I finally got it. After years of struggling with something close to an exercise addiction, I finally understand what it means to listen to my body, and respect myself enough to act on it. Needless to say, it feels amazing. Here’s how I did it.
Start with a blank canvas
Listening when you know what what’s coming next is a challenge: when your favorite song is playing on the radio, are you actually listening to it, or are you singing along, already expecting the next bridge, the next chorus? We already know the beat, we already know the lyrics, there is not much listening going on: we are simply enjoying what we know to be that great song.
The same goes for everything else in life. When we know what to expect, we aren’t putting much attention into the details, aren’t really taking the time to analyze, to break down every event that is happening, checking in how we feel. We just follow what is the normal path we are used to, which saves us a lot of energy since we know taking decisions is energy consuming. However, if we want to really listen, then we need somehow to get back to an experience similar to a first time. What I find to be very helpful is to start with a blank canvas.
My blank canvas happened by accident. I had to go on a business trip for a week in France, and I expected it to be very demanding. I decided to keep it simple, and for the first time in many years, to take a rest week. It was scary. I had to mentally prepare myself (no joke), and I did so reading tons of articles promoting the integration of rest weeks in training programs.
I succeeded. I spent the whole week without training. It was challenging, but it gave me the opportunity once I was back to have a fresh start, to get back to what a body feels like when it is not overtrained. That was my new setpoint. I was then able to observe how every workout I did afterwards really felt, its impact on my body, if I had pushed myself too much, if I had taken enough time to rest in between two sessions. Instead of a fixed training program I was planning a week ahead, I am now able to go day by day, not anticipating the second-next workout. I can simply focusing on what I feel like doing today, knowing that I have the freedom and the self-love I need to be able to give myself a day of rest if I need to, despite what my head might be telling me, despite what a “regular” training program should look like.
Tune in (and out)
That was the tuning in. When you know what goes on on the inside, and are able to listen. If we were free from any constraint, living in a perfect single bubble with only our needs to satisfy, we could make sure that every cue is taken cared of, and that we are always acting based on those.
However, we are (luckily I would say) part of something that goes beyond ourselves: we are connecting to one another, as well as integrated into a bigger picture, into our environment, part of the universe. That fact means we also have to be able to get in tune with what is happening out there every time we are making a decision for ourselves. We have to look for that compromise between our very own needs and the actual reality.
Ayurvedic medicine perfectly understands that. When a doctor makes its diagnostic, it takes into account not only the Dosha of the patient and its actual condition, but also keeps in mind his whole environment: the season, the climate, his lifestyle, etc. That’s where the richness of the treatment comes from.
We all face different challenges every day. I am an introvert, and business meetings make me uncomfortable. For others, it might be an inconvenient work schedule, a child to take care of, a demanding spouse, or simply winter that is showing up way too soon and that transforms commuting into a real struggle. It’s great to be able to listen to what we need on the inside, but we also have to take into account what is going on on the outside.
Make a conscious choice
Even when listening to how we feel and being in tune with what is actually happening out there, we might not make what would be the best decision for ourselves. Even though it did change a lot since I have been back from France, I am far from being perfect when it comes to exercise. It is not because I am able to listen now that I still don’t overdo it. I love it, and I have a lot of trouble resisting a great yoga class with one of my favorite teachers, even if I know that I am tired and that my muscles would need a bit of a rest.
And that is ok. The major difference now is that I make it a conscious choice. I choose to add one more day of training before taking a break, it is not imposed on be by some schedule I made up days ago.
It is challenging though. Breaking out of habits, leaving the autopilot mode to be fully aware day in and day out is not what we are wired to do. Habits are created for a reason. They save time and energy. Living consciously can be hard work. However, with a little bit of practice and patience, we all have the capacity to listen. The real question is more whether or not we want to listen. It takes the willingness to acknowledge what our body and our mind are telling us, and then a lot of loving kindness to act upon those messages. That’s where the actual work begins. Developing that compassion towards ourselves is the first step, and it is the only way we can truly then become more aware of others as well, truly listen to what they are telling us, the messages they are sending, to finally be able to take care of them.