Realising What It Is To Feel Truly Alive

Today I was thankful to myself for having picked up and persisted with exercising regularly. Why? I was thankful for being relatively fit and to my body for allowing me a beautiful experience hiking to and through the Gorropu Canyon in Sardinia. I had the strength and stamina to hike and ramble over rocky and hilly terrain. If there is any gift the body can give you it is being capable, not of achieving but capable of experiencing.

In life the final destination is death. We all get there one way or another some day. Death doesn’t seem to be the highlight of living, the highlight of living is found in the journey and the experience of living. We all go about this in different ways, no way more right or wrong than another. Each way is entirely valid – and the way me meander the choices that cross our paths is one defining factor of our existence.

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Lets be more specific and less grandiose with this idea: today my previous choices to be healthy, mentally and physically have allowed my journey to include this trip to Sardinia, and today my trekking to the Gorrpu Canyon. As an able-bodied person I know all too well the feeling of being less able due to my mental illnesses. I know the feeling of can’t for the small tasks, the disappointment of  ‘I can’t go, I’m unwell’ for the planned events and, ‘I have mental illness’ for the explanations of all the things I can’t do but ought to be; working, driving and not self harming.

This inability in so many areas of  my life fuel great levels of gratitude for everything I can do. Furthermore when past choices have made me more able than I would have previously been also exemplifies my gratitude for the very basics of human life; the feeling of being alive, very alive, not too alive because that can become illness too, but very alive all the same.

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Another wonder of being alive is mindfulness practice. Generally mindfulness practice opens yourself up for space, observation and tuning into your body and mind. Mindfulness isn’t just for sitting silently and practising. Being mindful of moments in time and space opens up for really experiencing what is around you. Tuning in to how the mind feels gains understanding of what makes us feel good, or otherwise.

The little things make up our experience. Trekking in the Canyon of Gorropu was not a little thing but an accumulation of many little things to tune in with in one day make the Gorropu Canyon a big thing. The rock formations, the river, the wildlife and drinking water fresh from the spring. The stunning heights and great vastness of what nature created in this unforgiving climate and environment created by mother nature.

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My body again, thank you nature, was able to climb, scramble and hike in the heat of a 34 degrees celsius humid day. This was not due to nature alone though, my own input into myself contributed too. Earlier this year I chose to be more active. Years ago I originally made the choice. Getting to today has been a journey of multiple successes and failures. It has been a learning curve at times. I am not at my final destination, yet knowing what makes me feel alive, knowing what ignites a fire in my soul and knowing what really makes me happy about living can help form the decisions I make today and tomorrow for my future.

It turns out that exercising and nature are two of the most impacting aspects of life that make me feel alive. Even when it is hard and not so enjoyable the challenge is part of it that works for me. Feeling alive encompasses both positive and negative experiences. I don’t think this is a wildly new revelation but more a forgotten basic foundation for experience. Since the beginning of time people have led active lives and a lot of people like nature. We have only become so sedentary in the last century or so. To me it makes sense that we need activity and exercise to feel alive.

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Being alive is exactly that: your heart beating as you reach the peak of a climb, the profuse sweating that pours from your face, the motion of moving our muscle and the burn of lactic acid that means your muscles are working. The swell of your fingers as your blood vessels dilate in order for you to continue being and feeling alive whilst you enjoy the challenge and observe your surroundings.

Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes our body won’t allow you to do what you desire and that doesn’t mean you give up and resign, it means you do it more. You practise, you keep moving in order to fulfil your desires to do what you want to do, to experience what you want to and to ultimately feel fully alive in a way that lights you up and keeps you yearning with a passion for life itself.

Today I walked to and through the Gorropu Canyon. I saw nature in many forms from rock formations to dragonflies tinkling in the wind. I felt the coolness of the river water as I tipped it over my head with my hat whilst my heart beat pulsated through my entire body. I must have sweated litres, and I experienced the burn of the sun – the engine of all life forms – whilst hiking through the mountain followed by the relief of shade. I saw a cruel beauty at the canyon in an unforgiving climate and terrain that also has the ability to destroy you as much as it does amaze you.

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I am grateful for today, for being well enough and strong enough for today to have happened. I am now lusting after another trip for climbing and more hiking. I have had a snippet taste of this island and I want more. I want more experiences from the island that I can’t do now, rock climbing and harder hike for example. I also want more from myself, more strength, more experiences, more from the core of life. I want to experience life in a way that makes me feel alive and leaves me wanting more that money can’t buy. Today a spark became a flame and I want it to be a bonfire.

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The Puzzle of Movement: Find Your Mind

Work On Your Mind

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It is your biggest barrier and your biggest tool to self realisation and achieving fitness goals is your mind. I’ve said it a few times and I’ll say it again, physical activity and incorporating it into your life can be just as much an emotional and mental challenge as it is physical. Sometimes, you may find yourself stopping mid activity because you think you can’t push any further.

