Getting Off the Couch to Nowhere
Y’all I know I don’t need to tell you why to exercise. You already know that exercise boosts immunity, helps you maintain a healthy body weight, releases endorphins (that make you feel happy), and keeps you looking hot in your yoga pants.
We all know all these things. And yet, Americans are more sedentary than ever. We sit almost 8 hours a day. And apparently, all the money and education in the world won’t help you, because the wealthier and more educated you are, the more time you are likely to spend sitting down. So that means the more likely you are to know that exercise is good for you, the more likely you are not to do it.
Which is just to say that knowing that something is good for you and actually doing it are not the same thing. We think the distance between what we know and what we do can be measured in motivation, but let’s be honest. Motivation waxes and wanes. It might get you running once in awhile, but it’s not going to make you do it daily.
So what really cuts the distance between, “I know I should run,” and, “I run every day,” is habit, pure and simple. If exercising is a daily habit for you, you are going to do it every day, whether you feel motivated to or not.
Habit is the life hack for slackers.
And I should know. I am one.
Sure, I’m a yoga teacher now. Sure, I get lots of exercise. But I haven’t always been this way.
I was a chubby, bookish, indoorsy child. I didn’t play sports. I didn’t like games. I didn’t ride a bike until I was 11. I still don’t know how to swim. I started smoking when I was 12. None of these factors predicted my future profession.
I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I have yo-yo-ed between 110 and 210 pounds since I was a teenager. If I was lighter, it meant that I was starving myself. If I was heavier, it meant that I wasn’t. There was almost no physical activity in my life.
In 1996, when I was in massage school, I got into a car accident. I had bad whiplash. At the time of the accident, I weighed about 210 pounds and I smoked two packs a day. I was injured and out of shape, in pain and chronically sick. The massage therapist who helped me rehab told me I needed to form a kinder relationship to my body and sent me to yoga.
So I went to yoga and the rest is magic. Now I’m happy and beautiful.
I went to yoga in the basement of a retirement community once a week for a year. It was me and my girlfriend and thirty students over 65. I was the weakest, least flexible, and most out of shape person in the room. I smoked a fat joint before every class just to make it seem like fun. It was not fun. But I made it a habit to go once a week for 45 minutes.
Eventually I felt results. Slowly, I started a conversation with my body. And I found that my body wanted to feel better. So, I started making other small changes. I bought a bike. I biked for 10 blocks every morning when I woke up. Ten blocks! That’s barely a mile. It took maybe five minutes. Then I walked around the block every night after dinner. Four blocks!
You may be thinking that I was taking it too easy on myself, but within two years I had lost 80 pounds and was running 20 miles a week. I started boxing. I went to the gym. My whole experience changed.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was practicing kaizen, making small incremental changes that add up over a period of time. Some part of me knew that I couldn’t rely on motivation to change. Motivation, or a lack thereof, had gotten me where I was.
Instead, I made small changes that I knew I could handle. When those habits were locked in, I upped the challenge. Eventually, I started liking the challenges. I started looking forward to exercise and started loving the way that I felt.
And yeah, now I’m a yoga teacher and I exercise all the time. I get really frustrated when people assume that it comes easy for me or that I can’t possibly understand how hard it is to forge a healthy relationship with your body. I totally understand.
And I still go through periods of intense lack of motivation. But because exercise is a habit for me, it just happens. I could skip it, but it’s as weird to me as skipping tooth brushing. Yeah, I can get away with it, but it feels kind of gross.
So basically, what I’m telling you is that the secret to “getting in shape” or whatever the magazines are calling it these days is GO EASY ON YOURSELF. Set small, realistic goals that make it really really easy for you to meet. Once you have integrated small habits, upgrade them.
Here are five of my favorite ways to bring breath body practices into your everyday experience without a lot of time:
- Wake up and roll around in bed. I’m so not joking. Kick your partner and your cat out of bed and just roll around for five minutes. Follow your body’s desire to move in whatever direction it wants to go. You will find that your muscles love having this time to unkink and stretch.
- The 4- or 9-minute marathon. Grab your iPod, put on your running shoes and walk, jog, run, skip, or all of the above for 4 or 9 minutes. It’s hard to talk yourself out of because it’s less than 5 minutes! Or less than 10! Start where you need to! (This may sound like bullshit, but the 9-minute marathon got in me in shape to play roller derby.)
- The 7-Minute Workout. There are a million apps for this. They guide you through a 7-minute workout that is easy to do with little to no equipment. Even if you already get a lot of exercise, these are great for breaks and morning energy boosters.
- Six Sun Salutations. The sun salutations activate the muscles in every major muscle group in the body. This will probably take less than five minutes and is a really easy way to become able to brag about your daily yoga practice.
- Zombies Run. If you are the kind of person who won’t run unless you’re being chased, this app is for you. It’s a running game app that tells you a story about the zombie apocalypse, sends you on missions, and tells you when to run to avoid certain death.
My challenge to you is to pick one of these things and integrate it into your life, first thing in the morning. Your metabolism will get a boost if you get the blood flowing before you eat. Plus, it will get you off the couch to nowhere and on the not-so-fast track to thrive!
If you need help integrating body breath practices (or other habits) into your life, check out my Embodied Alchemy course. Change your experience so you can change the world!