Stop Using Exercise to Punish Your Body; Use It to Connect WITH Your Body

Beyond the brain health benefits, beyond the physical health benefits, moving your body is a way to intentionally connect to it and create space for safety and healing and growth.

When you have trauma of any kind, when you have body image issues or a history of disordered eating or disordered exercise behaviors, when you are fighting a chronic disease or are consumed by depression or anxiety… the last thing you want to do is intentionally connect with your body and be present with it.

For this reason, I hold a deep appreciation for movement like yoga or slower, low impact exercises. When I was a runner only, I could escape from the racing thoughts. I could “beat my body into submission,” by pushing harder, increasing my miles or my speed. But in yoga, where the moves rarely change, or when I’m walking slowly through my hilly neighborhood, I’m trapped in my thoughts – and my body. I have learned to lean into the discomfort of being present with my body, instead of punishing it for not acting how I want it to act.

I heavily dislike anyone promoting that you shut down the signals your body sends to you. I recently saw two shirts pop up in Facebook ads (thanks algorithm) that bothered me on such a deep level. One shirt read, “FIT: F*&% I’m tired” and the other read, “Shut up, legs, you’re fine!”

Listen. If I’m tired, I probably need to rest or make an adjustment in my schedule. It is simply unhealthy to keep pushing forward. If my legs are hurting during a workout, I probably need to take a breath, ask my body how to provide it further support. Exercise is an incredible tool for growth and healing. It’s a hormetic stressor that can create stress resilience.

It is not for dissociation and punishment. 

Moving my body is a way to engage, not disengage and dissociate. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is be present and move with the body I have – not punish my body for what I don’t.

Movement is therapeutic, it’s a celebration, and yes – it can even be a form of worship.

What a joy to intentionally flood our brains with endorphins and serotonin and GABA and brain-derived neurotrophic factor. What a gift!

Exercise and moving your body isn’t just something that impacts your physical health. Like with the act of eating, your mindset matters. Your thoughts matter, and they send signals to every cell in your body. Using your time of movement to renew your mind, renew your thoughts about your body, and celebrate what your body can do goes beyond simply pumping your arms and legs and getting your heart rate up.

I love moving my body. I love connecting to it and creating space for safety and healing and growth. I DISLIKE shutting down the signals my body sends me. 

Remember: every thought you think is a chemical messenger that brings information to your cells, positive or negative. Partner with your body; don’t punish it.

Movement Matters

You have the freedom to move your body in a way that feels good for you!

If you want to lift weights, lift weights. If you want to run, run. If you want to dance, dance. If you want to practice yoga, practice yoga. If you want to hit snooze, or take a nap, you have freedom to do that too.

Your body loves movement. Our ancestors weren’t sitting in cubicles under artificial lighting all day. Movement is crucial for detoxification, heart health, stress management, sleep support, blood sugar regulation, and all that other stuff other people have already written articles about.

The problem is that because we have all the information and all the experts talking about it, most of us engage in exercise as a “have to,” and not as a “want to.” We let other people tell us what’s best for our bodies, or we use it as punishment for caving into a craving or to beat our bodies into submission to our idealized versions of ourselves.

We get on running kicks, weight lifting kicks, kickboxing kicks, Zumba kicks, or whatever seems to be the trending activity of the season. We go hard on one activity, make our exercise schedule, then don’t sustain it.

This month, we celebrated freedom. Yet I know so many people who live enslaved to other people’s instructions and expectations about what they need to do for their bodies.

I want you to realize that you have freedom to choose what is best for your unique body – in movement, nutrition, activities, routines, relationships, whatever it is you are doing!

You are the expert on your body. Nobody else knows your body like you do, and nobody else has walked the same road that you have walked with your body. Depending on where you are in your life, the movement you choose can change. It can change seasonally. And that is OKAY!

I used to think running was the ultimate exercise for me, and it was therapeutic for me during a season in my life. Now, I like to change it up, and I like to make sure I’m incorporating some kind of movement once a day, most days. Yoga has been a beautiful way for me to tune in with the needs of my body and slow things down. Instead of running away from my problems with cardio, I’m forced into stillness and awareness. I feel the same about walking. I’m tempted to pick up the pace and start jogging, but being intentional with walking, staying present, is a good way to keep my mind engaged and my inhales and exhales in a rhythm.

It isn’t about weight maintenance or about needing to “make up” for what I eat. Some of my favorite benefits of movement that have zero to do with how I look include and everything to with my brain include: endorphins, dopamine, tryptophan, serotonin, BDNF, autophagy, GABA, glutamate, and oxygenation of the prefrontal cortex.

Different life seasons call for different solutions. Movement is a wonderful way to find awareness and peace in the body you have, so find that thing that you love to do… and do it!