Exercise for wellbeing

Today I went back to the gym, after a few days off. I noticed I had been feeling twitchy, unkind and a bit blah. I knew if I thrashed around on the treadmill for a while I would find my balance. Also when I put on my Lycra clothes and sports bra I feel thin and powerful. Mostly because they are so tight, the restrictiveness makes me breathe in and stand taller. I feel like I can conquer the world when I am wearing my gear on my way to a workout session. Within minutes of arriving, I am exhausted, sweaty, and feel like I might vomit. I get off the treadmill and sit down for a bit on the rower, recovering.  I look at my biceps as I pull back the handle part, looking for any sign of definition. Nope. None.

What I have noticed mostly about scheduling regular exercise is that it helps my mind. It makes me take some time out from my own stuff and it shuts off the over thinking. It also means I don’t prowl around the house looking for another load of washing, then spend an hour on the lounge waiting for it to finish. At the gym, I am more aware of my body, I slow down, I breathe, I connect to myself and my thinking slows. I am find it hard to fill my head with negative self talk.

Positive mind talk

Often there is a personal trainer in the gym shouting something to someone else that I take on as my own. She says things that I wouldn’t normally say, but I’m happy for them. “You are a machine!” she yells. Yup, I think plodding away on Level 8, when I by now, I should* crank it up after seven months at the same speed. I am a machine. “You are on fire!” Yup, I think, listening to Karl Stefanovic snort laugh on morning TV. I am on fire.  “Look at you go!” I glance at the timer. Has it been 10 minutes, yet? Only 2.18? What the heck? Look at me go, sweating and puffing for another seven minutes and thirty two seconds…

I know I haven’t lost weight, because when I take off my high pant leggings, the spare tires and the tummy sag back into position. I don’t go to the gym to lose weight. I go to let off steam, to de-stress, to find my zen and to slow down my thoughts. Now instead of speaking to my shoulder in an negative way, like “You are so weak, the other side is much better than you…” I now, feel the difference between each side when I push out or pull down and say more reassuring things like “Wow –you are really getting stronger, thanks for sticking by me.” I notice that I can run the same distance with less encouraging talk, I notice my fitness has increased.

Positive body talk

It is important to be kinder to your body, to acknowledge it is amazing and doing great things. Because it is; and you are, anything less than this is self-destructive on a cellular level and the body begins to believe you.  Byron Katie tells us that when we as humans, fight and rail against things which upset us, we create our own frustration. Her theory is about loving what is, loving the round parts of our bodies, loving the firm parts, loving the dimpled bits and stretched out bits. She is about loving the calm and the storm. Watching it all play out. Her philosophy is fluid and makes sense; whenever we go against something, it hurts us and other people. It stops us finding peace in our lives and experiencing joy.

The more you lie on the couch saying to yourself  “I feel fat,”  or  “I’m just so tired,” your body and brain will believe it. For me, I always feel fat and lazy when I don’t exercise. I feel much better after. The chemical release of endorphins is what my body is craving. I often feel awful doing it, but always much better having done it.  So even if you don’t feel you are getting any visible physical results from exercise, you are getting results. Your neurochemistry is elevated, enhancing your mood, your heart and bones are getting stronger. Your nervous system is maintaining equilibrium.  Your respiratory system is working hard to send more oxygen to your body, your muscles fibres are on, pulsing with more blood and you are sweating, excreting nasty toxins.

Be kind to yourself, if you don’t feel like it, don’t do it.  Listen to your body. Be guided by what it is telling you.  More often than not, it can be helpful to listen to the body and ignore the brain! I have been to the gym tired before, because I felt I should, and I lasted 5 minutes before packing it in and heading home. Your body knows what it needs.  I will finish with two very profound words by a wise man named Tom Braun, “Should, shit.”*

* If you feel you should do something, it is often somebody else’s expectation of you. Sometimes it is more realistic to be driven by our own wants or needs, rather than someone else’s shoulds.


Rachel Wilkinson is a holistic counsellor and massage therapist working at Step into Health in Mansfield Park, Brisbane.  Depending on what is going on in her life, she is also a regular member of a gym. She listens to people for a living, so in her downtime she talks a lot, to friends, work colleagues, random people in the supermarket and delivers many life lessons to her small children, when they are trapped by seatbelts in the car. She finds relief in writing.


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