As a mental health blogger, I’ve talked about a lot of coping mechanisms over the years. Some are more effective that others but everyone is different. Self care has become one of the more popular coping strategies lately. People have started to realize the importance of taking care of their mental health along with their physical health. Which is good progress, in my opinion.
Self care can take a plethora of forms. Journaling, bubble baths, and massages spring to mind immediately. However, some forms of self care can be costly and this can be a barrier for some folks.
Fret not, reader! In my quest to help as many people as I can, I have put together a series of blog posts that I’m calling, “Self care is for everyone.” In this series, I will be talking about various self care activites that are proven to improve mental health and general wellbeing. I hope my tips and expertise will inspire you to do better for you. Because I love you.
The first topic on the list is exercise.
If you are anything like me, you have an issue with exercising. The desire to move my body for anything other than required activities had never appealed to me. It was icky to think about; just flat-out unpleasant. I have come up with a myriad of excuses for why I don’t need to bother with it.
“I don’t have time to exercise.”
“I can’t afford a gym membership”
“It hurts. Why should I bother?”
“I don’t want to.”
Overcoming your own resistance in a large chunk of the battle. We all know that regular exercise is good for you. It can reduce stress, help with controlling weight gain, combat aging, and improve your mood. So, why are we, as humans, adamantly against doing the work to improve ourselves?
We have all done this to ourselves. We put off things we don’t want to do until we can’t anymore. The doctor might deliver some unpleasant news about a chronic condition looming. A friend posts a picture of you on their socials and you are appalled to discover a gargoyle standing where you were supposed to be in the photo. Something as simple as you not liking the way you look in a swimsuit anymore. (If you ever did in the first place.) could kick start your fitness journey.
It was the diabetes and high blood pressure for me.
Both conditions run deep in my bloodline. Every woman in my maternal lineage developed diabetes at one point or another in their lives. I inherited the potential for heart disease from my father’s side. Toss a dollop of high blood pressure from both parents on top and you have the recipe for a potential medical disaster.
I’m not getting any younger either. If I could figure that out, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Chronic illness loves to creep into the spaces that youth leaves open as it disappears. I, for one, was not about that life.
This influenced my decision to have gastric sleeve surgery. Not the desire to be thinner, but the desire to live longer and have a better quality of life. The process was grueling and did alter my life in a variety of positive ways. I talk about the early stages of that journey in my book. You can read about my trials to help guide your decision-making with that. However, this essay is about exercise.
They tell you that weight loss surgery is only a tool to assist with weight loss, not the end goal. I have to remind myself of that all the time. Especially now, then the weight has stopped magically falling off. If I want to see changes, I have to work for it.
Story of my life.
The biggest issue with me was finding an activity that I could live with. An exercise that I wanted to do regularly. I tried what was popular with the internet kids, mostly running and jogging. I took regular trips to the gym and spent countless hours on the treadmill. I trained a few times a week and I did manage to complete a 5K in September of 2019. That went well but the beginning of my jogging life was not great.
I made the initial mistake of throwing myself in too hard in the beginning. I would just start walking and I would walk for an hour or more. I would feel good about the distance I could manage but I would feel like trash the next day. My muscles would hurt, and I was very sore. Needless to say, running was not working out long term. I needed to find something I was going to do without feeling like I was obligated to it.
I was always flexible. Stretching was never an issue for me. I could do splits and cartwheels easily as a kid. That carried over into adulthood and I love getting the kinks out of my muscles and joints. I had always wanted to try yoga, but I didn’t think my body was appropriate. Being overweight meant that I didn’t look like the people I always saw bending themselves into amazing poses.
The thing I’ve learned is that yoga works for everyone with a body. Do you have a body? Then you can make it work. I didn’t have to look like the rail-thin yogis I saw on Instagram and YouTube. Most, if not all of the poses I’ve encountered have an adapted version that would work. Can’t touch your toes? Yoga straps and blocks can help with flexibility issues. Sitting on the floor too uncomfortable? You can use pillows and blankets for a more restorative practice. Inversion sounds impossible for you? Some supports and adaptations can make it accessible. Yoga is flexible enough (get it?) for everyone.
There have been some issues in the news of certain states outlawing yoga in schools because they decided that yoga was a religious practice. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga is practiced by all types of people isn’t tied to any specific religion. Yoga is often related to Eastern mindfulness practices. This is not a religious thing. Mindfulness and Meditation can also become part of your yoga practice. Meditation is an effective strategy to reduce stress because it forces you to focus on the current moment and to put other concerns aside.
The breathing exercises can create a focal point while you pose. Yoga relies on breathing through the exercises. You can’t pose comfortably if you are holding your breath. You can also use your breathing as a pacing guide for moving through a yoga flow. It helps to synchronize the breathing and movement into fluid motions that feel good to your body.
Another benefit of a consistent yoga practice is the increased flexibility and strength it can provide. Stretching and working the muscles increases blood flow that may not have been moving through the body as easily as it should. Yoga can also help to decrease inflammation in the body. This eases the symptoms of arthritis as well as high blood pressure.
