Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What's Keeping You From Exercising?

I have a client who is resisting going back to the gym because she has an emotional release when she works out. She knows for the first 2 weeks, when things start to get intense…she’ll cry.

I ran for years as an alternative to therapy. When my body could no longer take the intensity of my repression and my knee was a mess, I had to turn to other forms of exercise. The problem was, I was in such insane cardiovascular shape, I couldn't seem to get my heart rate up doing anything, and I couldn't do any repetitive motion since I had obliterated the cartilage behind my kneecap. The same time I started seeing a therapist, I got drawn to Bikram yoga.

If you haven't heard of Bikram, it's hot yoga, yoga in a room that's 105 degrees. Yep. Yoga is a detox already, add the heat and oy. If you've ever done any kind of detox (dairy, caffeine, smoking, juice fast) you know that there is, in addition to the remarkable things your body will physically expel through the skin and digestive system, an emotional release.

When I started taking Bikram, I cried every class. And by cry, I mean lost it. The kind of crying where you’re not even sobbing, it’s just a faucet of tears and snot. Sometimes I would have memories of events but often it seemed nonsensical, unconnected to anything. Luckily, in Bikram, everyone’s so sweaty and focused, it wasn’t even noticed. I had never been present in the way I was forced to be in these classes. This went on for a good 18 months of taking class. A friend of my sister’s talked about doing camel pose and crying her head off as her heart chakra opened. I couldn’t even do this pose fully for ages because I got so nauseated I thought I was going to toss it.

We store suppressed emotion in our bodies. Most of the things we stifle are dark or negative (anger, anxiety, sadness, grief), we aren't conditioned to do that with positive feelings. Not many of us hear, "Stop laughing!" when we’re growing up. If we don’t deal with our anger, sadness, and frustration, it gets stored on a cellular level. We can develop muscle tension, indigestion, and suppress the immune system (which can contribute to a range of illnesses from the common cold to cancer).

I have moved away from Bikram and now take vinyasa yoga but I still have emotional releases, although much less frequent. What I’ve learned to do, through yoga and a damn good therapist, is to be present with my emotions as they happen. Imagine! It means I have a lot less to work through when I exercise.

I am also able to run again but now approach it as a mind-body exercise, not an avoidance technique. I’m always aware when I’m exercising mindlessly because I almost always injure myself. I’ll be too tired to go running and tweak my Achilles or overextend my hamstring in yoga. There are still some poses which get me more than others (Hi, Camel. What? I have no intimacy issues!) but I now recognize that as growth and not a reason for a detour.

So get out there, work out those issues that are keeping you constantly under the weather. You’re not alone!


Lisa Stone said...

Okay, how much do I wish I could do that stretch?? Because I cannot. Ironically, since I just started running again last month, I find that I'm tighter. I think I need to counter-balance all this aerobic activity with some boring (and oh so much more painful) stretching...

Janet said...

I just started doing Bikram this week, and every time we do camel pose I want to cry and throw up at the same time. I have to stop and go into child's pose. I'm glad I am not the only one.