took me away from by body’s wisdom.
However, the most repetitive lesson that shows up for me is the lesson in balance. To keep it real with you, I have felt a little out of whack for the past few months and I realized I had gone too far into this soft feminine energy. I went through a period where I felt low, sad, and anxious and I did not move my body and take care of myself in the way that once felt good to me.
We all have masculine and feminine energies within us. And sometimes, in order to come into balance, we need to go so far in one direction that we remember the value of the other energy.
Now that I’ve given myself full permission to embody my feminine energy, I realized that I was ready to call back my masculine energy in a new way. Divine masculine energy. Loving, gentle, yet strong discipline.
Pulling myself out of the rut and committing to these practices because I love myself now and NOT because I need to change something in order to accept myself.
Discipline that comes from nothing other than wanting to feel good.
Finding a challenge that I may have a bit of resistance to, but doing it because it feels good to challenge myself.
There is such a powerful difference between mind-dominated exercise and body-guided exercise.
It’s that moment where you are doing a HIIT workout and you start to feel excited about the challenge, you feel your blood pumping, the sweat dripping, and you feel alive. You keep going because you love the feeling of being alive. You stop when it feels like you’ve done enough even if the instructor (or your mind) tells you to keep going.
Telling yourself that if you don’t go all out, you’re never going to see the results you want. Continuously pushing your body past its limits even when its begging you to slow down. Tuning out the pain to complete the exercise in the way you’re “supposed to”
Option one brings me into such a deep place of harmony within myself. And I know this feeling is something I get to keep as long as I honor what is best for my body in each moment.
So what does exercise look like for me today?
In this process, I naturally came across the idea of cycle synching my workouts. Something that has become more and more popular over the past year.
I like the idea that as women, our hormones and the natural rhythm of our bodies align with the cycles of the moon (or period). This idea felt expansive to me.
But AGAIN - I don’t let the day on my calendar dictate anything to me over what my body wants. This is just a guideline that helps me to feel aligned. A permission slip.
In my follicular phase, I love to lift weights, go on hikes, jump on my rebounder
In my ovulatory phase, I love hot pilates and higher intensity workouts (sometimes I’ll even go to the gym if it feels right for me)
In my luteal phase, I’m drawn to light rebounding, yoga, and pilates at home with some essential oils and soft music
In my menstrual phase, I go on walks, sit in the sun, stretch, and sometimes just do nothing
In all phases, I dance in the mirror, reconnect with my ten year old self, and at least give myself a few minutes a day to remember how good it feels to be in my body and how blessed I am to be here on earth having this human experience.
This is what feels right for me now. But I know that I am constantly growing and evolving into what feels most aligned for me in any season of my life.
There are so many ways to move your body.
But I hope that after reading this, you can recognize that your life is too precious to spend it disconnected from your body, dreading exercise, and only feeling good about yourself or accomplished if you did something that was challenging and sweaty.
You have to question the belief that hard = more effective and start living by the rules you want to live by.
You can truly create any reality you want. Don’t let yourself forget that.