My experiences with yoga started with a dollar store mat and a YouTube video. I mimicked the poses as best as I could but didn’t breathe right. By the time the first video was over, I was exhausted, sweaty, and out of breath. I was lying on my floor on a heap but I didn’t feel awful. My legs felt good like I’d been walking for a while. I decided to try again.
I kept trying again on and off for a few years. My practice wasn’t as consistent for several reasons but whenever I fell off the wagon, I felt bad about it. I had managed to find an exercise that I wanted to do. I enjoyed bending and flexing. I could tell that I had gotten stronger when the poses became easier to hold for long amounts of time. The day I first managed to get the bow pose right, I felt unstoppable.
My yoga practice also allowed me to clear my head when the anxiety and depression were screaming for attention. The mindful movements and thinking were a valuable distraction from the unpleasant messages that my brain was throwing at me. I tended to have a sense of peace after a good flow.
I would encourage anyone to give yoga a shot. Start with some simple stretches. If you can’t touch your toes, make that a short-term goal. The only thing someone needs to start yoga is some space and some time. A mat and other accessories can come in later when you are more comfortable, but you only need your body to start.
I’ll see you on the floor!
38 thoughts on “The Ultimate Flex”
I love yoga, but I do have a bit of “I don’t have time for it”. I really need to though! Lovely blog post, I agree it’s so nice to hear and see people taking more care of their mental health
It’s pretty dope!
Hi Tangela. I’ve often contemplated taking up yoga but always decided that it probably wasn’t for me because I’m so inflexible to start with that there wouldn’t be any real benefit. But I suppose it’s like any other form of exercise, you need to start off slowly and build-up to where you want to be – perhaps I just have to accept that I won’t be able to fully complete any of the poses initially but work on improving that …
No one is great at something to start. Just start! It gets easier, I promise.
Lovely post! After reading about all of the benefits for mental health I might just have to take up yoga! Thanks for sharing.
Yes! Yoga is for everybody!
I love this blog because high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes run on my family as well. Yoga is great not only for the body for the mind too. It calms all that down.
My first time doing yoga, I had migraine and since then I haven’t gone back. Maybe I wasn’t just doing it well but I’m willing to give it a shot seeing how helpful it is. Thank you for sharing!
It might have been the breathing. I had a similar problem in the beginning but it got better when I slowed down and remembered to breathe. Thanks for reading.
This was a wonderful post. You’re so strong, taking charge and looking out for yourself. I need to do more yoga. I have a chronic condition that prevents me from doing any repetitive or high impact exercise, but none of that really applies to yoga.
You can move at your own pace and adaptation level as well.
Hi, Tangela. As a fitness professional, I would say how you approach exercise in general and yoga specifically is a pretty well-thought out journey. You cannot fit into another person’s shoes. Taking the time to overcome obstacles and find your routine are the hardest thing. And it seems you are acing them. Keep exploring!
Thanks for the input and thanks for reading!
I really enjoyed your inspiring post! I have included yoga as part of my exercise regime and the past and somehow got away from it. I definitely need to include this again. That’s amazing that some states have banned it in schools! Thanks for sharing.
The government has been doing some weird stuff lately.
I really loved your post! I’ve been considering on taking up yoga especially because I’m someone who struggles with anxiety and I feel like when I do yoga I feel much calmer.
Thank you for sharing your story.
Glad I could help!
Great Post! I too dip in and out of exercise trying lots of different ones or making excuses to do none at all! However my overall fitness is very poor at the moment and when you can’t keep up with your 4 year old you know you need to take action! I may well try out some yoga as do enjoy it when I do take part!
Anything is better than nothing! Thanks for reading,!
I recently started adding yoga into my exercise routine and love it! I’ve started out with some gentle, easy videos on YouTube and while I’m not super flexible or in shape, find it is a great workout for me 🙂
That’s how I started too. It’s a good time!
Wow! I love your posts…I love posts about self-care. And you are so right, we want to exercise but we don’t have the desire to. Thanks for the encouragement
Yoga is my second favorite workout activity after swimming. I started yoga 6 years ago and I was amazed at the progress I saw in my body and mind. Being in a yoga flow has become a way to heal internally. Every time I go into this moving meditation and I have things on my heart that I’m holding back, it all comes out. I have found that it allows me to release my emotions and find calm. Nice post. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for reading!
Hey that was a lovely post. I have tried doing exercise but could not be consistent so it never worked. I always wanted to give a try to yoga. Let’s see when I do that. Let’s hope your post inspires many to take up yoga 🧘♀️.
Thanks so much!
I practice yoga atlease once in a blue moon does that make me a yogi?😅😅
Nice read Tangela!
I’m in terrible need of adding more exercise into my life. I tried using a yoga app, which had some success for a while. But then every kept hurting and then I was having an episode of vertigo, so it’s been a while since I’ve done it. Best laid plans of mice and men
Might want to talk to a doctor about the vertigo.
Loved reading this! I am part of the people that know should exercise, starts and then leave it after a while but I know I should try something else for sure! Will give a try again to yoga x
It’s a good place to start. Thanks for reading!