Exercise and My Body

by Nicole Serafin (40 yrs old), Nutritionist / Dietician

In my mid twenties, after having a lower back and shoulder injury, my physiotherapist suggested some gentle stretching and Pilates exercises to rebuild the muscles and tissues – to strengthen those areas. I began first at home with the exercises she gave me, and then looked into doing a few yoga and Pilates classes.

My body became strong and my core strength was amazing, but I had become so obsessed with strengthening myself that I had stopped feeling what all of this exercise was doing to me – I had totally lost touch with how my body was really feeling. My body had become so hard and disconnected that I was unable to feel when it was time to stop or when I was pushing it too far.

I had gotten into the frame of mind that the more I could stretch and the stronger I was, the better I must be.

In fact I was causing more issues for myself without realising. I was no longer able to feel the pain my body was in, due to the way I was exercising, and that my focus had completely changed.

Every time I went to a class the pain would be relieved, so the more classes I did, the less I had to feel it. I became addicted – the more I did, the more I wanted to do, and it became the basis of my day. In the end I was exercising at home TWICE a day and at a studio FIVE times per week!

But the pain was still there – it was just being masked.

I began attending some Universal Medicine workshops and in time, some of the courses and retreats. I began experimenting with living in a way that was more supportive of my body, feeling what I needed to eat, the way I felt and the time I felt to sleep, amongst other things. The next natural step was to look at the way in which I was exercising, as it was not correlating with how I was now living in other aspects of my life; I was still pushing my body on a daily basis to the extreme.

Yes, it was true I needed to exercise for the wellbeing of my body, but I wanted to find a way that allowed me to feel what it was my body needed, just as I was doing with these other aspects. I realised I needed to do it in a way that supported me.

So I began changing the way that I approached the exercises – much to my teacher’s dismay! She could not see the point of doing them if I was not challenging myself. Eventually, I began doing them at home in a way that I felt was more nurturing and caring for my body. To my surprise, over time, I began to feel more supple, gentle and willing. I realised I was just as flexible – if not more so, now that I was connecting to what my body said it actually needed. Along with this I also received the support of sessions with various Universal Medicine practitioners…. and found my pain level began to lower, to the point where it is now non-existent.

It has been amazing to discover that by allowing myself to feel exactly what was needed, in both the way I did the exercise as well as the sorts of exercises I felt to do, I could support myself better than ever before. I find I still have the core stability I had developed, but I also have gentleness within my body that I had never felt before. I am now able to do exercise when and how I feel to, and when I’m finished, my body feels expanded and open.

112 thoughts on “Exercise and My Body

  1. The body knows exactly what needs to be trained and exercised. The majority of training regimes excessively push the body beyond what is required and doesn’t offer any physical benefit of building strength faster but producing more lactic acid.

  2. We push our bodies to the limit thinking we are doing ‘good’ or that is what I used to also do through my yoga classes. I like you Nicole have now found through listening to what my body needs a different more gentle way to exercise without losing any of my flexibility or strength and feel revitalised when finished and I now know that saying ‘there is no gain without the pain’ is a misleading fallacy.

  3. How beautiful to feel expanded and open after exercise. I was recently walking with a friend and mentioned I had an injury. She told me I should just push through it. It seemed so foreign to me to even consider that, that it made me laugh. We carry our love and self care for ourselves into everything we do and in every movement. I know I sometimes abandon this if I have not given myself enough time to do something but the great thing is that I can feel this in my body and I am aware of the awkward movement. There were so many years where I didn’t even register this to be true.

  4. When I see strength that people have built in their bodies through pushing themselves with exercise, it appears to come with hardness as if the strength is used to protect them or as you say numb them to what they are truly feeling. I love that you found a way through the support of Universal Medicine, to be able to hold both core strength and gentleness in your body through exercising in this way and ultimately remain open to how you feel and be able to honour that.

  5. I can relate to what you have shared Nicole, on losing touch with the body during exercise and how it is feeling. I have come to understand how crucial it is to stay present with ourselves whilst we move or exercise, so that we can maintain a connection with our body’s natural and harmonious rhythm so when we push too hard our body lets us know immediately and we have the opportunity to bring ourselves back to that connection and awareness.

  6. In connecting to what my body is indicating what is needed, I have found gentle exercise to be far more energising and pain-free than rigorous exercise or training ever was and best of all I enjoy being with myself whilst I am moving.

    1. This is very true Linda. I used to get exhausted after going to the gym and participating in an exercise class and the irony of it was that I thought it was good for me! A marker as to whether something supports me or not is how I feel afterwards. Doing gentle stretches and exercise or going for a walk and making it about focusing on being with me and my body, energises me and supports me throughout my day.

