Contrary to popular belief you don’t have to train like a beast to look like a beauty. High intensity interval training (HIIT) every. Damn. Day. is not the magic bikini body bullet, it will not make you “summer ready” (whatever that means) and it is not the only thing standing between you and the would-be Victoria’s Secret six pack.
Not only is it exhausting to keep up with a rigid routine, it’s also not helping you lose weight. In fact, science says it could be making you well…heavier. This may sound bad for business considering that Wabi-Sabi Well is clearly fitness-focused so, before you carry this out of context let me set the record straight.
I’m not saying don’t exercise. I’m saying exercise intelligently. This means honouring your energy cycles, trusting your body’s intuition and following workout routines that are in line with your biochemistry. You weren’t designed to be pushed to your physical limit day in, day out. Technology may have advanced but your internal wiring simply hasn’t and as nutritional biochemist Dr. Libby Weaver explains, we are still made up of the same 50 trillion (or so) cells as our prehistoric ancestors.
Back in the day, cortisol (the “stress hormone”) and adrenalin (the “fight or flight hormone”), were biochemical blessings. They’d surge through your body when you needed to escape danger. Today, we no longer need to sprint for survival. Instead, modern woman (as Dr. Weaver calls her) sprints in pursuit of fitness. Modern woman’s body recognises this exercise as a wholesome undertaking but her subconscious, the part that governs involuntary primal mechanisms like heartbeat and blood flow, never got the evolutionary memo.
If you’re flogging yourself with endless routine of high impact, hard core and hill sprints without weaving in other restorative forms of mindful movement, you’re basically an arms-wide-open invitation – “cortisol come at me!” What this means is that vigorous, self-flagellating exercise still trips the internal “under attack!” chemical alarm and the body responds in kind. Non-essential systems like digestion shut down as blood goes to the muscles, fat cells go into storage mode – you know, in case it’s a famine-based threat – and your hormone-harmony consequently slams out of balance.
By repeatedly triggering this cortisol response, we end up feeling faded, anxious, overwhelmed, depleted, exhausted maybe a little bit blue. Your brain is foggy, your gut is playing up, your blood sugar is all over the show, sex drive has gone AWOL, and/or you’re gaining weight around your tummy (even though you’re eating well). Sound familiar?
At this point you may be scratching your head, wondering why your virtual trainer is giving you permission to ease off the gas – and what the hell you’re supposed to do instead. Don’t worry there’s a prescription round this next corner so stay with me. While I’m an ambassador for active living, I lean toward the natural way – the Tao of nurturing life, and our bodies. Yes, we are undoubtedly meant to move the body, and to stretch and get blood flowing. But, like New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds says, “Humans are born to stroll.” Mindful movement, play, stretching and daily functional activities are enough to keep our hearts happy, our bodies healthy and our metabolism purring along nicely. Dr. Weaver agrees, “when we are calm we use our body fat so readily.”
Now then, for those who like specifics, let’s address the all important question, “what the hell am I supposed to do instead.” Here are 3 guidelines for you to follow:
1. MOVE EVERY DAY
Forget the standard 3-4 times a week recommendation. Exercise every day. It’s actually a helluvalot easier this way. Why? Because you sidestep the habit of deferral. No placating yourself with promises of, “Oh I’ll just do it tomorrow.” “Won’t I need at least one rest day?” you say. You shouldn’t, if you’re honouring your energy cycles, which brings me to my next point.
2. PUSHED AT TIMES – BUT NOT CHRONICALLY
Consider your natural cycles (the energy ebbs and flows). Sleep deprived? Skip the 10k run. Go for a stroll instead. On your moon cycle (hippie-speak for menstrual)? Opt for a yin yoga practice. Chomping at the bit to get moving? Go! Run, jump, cartwheel all the way home. Enjoy your body’s natural buzz.
3. LET DELIGHT PULL (VERSUS A ‘TO DO’ LIST PUSHING YOU)
As Paul Graham says, “let delight pull you, instead of making a to-do-list push you. This was his hack for procrastination but it makes a lot of sense in terms of fitness, too. When it comes to movement, your loves and natural leanings are an expression of personality and genetics. You can find out if you’re a “high responder” to cardio and whether you have more fast twitch or slow twitch muscle fibres, etc., via lab tests, but they’re not cheap. My best all-purpose advice? Follow. Your. Bliss. Your bliss and your body won’t lead you astray. Love dancing round the kitchen to vintage indy-pop-rock? Hit PLAY. Devout sun saluter? Take your yoga vitamins daily. Forcing yourself to do something you absolutely loathe creates a barrier to benefit. Either change your perception or try something different.
In summation, if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends swap your 6am insanity workout for a stretch. This is not an excuse to be lazy. It’s permission to trust your own body’s wisdom. When you’re in balance, your body will tell you what it needs. And in return for your listening and honouring your body’s wisdom, it will reward you with effortless energy and sustainable lightness.
Consider this a clarion call to leave the body bashing in your dust, roll out your mat and join me for an online WSW workout. You can find a selection of (FREE) workouts on the site here or book a One-On-One personal training session here. Viva la fitness revolution, Wabi-Sabi Warriors! See you on the mat!
Psst. Did you know there’s a whole lot of healing that happens when we lay down our tools and soak up the stillness of a post-workout (or any damn time) savasana. Read more why you shouldn’t pull a runner on your savasana here. Hint: Slowing down speeds up results.