Practice pushing your own self limitations and step a little out of your comfort zone. I challenge you, and see what happens. You may shock yourself. I have certainly shocked myself a number of times.

Find Something You Enjoy

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Don’t vow to run 4 times a week if the magic of running hasn’t struck you. I would encourage persevering for a month or two with any activity to see if it grows on  you, but if you’re really not feeling it, try something else. Try getting on your bike, or swimming a few lengths, or an exercise class – of which the variety just keeps on expanding.

Who knows what classes we’ll be attending in 5 years time like we’ve been needing it all our life. I don’t particularly like group exercise classes, so don’t really go or seek to go to them – but for others, they’re a staple to their weekly schedule. Dip your toes in many ponds before diving in completely, getting all the kit and making a plan that you won’t stick with because you’re not enjoying it.

Enjoy Yourself

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I’ll tell you a secret – you’re allowed to have a bloody good time whilst working out. You’re allowed to laugh, smile and make friends. All of which help in keeping activity as part of your routine and daily life. Have fun – some of the best times I’ve had, and the best people I have met has been via exercising, and not getting wasted in a club or pub a few times a week: conversely to popular belief.

Do It For a Reason You Believe In

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Sometimes we need a bit of external motivation. Getting up in the morning to run can be a challenge. Dragging your arse to your 6am gym class before a full work day can seem like the last thing you want to do when the alarm goes off at 5.30am, but people do it. Hundreds and thousands of people do it, and they do it regularly.

Maybe they have something that we snooze button pushers don’t have – and I think it is a purpose and belief in what they’re doing. It becomes a passion and something you couldn’t imagine not doing. Passing up a few more drinks past tipsy to get up in the morning and feel alive whilst doing sun salutations may seem a bit alien to you right now, but after a few months of reaping the benefit you may not be able to imagine starting your Monday mornings any other way.

Know Your Goals

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Know what you want from you activity, and reflect on whether you’re getting it – and how to adapt your schedule and habits until you’re getting exactly what you want out of it. When you do this, you’re more likely to stick with it because it becomes important to you, as important as eating every day and sleeping every night.

In my journey I found focusing my why and purpose of exercising beyond achieving a certain body aesthetic, or fitting into a certain clothes size. With these goals, if you achieve them it can feel a bit like “what next?” or you stop once your goal has been achieved and it’s not really become a part of your lifestyle and if you don’t achieve these set goals within a time frame, it can be very disheartening.

Instead, or as well, have a goal that is immeasurable. Are you seeing your friends through your activity? Are you de-stressing from the day and your worries? Are you trying to replace less healthy coping mechanisms? Are you training for an event to raise money for a cause you care for? Take time to notice the benefit you’re gaining. This seems to cement the “I will feel much better after a run” as a solid memory to recall during times of stress or moments of lacking motivation when running feels like that last thing you want to do – or tennis, or gymnastics, or swimming: whatever your activity of choice is.

The Puzzle of Movement: The Preparation Position

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In order to decode the puzzle of movement, I have separated the list into 3 phases. In this phase, The Preparation Position, I address the pre-lace up hurdles that I’ve faced and how I’ve managed to push beyond them. Maybe you see yourself in here somewhere, or maybe someone you know.

The Preparation Position is as valid as any other position in our journeys to getting active – in the early days, these can be some of the most important hurdles to overcome in order to develop the habit of movement.

 

Despite best intentions, plans don’t work out for a reason: Find it

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Over the years I have made numerous ‘fitness plans’, ‘exercise schedules’ and penned runs into my diary – which in my mind makes it an automatic commitment because y’know, pen! Until I close my FiloFax and forget about all my plans, including those in pen.

What I came to realise this year, was that sometimes getting yourself into a routine of physical activity that you enjoy can be quite the process. At first, the excuses come along from every angle knocking you off your well-intentioned uni-cycle and underneath each excuse is a reason. You could opt to pick those excuses up and use them beat yourself up about making pathetic excuses to yourself – or you could take a step back and ask yourself ‘why?’ and therefore arming yourself with something much more powerful than self-defeating talk – you could arm yourself with an inquisitive mind of self-reflection.

Why is it always too hot, too cold, I’m too dehydrated, the roads are too narrow, it’s too dark, it’s too early? When I started asking myself these questions, I got down to the crux of what was holding me back. Most of the time it was anxiety.

I was anxious about being dehydrated and feeling awful.
I was anxious about not having enough energy to complete a run.
I was anxious about running in public and the attention that might attract, or the looks and judgements I might receive.
I was anxious about collapsing.
I was anxious about getting lost or stuck far away from home with no option to get home other than to run.
I was anxious about the discomfort of exercise.

The list could really go on and on and on. By acknowledging these anxieties and validating them I was able to think of solutions.

I began taking water with me for every run, even if it was just 2km around the block until I gained the confidence that I could handle my hydration more effectively. I started slow, and never set off running whilst hungry and realised that if I had more faith in my body it managed my energy availability and usage much more effectively than I gave it credit for. I chose to stop caring what others thought and felt about my body – I exercise for myself and no-one else.

