I grew up in a family with an interest in competitive sports. My brother was racing for the Greek cycling team since he was 13 and my father used to be member of the Greek Cycling Federation, so naturally the main topic of our conversation around the dinner table was about races or preparation for races, really tough training and all for one goal… how to be the best and win!
For years I thought I was ‘the lazy’ one in our family. Although since I can remember I was into sports, I was jumping in and out of teams and interests: 4 years ballet, 4 years gymnastics, 2 years basketball, 3 years cycling. When I got a bit older, I joined God knows how many gyms on and off. From gym training, to pilates, to yoga, to running, I’ve done triathlons, 10K races and a Tough Mudder. I even had wind surfing lessons!
To do all that I enjoyed exercising, as no one was forcing me to it. But I was never competitive or dedicated for long period of times. For that reason I spent all my life feeling that I’m not good enough, that I just don’t have it in me and frankly I’m a bit of a fraud. I used to think that to do sports you need to be the best at it, you need to be committed and no matter what, come rain or shine, show up. We are bombarded constantly by ads and media about achievements and extreme goal settings. Messages are playing in our heads ‘You can do this’, ‘Be the best of you’, ‘No pain, no gain’…
Finding my balance.
So here I am now, in my mid 40s and finally I made my peace with exercise. There is no doubt that I love exercise, I really do, that’s why I have been exercising all my life. I realised I’m not a fraud because I’m not competitive. But over the years I fell into the ‘no pain, no gain’ trap and I went through phases that I wasn’t enjoying, my body and my mind mainly was fighting it and then I was giving up for a while only to get back on something different again.
It was always the same scenario, starting with a goal, all excited, my gym gear in place, great nutrition plan and a cover of me on Sports Illustrated after a few months looking all sporty and damn hot (in my head). A few weeks into the routine there was a completely different reality… Every part of me was rejecting the plan above.
So here is what I’ve learned. This is by no means a criticism to athletes, competitive spirits or people with a different passion in sports and different goals. This is just my own personal observation and what really works for me and what doesn’t.
- Exercise for me means waking up my body, stretching and movement.
Our bodies are not designed for sitting in front of computers, cars, trains or buses and tv screens for 14 hours a day. That’s why I crave exercise, I need to unlock my body from the sitting position where I have to put it almost every day for 14+ hours. Movement brings energy to our bodies and to our minds. Even with light exercise, endorphines are released and you feel good about yourself, so great things can happen.
- I don’t like gyms.
It took me about 20 years to come to this realisation. Gyms bring me anxiety. Why? Loud music, enclosed space often cramped with machines, lot’s of metal, mirrors and people that make a big effort to look good for exercising. I don’t feel free in those spaces, I don’t feel relaxed and I feel under pressure. Pressure of time to finish what I’m doing as people are often waiting for you and pressure to look good. My introvert self is suffocating. Not my cup of tea.
- I like to mix and match.
For years I thought I need to find a hobby, one hobby, and stick with it, focus, train, be the best and achieve my goals. Well, I can tell you one thing. This is not working for me. I love to hop from one style of exercise to another otherwise the repetition bores me to death and then I quit.
- Outdoors exercise is the best one for me.
Being out close to nature and breathing all this fresh air, rejuvenates me and puts me instantly in a good mood. But I’m NOT that committed to run in the rain or snow (Rocky music playing in the background here). Yes… but NO. I want to really enjoy exercise, to be mindful and in the moment. To feel my body transforming from stiffness to fluidity. I can’t feel that when I’m battling with the weather elements, I’m cold, wet and all I want is to finish as soon as possible and go home and attack a bowl of pasta!
MY magic recipe:
- BMF (once or twice a week)
I joined BMF (British Military Fitness) almost 2 years ago in our local park. Me and Russ decided to do this together as a couple. I love outdoors and to be honest, rolling on the grass, running around lakes and exercising with other people releases my inner child. You definitely don’t have to look good for BMF and even if you do, you’ll find that in the first 15 mins your mascara running down your face and you are covered with mud.
BMF has different levels that all work together. Russ as an ex rugby player and a captain on his swimming team has amazing stamina and physic. Me, not so much. BMF gives us the opportunity to exercise together and enjoy being outdoors at the same time. He has to do triple as much as I do for his level as that’s how it works. The instructors are there to encourage you and never push you to do something you are uncomfortable doing. It’s a tough exercise, but you are in control of how much you want to push yourself. I love BMF but there is no way I’m going out to do it when it’s pouring down with rain or snow.
- Yoga (once or twice a week)
For the rainy cold days, we have few of those, I recently joined a local yoga studio. When the yoga teacher asked me on my first day “have you done yoga before?”, I almost whispered.. “Ehmm yes, for 7 years….” feeling again like a fraud. But then I realised I HAVE been practising yoga for 7 years, at home (using DVDs or with my favourite FREE yoga youTuber, Yoga with Adriene, go check her out, she is amazing!) but also on other studios, why I felt like I shouldn’t be saying that? Is it because I was on and off? Is it because I don’t religiously show up on my mat 3 times a week? Why I feel I need permission to say I know yoga? It’s still a journey for me to accept that is not a competition and that I have to stop comparing my self to others. It’s a journey and I’m getting there 🙂
- Long cross-country walks (once a week)
Almost every weekend, me and Russ put our walking boots on and go for a long cross-country walk. This is by far my best form of exercise. Usually we do around 5 miles but lately we have been talking to do 8 miles. The energy I get from nature is invaluable. The minute we park our car and start our trek in the woods, this moment is an instant release for me. Stress, worries, anxiety, I leave it all behind. Instead we are dreaming, planning new things, and bringing back good memories, celebrating our relationship and how much we have achieved together.
- Running (whenever)
I like to do a few runs per month. I discovered that my perfect distance is 5K and I’m happy with that. Running gives me this burst of energy and makes me feel so good after. But I have to be honest that running is my weakest point, so for me slowing the pace right down and doing short distances is key.
The thing is that once I have accepted who I am, everything has fallen into place. I exercise mindfully and I’m present every time. I don’t do anything because I have to do it but I really enjoy doing it and want to do it. I found my perfect balance that works for me. If I don’t feel like exercising, I just don’t do it. But I know my body craves for it after a while so I have lots of options to choose what I want to do when I’m ready to get back at it.
If you are or have been like me, don’t judge yourself, don’t put yourself under pressure to look or behave how others do. Don’t put yourself down if you have been quitting or you don’t have a continuity on exercising. Most probably what you have been doing wasn’t the right exercise for you. Just accept you and work on finding what really works for you. If that is to walk from your office to the station instead of taking another bus or park 20 mins away from your destination and do that walk and back once a week, that’s fine too.
Our bodies need to stretch, they need to energise and I finally have found my perfect balance, exercising mindfully which makes me happy and fills me with energy.
And yes, I will never make it to the Sports Illustrated cover, but you know what, I think I’d rather enjoy my life, be healthy and happy and that’s good enough for me.
Have you ever faced the same problem as me, struggled to find your motivation to exercise? Would love to hear your thoughts,