The other day, in a fit of rage, I hopped on the treadmill, put on Disturbed, and ran like I was being chased by an angry rooster.
Roosters scare me ok?
I worked up a healthy sweat, zoned completely out for a few minutes, and ran my fastest mile of the year. Boom. Nailed it right? Working out is a healthy way to deal with your emotions right?
Yes and no.
Sometimes I have to draw a line when it comes to using fitness to process my feelings, and I’m terrible at it.
I got on that treadmill with zero schtups* left to give. I’ve had pain in my achilles, my lower back, and in my neck. (Some days I feel every day of my 40 plus years). After working out three days in a row, I was scheduled for a day off.
But I didn’t care. I just wanted to blow off some steam.
That's the danger zone.
I didn't care what my body needed - I didn't care. End of story.
The moments when we give in to the not caring are what place a level red threat on our goals and progress.
I don’t care anymore, so I’ll eat what I want.
I don’t care anymore, I’ll drink a bottle of wine.
I don’t care anymore, I’m going to lift until my lips are paralyzed because you only live once, right?
Throughout my life, I’ve used exercise as a way to feel better when I’m depressed, or to work through anger, or generally distract myself from whatever it is I’m unwilling to feel. Sometimes the exercise itself makes me feel better, and I’m grateful for that. But that high is temporary. The relief is short-lived.
Inevitably I have to come back to that question that Buddhist teacher Tara Brach asks frequently in her teachings.
What am I unwilling to feel?
I don't know about anyone else, but that's a loaded question for me. Fitness helps me, and I believe helps many people, feel better. But there's a balance. And there's also a price to pay with a reality that sets in physically.
In my twenties and thirties, I could get away with beating myself up physically while ignoring my emotions. I thought a 10 mile run or a 90 minute workout could exhaust the feelings right out of me.
In fact, as many of you who read my blog know, it was my inability to push my way through a run that helped me understand my depression.
My challenge for you today, (and for myself, let's be honest), is to take inventory of our intentions. To pay attention. To be aware and to recognize that soft and tender place where we hold our emotions. To be kind to ourselves for having feelings. To be patient with ourselves as we learn how to handle those feelings.
Yes, work out. But work out from a place of care. Not from a place of suffering.
*Another word for cares. Zero cares left to give.