Making Exercise an Experience You'll Love

It’s safe to say that the average American's relationship with exercise is not the healthiest. Exercise, to many Americans, is an activity done as a means to an end — whether it be to lose weight, improve a current diagnosis or train for a specific event. It’s not typically done for its own sake or for the pure enjoyment of it. While at the gym, most people distract themselves from the discomfort associated with exercise by watching T.V. on the treadmill, blasting music through headphones or by rushing through reps to “get them over with.” Those at the gym typically plan to be there for about an hour, and when they are done, are relieved that their workout is finally over so that they can go and enjoy the rest of their evening.

People in the east, namely in India, have a vastly different view of exercise. Hatha — the physical movement of yoga — is seen as a part of a larger spiritual practice that is to be savored, cherished and not rushed through. The asanas — or postures — of yoga are seen as an opportunity to become more mindful of the present moment — quite the opposite of what we see in western exercise practices. People who practice yoga are not immune to discomfort or the desire to finish up their practice, however, part of yoga is to recognize these sensations, work through them, and remain present to the feelings, even if they are physically and mentally challenging. Yoga is not simply about strengthening and stretching the body, is it also about strengthening and stretching the bounds of the mind and soul.

People in the west would do themselves a huge favor if they began to approach any form of exercise more like the yogis do. Runners can focus on their form, breathing and the physical sensations of an elevated heart-rate. Hikers can connect with the beauty of nature, the sensory experiences of the outdoors and the peace of solitude. Dancers can become immersed in the music, their natural rhythm and the emotions evoked by their art. The ways in which movement has the power to inspire us is almost limitless.

If you already have a preferred type of exercise, you're ahead of the game. You can incorporate mindful movement, intentional breath and a spirit of enjoyment into your physical practice, no matter what it is, to enhance your experience with it and relationship to it. And if you haven’t quite discovered how to enjoy an exercise routine yet, the good news is you have so many options, (even if you lack funds!) There are tons of free MeetUp exercise groups in metropolitan areas, many studios offer discounts to newcomers, or you can join a friend on their hiking trip. You never know what type of exercise will inspire you until you give it a chance. My advice to you is enjoy yourself, don’t take it too seriously and remember that the best form of exercise is the one you love doing often.

4/23/2015 7:00:00 AM
Natalie Moore, M.A., MFT Intern
Natalie is a holistic psychotherapist in private practice in Pasadena, Ca. She integrates mindfulness into her work to assist clients in finding balance in their lives. Trained at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Natalie has taken a whole-person, humanistic approach to treatment from the beginning of her career...
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As positive as the experience of Yoga is for some people, I would like to extol the virtue of daily Tai Chi practice. Tai Chi is a Chinese system of movement that was originally used for self defense. But, unlike the external arts of Karate, Kung Fu or Tae Kwon Do, in Tai Chi we do not break bricks; in fact, the slow continuous movement you will probably not even break a sweat. Professor Peter Wayne of Harvard Medical School has written an excellent book, "The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi" in which he presents the results of multiple studies conducted by professionals in various disciplines that show the benefits of regular Tai Chi practice. Give Tai Chi a try and see the changes it makes in your life.
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