Q&A: From Fitness Fanatic to Intuitive Fitness Practitioner

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Recently I wrote about letting go of disordered eating patterns in a blog post. That post and the referenced NYTimes article Smash the Wellness Industry sparked some interest and questions from those interested in letting go of “diet culture” or exhausting food/exercise habits. Following is a common question and one I hope is asked more and more as our culture becomes increasingly interested in practices that ask “WHO AM I? WHAT DO I WANT?” versus “WHAT SHOULD I LOOK LIKE? WHO or HOW SHOULD I BE?”

Question: For years and years I worked out really hard and could get the results I yearned for…. But as I get busier, have more responsibilities with less time for extravagant fitness regimes, and have more interest in sustainable and more enjoyable fitness options, I feel confused and overwhelmed with where to begin. Plus, I think I tend to live in my head more than my body, so I can’t really even tell what my body wants! What do you mean by “intuitive fitness?” Where do I begin to know what I might enjoy as well as what my body craves and needs?

Answer: In short, there is no perfect blueprint or roadmap. There is certainly no plan consisting of reps, xx many days of cardio or HIIT, or food elimination practices. If you can start with the idea that becoming healthily embodied — or intuitive fitness — is a process of daily discernment that evolves into a richer journey of discovery of your mind, body and spirit, you can be well on your way to living from a place of wholeness and not just thinking, dieting, or clawing your way through it!

That said, I can offer a start of where to begin, which I recently wrote about in similar fashion in my last post regarding body-based boundaries. As Bessel van der Kolk, author of the Body Keeps the Score said,“If you have a comfortable connection with your inner sensations — if you can trust them to give you accurate information — you will feel in charge of your body, your feelings, and your self.”

  1. Pay attention to your body — Right now. Notice your heartbeat. Notice if both feet are on the floor or if you just must cross your legs in retreat. Notice any stiffness or opening. Notice if you’re leaning away from someone. Notice your belly tightening. Notice if your hips jut forward way ahead from your heart. Notice if your hands are clammy. Notice if your voice gets caught just behind your tongue. Get curious about all the sensations that might feel like too much, the ones that make you question your ability, the ones that make you doubt yourself. Get in your body, get curious like a friendly, loving investigator.

  2. Sensations over Content — After some practice, if the signals your body is giving you make you recognize a pattern of sensations or urges despite what you think you should be doing, these could be your guiding light. Many times our bodies know before our mind knows. If you have a desire to walk but you’re used to running (or even vice versa), give it a shot, and try that movement urge for a few moments. What happens? If you sense a need for a staccato type movement practice, but it’s Sunday and typically your “rest day,” be a rebel, break some rules and get outside and move. Garden. Take a walk with a neighbor. Play with your dog. Run in the sprinkler with your kids. Get grass all over your feet. Or if those things are typically your speed, take a rest. Sit on your front porch. Stay with your breath in more stillness. See what happens. Practice deciphering the sensations from the content, or the old narratives and shoulds, to know what might be your next step.

  3. Stay with Your Mind, Heart & Body as You Take Action — Once you’re on the journey to knowing your body more, it might be time to take action not just physically but in an intentional way cognitively, emotionally and spiritually as well. This could mean signing up for a class you’ve always dreamed of taking. This could mean taking risks like dating again, or looking for a new job. This could mean deepening a relationship and going to therapy because things feel too surface-level. Invite your brain to get handy and creative while staying with your body as you explore body and non-body-based patterns, movements or gestures that need to happen to healthily change or create a new dynamic in your life.

While these three things are far from complete instructions to becoming an intuitive fitness practitioner, they are a start to coming home to your body for wisdom and guidance. The possibilities and ways to explore are vast and unique to you. And, whether you believe me or not, your body does tend to be a lot more intuitive and wise than its often given credit, so offer your body your blessings and hope to trust its signals and guidance.

If you’d like to explore how we can deepen this practice in psychotherapy, please feel free call me for a 15-minute phone consultation. Contact me here.

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