It's Not Just a Body Thing

Starting last week, on Friday, I’ve been “off” of my yoga routine.  There were a variety of reasons.  Friday my schedule was busy and it didn’t seem like there was time for me to do something self-focused.  Saturday, I took my daughter shopping and by the time I got back, I was in too much pain to do a vigorous practice, and a calm practice seemed wasteful of time when there was so much to do.  Sunday, I was feeling quite ill and had a university function to attend.  So, it’s been days since I’ve done yoga, and boy do I know it.  At the moment, my shoulders are tight (and seem to be somewhere near my ears), my hamstrings are practically crying, my knees hurt, and I’m slouching.  But, even more disturbing is how it makes me feel.

If I manage to get in yoga every day, I’m able to stay quite calm and annoying or stressful issues wash over me much more easily.  If I miss a day here or there, I can feel my nerves start to bunch up a little, but the next day’s class takes care of it.  This many days in a row, however, is just not a good idea for my mental state.  I’ve noticed this summer that I rarely raise my voice to the kids, no matter how pesky they get.  By last night, that certainly was not the case.  My temper was just under the surface, and almost everything was bothering me.  I couldn’t get my mind in a good place.  Today, I don’t feel cranky, I just feel a little sad and tired and wound up.  I know this means that I need a good 60 minute  yoga session for sure.

It’s easy enough to put off exercise or meditation as something that is a luxury and not a necessity.  And, for people who don’t do these things regularly, I’m sure that it seems like exactly that.   But, for those who exercise regularly, it becomes a part of the mental health and fitness process as well.  If I attended weekly therapy sessions with a mental health professional, I would not consider that a luxury.  I would feel it was a necessity for my health.  So, why do I not grant myself that same status for yoga?  I think it’s a factor of my upbringing.

As a child, growing up in a household somewhere between working class and middle class, exercise wasn’t really something that I experienced as an adult priority.  Children and teens played sports, but adults got all the activity that they needed in the accomplishment of their daily activities.  With the exception of weekend yard jart games or some catch with the kids, exercise just was not something the adults around me were concerned with, and people who “worked out” got some rolled eyes.  A variety of studies (I won’t bore you with the cites here) have supported my experience, indicating that individuals from lower socio-economic groups are more likely to see exercise as a luxury engaged in by those who have too much spare time and too little to do. Because women are taught to additionally put spousal or child needs first, before self, that adds an extra dimension of complexity to exercise.  Women feel guilt when taking time “away from” family, and thus exercise or meditation become things that have to be done in whatever time remains after all relational partners are cared for and their needs satisfied.

So, what do we/I do about this?  First, for myself, I really have to get my head around the fact that it’s not optional.  It isn’t a trip to the spa, it’s eating and sleeping.  This is an important part of my daily mental and physical health and should be a priority item, not relegated to the leftover time in my schedule.   I need to stop feeling like a bad wife, bad mother, bad teacher, or bad administrator because I elect to spend this time for myself.  Ultimately, it is to the benefit of my family that I am happy and healthy, but even if it wasn’t, I am worth it as an individual.  If the kids have to have PBJ and apples for dinner instead of salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, so be it.  No one will be harmed; in fact, they will probably like it.  If a few emails have to go unanswered for a little while, they will still be there when I get back.

In the larger scheme of things, we need to create a culture where the value of bodily and mental health are prioritized.  We need to teach and show children that taking time to care for the physical self and the psychological self is not only *not* a luxury, but is a responsibility.  We need to show our daughters and nieces that they are important, not only in the context of relationships, but in their own beings.  If working our bodies in a pleasing, invigorating, and healthy way became as much a part of our cultural understanding of a normal life as eating, imagine what might change… think of how much healthier we would be!  This is the kind of national health plan we need (well, to go along with that other one).

Take some time for yourself today and move your body in a way that eases your mind!

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