I love the fitness industry. Ten years ago, most of our exercise regimes revolved around chain gyms. Today, new initiatives pop up every other week. From racing through sprinkles of colour to morning sober dance parties, there’s almost something for everyone.
Here are some of the things that have made keeping fit that much more effortless for me.
Find something that excites you
I was lucky to have my toes dipped into exercising early. Read: my dad tossed me into the pool when I turned three. He was so sure that I would freestyle my way out of the 1.2-metre deep pool.
That got the ball rolling. As soon as we (me, my brother and our friends) could stand on our feet without toppling over, we were put into tennis, sailing, bowling, scuba diving, golf, roller-blading, and just about any other sport that we could learn together as a group. Turns out, there was no Stefi Graf or Tiger Woods amongst us but at one point we all became junior open water divers.
Tennis is my first love. Some of my best dreams are of endless cross-court rallies. The feeling of hitting the ball through and landing it exactly where you want is incredible. The tricky thing about tennis is that you always need a partner and a court.
Enter running. The other sport that stuck with me. I wonder if these inclinations get passed down the genes. My dad sometimes talks about his old running routes: “from one end of East Coast Park to the other.” That’s 20km every other day.
By the time I was 12, my 5am weekday runs no longer surprised mum. I’d hop out of bed, brush my teeth, throw on pants, a shirt, lace up, and set off. The fresh morning air and sun softly coming up as I end the run.
Running has carried me through so many highs and lows. Through happy times and sad times. Uncertainty and celebration. Boyfriends and bosses.
What I like about running is the solitude. Author Haruki Murakami sums up the joy of running so precisely in his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:
I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.
Make it fun
I’m always asked if I get bored when I run.
Just like how it’s important to keep things interesting after years of being together in a relationship, it’s also important to keep finding ways to make exercising more and more enjoyable for yourself. It could be as easy as surprising yourself with a trendy new yoga mat, coming up with fresh running routes or getting involved with your sporting community.
I love music and running to a great track makes my runs somewhat magical. My running soundtrack over the years goes something like this:
Yelle’s “A Cause Des Garçons”, Estelle’s “American Boy, The Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow”. Then, a few years ago, I discovered longer tracks. Podcasts. Full hour Boiler Room mixes. Spotify running playlists that match tempo to music.
But I digress. Do I get bored when I run? Not that I remember. My runs usually end when I’ve covered my distance or sometimes earlier, like when I can’t muscle through a side stitch.
Know what you want
People turn to exercise for a whole bunch of reasons. Weight loss, stress relief, good health, happiness, better energy levels, strength… the benefits are endless.
For me, I got into exercising for the calm and happiness that I feel during and after exercising. While some people turn to reading or computer games, moving is the surest way for me to reduce stress and clear my mind.
Think of it as a moving meditation.
Meditation for me means to quiet the mind and get calm. But while I enjoy the few minutes of seated meditation at the end of my yoga practice, keeping still for any longer makes me either restless or sleepy.
I’ve learnt over the years that movement has the same calming effect on me that seated meditation has on those who enjoy it. Moving gets me out of my head and allows me to simply exist in the moment.
Trying to reach a state of meditative calm while panting during a run might sound bizarre – it definitely didn’t come instantly to me. But I’ve found that over time, with practice and more familiarity, sports such as running, yoga, swimming and rock-climbing lend themselves particularly well to mediation.
What do these sports have in common?
They are all closely linked to mental and breath control. Breathing is a key element that has transformed my runs and yoga practice. As I shared in The yoga breath mystery, the benefits of regulated breathing (which I picked up from yoga) started to show in my runs too. When movement follows breath, the body instantly knows how to soften, relax and get calm.
Secondly, these are all individual sports that are played without the goal of winning. Any competition is within the self, to beat personal goals. The solo nature of these sports makes it easier to focus and become more mentally present.
The other thing that helps with reaching a state of calm through movement is to be proficient. Take for instance yoga, it took time and practice to become familiar with the sequences. When that clicked, the cascade of benefits happened. I struggled less and could actually focus on my breath while following cues.
The common thread across these tips is this: you must enjoy what you do. Find what works for you, make it fun so it’s pretty much effortless to stay committed, and do what serves your ultimate goal.
Making exercise a part of your life might sound challenging at the beginning, but habit pays off. And the mental benefits of your workout might just surprise you.