What Self-Care Isn’t, Pt 2: Punishment

December 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

Okay.  This one kills me.

I work at – and work out at – a really nice women’s gym.  The whole reason I joined was for how body-positive and health-focused the place is.  And I love the women who work out there.  They’re lovely, health-focused people.  6 days a week.

Thing is, I work a Monday shift.  And in a womens gym, on a Monday, you hear a lot of this:

Gotta get in my penance for the weekend.
Oof, you should have seen me over the weekend – time for my punishment.
Oh my gosh, I was so bad, I need my trainer to slap me today!

Ladies.  Ladies!

First off, enough of this “good” or “bad” malarky!

You ate a sundae or six, boozed hard on little sleep, or slothed in your PJs living off takeout for a weekend.  Yes, these things take tolls on your body.  No, none of these are habits that support consistent, vibrant health.  But that’s no reason to bring good or bad into it.  When you tell a little kid, “no, that’s bad!” what does the kiddo do?  Chances are, kiddo says “holy shit I blew it,” and continues to feel like crap about it if/when he repeats the behavior.  But what does he learn?  Pretty much nothing, except that that behavior is somehow ‘bad’ and therefore worth feeling badly about.  You’re the same way.  When you say “sugar/booze/laziness is bad!” you deny yourself the opportunity to learn a TON about your choices and why you make them, and skip right to the part where you feel like shit because that’s all you know to do.

Okay, you ate the pie.  And now maybe your body is reeling with sugar, and you woke up feeling uncomfortable and crappy.  But before we call that ‘bad,’ let’s really look at it.  How does your body feel?  Do you like the way your body feels?  Do you feel nourished?  Do you know why you went for the whole pie?  Did it satisfy anything?  Does it support the way you want to feel, physically, on a regular basis?  See, there is gold in these questions, and gold in the quest for their answers.  When you investigate your choices, you realize that there’s so much to be mined, that to merely categorize ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is to rob yourself of a rockin’ self-growth opportunity.

And another thing, exercise ain’t punishment (and if you think it is, you’re doing it wrong).

ryan gosling without a shirt HELLO

srsly guys, not punishment

This part drives me nuts.  I am someone who has learned to love exercise for all the brilliant things that it is.  And part of making that happen was to divorce myself from all the things exercise isn’t.  What I learned is that anything that feels painful to your body, that isn’t making your life fuller, that isn’t helping you learn more about your body – ain’t exercise.  That’s something else entirely.  That’s just physical activity that you hate.   

But exercise.  The kind that you practice to make your body stronger, fitter, or more nimble – the kind that you do correctly to avoid injuring yourself…exercise brings you closer to your limits and helps you expand them.  It teaches you to get out of your head from time to time and get in your body.  It sends roughly a gazillion messages per minute from your body to your conscious thoughts, and teaches you things about your body you never thought possible.  This all in addition to the incredible ways it actually affects your body.

Exercise is not punishment.  Punishment is punishment.  Exercise is exercise.  And exercise – safe, sensible exercise -is absolutely self-care.

So when you drag your hungover ass to the gym to punish it, think about what you’re saying.  Do you really think strengthening your heart and muscles, cleaning out your circulatory system, aiding all your digestive capacities, making your bones stronger, lessening your stress responses, and even giving yourself better skin (hello!?!?) is punishment?  Hellllllls no.  And do you think your body feels ‘punished’ when it starts experiencing benefits physically in mere minutes?  Helllllllllls no.

When you lace up them sneaks to ‘punish’ yourself, what you’re doing is caring for yourself.  So pat yourself on the back, throw a gold star up on the chalkboard of adulthood (or whatever), and let yourself find the fun in it.