So if you’re finding yourself reeling off excuses to yourself and others about why you don’t exercise despite wanting to get active – ask yourself why. The real why, and don’t be ashamed of the answer – by doing so you’re already a step ahead of where you were when you accepted your excuses.

Start Simple

largeWhen I first tried running and felt that god-awful burn in my lungs coughing up that metallic blood taste on my first try I decided running wasn’t for me. Instead I went to a big patch of grass and said I would just move vigorously and enjoyably for 30 minutes. I had music and I danced. I did some side steps and waved my arms around and just generally learned to enjoy movement of my body again. This is what I imagined discovering the idea of play for the first time would feel like – it was a freeing and liberating decision to just not care.

It’s perfectly fine to go gentle, it’s perfectly fine to not know which activity grabs you straight away. Embarking on a fitness lifestyle change can very much be a journey about discovering and learning about yourself in new ways that don’t occur otherwise. You learn to push your limits, make peace with your body and mind, and appreciate what your body can do.

Take it slow

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Initially there was no purpose or method to my movement other than to move and enjoy it, which is purpose enough. I learned that I felt better for doing it, and I kept on until I felt a genuine urge to try running.

Don’t force yourself to do something you hate. Don’t listen to the media about how you should and shouldn’t exercise. You don’t need to go to the gym and lift or run Kms if you’re not ready. Boogying around your house for 5-10 minutes is a perfectly good start place as any. Be flexible with yourself. Be kind to yourself.

Make it manageable and really put focus and energy on enjoyment, and the fact that you just did it was enough. No pressure for a distance. No pressure to get better. The focus became doing it for the fun of it, the good of it and essentially, the sake of it. Without trying, it will become easier.

Reframe Your Thinking

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At 15 I started running because I thought I was fat. I felt like I needed to lose weight. My internal narrative during running at that time went something like,

“keep moving you fat bitch’

‘don’t stop, you’re pathetic’

‘youre so fat, that’s why you have to do this, youre disgusting, keep going you fat pig. you deserve this as punishment for eating’

In those 3 snippets of self-talk it is very evident that I wasn’t coming at myself from a place of compassion. This narrative enforced exercise as a punishment for just being. I did have an eating disorder at the time, so I’m not sure if this is actually an extreme example of negative self talk or if this is the average inner monologue if you’re dissatisfied with yourself.

Exercising as punishment isn’t healthy. Exercising to bring yourself into a constant energy deficit isn’t healthy. I managed to stick at it for a while – because I was unwell and the hatred was so engrained. Unsurprisingly and much to my frustration, my running habit never lasted. I would never advocate anyone talks to themselves in this way, so why is it acceptable to talk to myself like this? It’s not, I deserved better and you deserve better.

It has taken a long time and may be a whole other journey to learn to love yourself, but through learning to love myself I have an entirely different narrative. It is one of self encouragement, self compassion, and self value.  Sometimes, I even hear my own voice as if it is a cheerleader, cheering myself on. So even if I’m running to that tree on the horizon with my face screwed up I will, somewhere within that creased up face, be smiling. I made it. I’m doing well.

Practicing self compassionate self talk in all areas of life helps build the habit of self-love, which can overspill into when  you’re running up a hill that  isn’t even steep but is making a bloody big difference to the burn in your legs, the depths of your breath and getting up it is a challenge. Accept the challenge. Embrace the challenge. And congratulate yourself on even taking on the challenge. You’re allowed to feel good about yourself.

Address Health Barriers: Physical and Mental

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Some barriers to engaging in an active lifestyle can be overcome with some motivation and positive self-talk and validation. There are some barriers that are physical, maybe you have a dodgy knee that needs specific attention to heal and function well? There is no use pushing through injury to strain your body further – although, maybe getting the medical and physical help you need to heal it would be a positive first step.

Maybe you’re nervous because you’re worried about the effect of exercise on you whilst  taking a medication – it is perfectly fine to seek advice on this. Pharmacists are great for this kind of thing, and massively underrated. They know their shit!

Currently, my meds can make me pretty thirsty, so I often drink a lot pre-workout and during if I can. Sometimes I feel like I’m a camel prepping to trek across the desert for 3 weeks but it helps and as a result it doesn’t stop me working out. If you’re feeling really depressed, then addressing that before you can exercise may be the way forward. Sometimes you need to improve your mood in order to exercise and improve your mood.  It seems odd, but when you contemplate sitting in your own urine because going to the toilet seems like too much of an ordeal, exercising is pretty much not going to happen. This is OK. You deserve help. We all need help in order to help ourselves sometimes. We can’t conquer ourselves on our own.

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Most importantly, in this first stage of prepping to get active, you’ve taken the first step even if you haven’t laced up yet. That’s worth celebrating. Every little thing is worth celebrating and acknowledging. It’s not easy, and you can do it.