Physical activity and personal fortitude

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At the core of every change in my life, there has always been physical activity.

In high school, it was every single sport. When I first moved to Vancouver as a teen, it was long solo bike rides, and intramural basketball. When I went through a rough breakup in my 20s, I turned to yoga. When I moved to Toronto 3 years ago, I took up running again. And recently, I’ve been working more and more on strength training.

Exercise is always there in one form or another, but when I’m seeking real change in other areas of my life, I usually undertake some kind of measurable physical challenge.
The past year has been filled with a lot of uncertainty. I left my job, and spent a lot of time hopping back and forth between Toronto and the West Coast, wondering what to do next. And because I needed something in my life that I felt sure of, I trained for my first ultramarathon. With all of the things in my life that were beyond my control, or that seemed nebulous and unsure, this was one major challenge that I could diligently work towards, that wasn’t entangled with the same complications as all of the other decisions in my life. I could just run. And in running a great distance, I could prove to myself that I had the fortitude, strength, and discipline to accomplish this one big thing, even if I was feeling a little lost about where to direct my energies in my career, and in daily life.

Then the fall hit, and I spent a lot of time travelling, and I fell a little out of my routine. I took a break from running because of injury, and took a break from the gym because I was mostly out of town. And that’s fine. Sometimes our bodies need rest, and sometimes as people, we just need a break from commitments and routine. But a month in, I was getting antsy. And I finally made some decisions about my life. For years, I’ve been saying, “I want to live in Toronto AND in BC! I want to work on all of these side projects! I want variety in my life!”, but instead of doing anything about it, I kind of just put the idea that I could make that happen on a shelf, and kept looking for a full-time job that I knew that I would never be fully satisfied with. Why? Because trying to do things differently is scary. TBH, every week I waffle back and forth between feeling like this is a great idea, and everything is going to be amazing, and thinking that it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m going to be broke as fuck, and actually just fucked in general if I keep thinking that full-time freelance is going to be a thing that I can do without just completely burning out while at the same time not getting anywhere. And by the way, who do I even think I am anyways? JUST GET A JOB, DUMMY.

But there is one important thing that I can do that always makes me feel better and stronger and more capable; that let’s me know deep in my bones that I’ve made the right decision; and that I know what I’m doing. And that thing is physical activity. Yes, there is also maintaining relationships with friends, and informational interviews, and hustle, and eating right, and other forms of self care. But nothing makes me feel so completely in control of my own destiny, and empowered and sure of my own strength, as overcoming physical goals. So I’m back at the gym, five days a week. I’m back running three times a week. I’m rowing, and lifting weights, and sprinting up hills. I’m pushing myself until my muscles shake and my lungs burn. And it’s not because I want to fit into a dress, or lose weight, or get my body beach ready. It’s because physical activity gives me a clarity of mind that I just can’t get anywhere else. And somehow, the more I build physical strength, the more this strength of body somehow spills over into strength in every other aspect of my life as well. It’s like I’m physically building myself a well that I can draw on for the energy that I need in other parts of my life.

I know that if physical activity isn’t a part of your every day life, that it can be really hard to get started. Maybe you’ve never been active; maybe you were teased as a kid and you hated sports; maybe you recently had a baby and you feel estranged from your own body; maybe you just think that exercise is stupid and it doesn’t fit in with your personal narrative about yourself.

I’m going to make you a promise though – if you find one physical thing that you think you could possibly like, and just try it for a while, let’s say once a week for three months to start, you will start to notice a change. Not necessarily in the way you look. You might not lose weight, or get swole, or have a thigh gap. But you will feel differently. Slowly that thing that you were dreading will become something that you look forward to. The thing that was so hard will become easy. And over time, your body will surprise you. Rather than being a fleshy vessel that you inhabit, it will become a source of personal fortitude.

So this blog post is part personal essay, part challenge. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, or you’ve never been active at all, give yourself the space to just give it a try. Not to “get fit”, or fast, or slim, or whatever, but to build your well. I know that getting started sucks, but I promise that one day down the road you will wake up and realize that physical activity has changed your life. All you have to do is keep showing up.

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