Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fitness, Faith, and Fun

Here's what I like about exercising:  Physical activity improves my mood; it makes me feel accomplished; it keeps my blood pressure low and my heart in good health; it makes me strong and, for instance, capable of carrying all the groceries in in one shot, it helps me burn off some restless energy before an entire workday spent seated in a chair; it gives me an opportunity to listen to my favorite tunes and participate in an individual dance party in my head; it allows me to work toward various goals; in a class setting, it helps me to feel the camaraderie of being part of something bigger; when accomplished outdoors, it provides me fresh air, beatific vistas at times, and an opportunity to connect with our earth; and it provides a portal through which I can practice mindfulness, following both movement and my breath.

Here's what I dislike about exercising:  fitness instructors who use weight/food intake to motivate their students.  In a few short months, I've heard several iterations of this.  In a spinning class, an instructor tried to inspire us by telling us that so-and-so celebrity burned x-many calories in her class.  I think it may have been the same instructor who encouraged us to push through a challenging portion near the end of the ride in order to "burn off" a recent holiday meal.  In a yoga class I took several weeks ago, the instructor suggested that a benefit of an inversion practice is reduced cellulite. This weekend, I tried another indoor cycling class at a trendy new studio.  Halfway through the class, the instructor yelled out, "Who wants to change your bodies?" As if dissatisfied  by the moderate, collective cheer, he repeated the question with more oomph to garner more of a response.  Now, if he meant "change," as in get stronger, faster, more flexible, etc., I may have seen his point, But, somehow, I'm not sure that that was where he was going, and it concerns me that the expectation is that, by the very fact that we're there, we're unhappy with ourselves.

The more we exercise to lose weight, burn calories/fat, or to change ourselves, the more likely we are to push ourselves beyond our limits (hour-long inversions, anyone?), turn exercise into punishment, and reduce the joy associated with the inherent act of moving our bodies.  It's no wonder that such a large percentage of people who start an exercise program drop out.  When we exercise to realize the physical and psychological gains associated with movement, to improve our fitness, empower us, and (gasp!) for fun, we can easily sign on for a lifelong commitment.  When we so enjoy dancing and hiking and climbing and swimming and cycling and strengthening and stretching, why would we ever stop?