  7. Exercise is just one example of far too many ways to count that we can harden our body just in our everyday. But what is unfortunate is that when we harden our body we also desensitise and disconnect ourselves from the wisdom and love from within – the irony being that it is this very love and wisdom that we actually crave most.

  8. Nicole, this is a brilliant article on exercise. It is very interesting the last part from a male perspective as not going hard and creating a gentle routine goes against the masculine idea and strong belief that if there is not pushing means that means there will not be strength gains, which for men is seems as a big marker of adequacy and acceptance. I am slowly getting the benefits of not pushing with a less strained and more open body. And we can build strength without that push and it is actually far better for my body to do it in this way as it doesn’t shut down from overdoing it.

  9. I can very much relate to being addicted to exercise. First thing every morning my exercise mat would come out and I’d practice yoga. I thought that pushing myself hard and building a sweat was the answer, my focus being on how my body looked. I exercise today but it is very different. I am not hooked into exercise where I have to do a certain length of time every day. I do gentle stretches and weights when I feel to. Sometimes it can be as little as ten minutes. My relationship with exercise is constantly evolving and sometimes I feel I can go deeper in connecting to me in my exercises.

  10. This is such an awesome read Nicole – exercise is a big topic for people – but as you say here – there is a way to exercise that can support us and our bodies. And I love your example of how you just adjusted how you exercised and it made a big difference on your body.

  11. Nicole, thank you for sharing your journey to finding how nurturing gentle exercises are to your body. Treating our body with the respect it deserves in all that we do, is paramount to its health and wellbeing.

  12. As I reflect it is amazing how I used to push myself to harden my body, abusing it in a way that I would find impossible to do today yet so many go to the gym to ‘work out’ in this way. Exercising and feeling the connection and the way in which I move my body is light and gentle on my body. I can still slip into the pushing but I lose connection with myself straightaway and bring myself back. My focus is on how I and my body feels in relation to the exercise.

  13. We have in the past been taught “no pain no gain” when it comes to exercise. In truth our bodies know and shares with us its appreciation for loving gentle exercise.

  14. I too got lost in the belief to better myself in pushing my body through exercises thinking it was good for me not realising the true impact this was having on my body. Discovering gentle exercises was a revelation, it was lovely to start feel how much my body immediately responded to the new way I was approaching exercise building my awareness and joy in moving with my mind and body aligned.

  15. I have started to go to the gym twice a week after having not been there for 7 or 8 years. I felt my body needed support mainly for core strength and balance. It is quite a challenging environment with everyone around me pushing and forcing the body to keep on going and perform just like I did before I came to Universal Medicine. On the other hand when I stay in the connection with my body, my body loves doing the exercises in a gentle way. And walking there in my delicateness is quite fun.

  16. There was a time when I believed that the body was just the thing that carried me around in life but I now know how wrong I was. The body is innately wise and harmonious and from this natural harmony we can learn so much about our true essence. My experience is that we need to respect and honour our bodies very deeply if we want to engage with the profound wisdom they offer.

  17. It’s really amazing to me how much the body responds to gentle exercise. We are so conditioned to the ‘no pain no gain’ mentality that in my experience it’s hard to let go of that and simply follow the lead from my body whose natural inclination is always towards being tender, loving and nurturing.

  18. How is it that we get this idea that we have to be challenging ourselves all the time? If things are not hard or difficult then we cannot be progressing in life? It is a crazy belief that has us working against ourselves. Thank you for showing how support for ourselves is so crucial, and support for ourselves in truly caring for ourselves rather than trying to prove anything to ourselves or anyone else, caring how our bodies move and supporting them by bringing quality to our movements.

  19. I have a new found love of exercising after many years of avoiding it. It’s so enjoyable to move and exercise in a way that is about caring and supporting your body, rather than a punishment, which most exercise regimens have turned into. I find it fascinating that we think that if it’s deemed as exercise and sport then it must be good for you. But none ever questions the quality of the exercise. This is what makes so much difference and the even more interesting thing here is that you are even fitter if exercising in a more gentle and caring way rather than hammering your body. How does that work? My feeling is that our body loves being cared for, no matter what we are doing and our body responds when we move in such a way.

  20. A hugely significant testimonial in regards to our approach to exercise Nicole, thank-you. You have described here that it is a deeply responsive and honouring relationship with our body, that is key. I have found the same – to over-push is not the answer, and it can actually lead to damage and strain.
    The question is, why would we seek to overdo it? To look ‘better’, numb ourselves from pain and/or emotional difficulties and stresses? It’s most definitely worth us evaluating our relationship with exercise and ensuring that this relationship is founded upon truly supporting our bodies and beings on every level – from there, it can be such an absolutely joyful and vitality-enhancing experience…

  21. My whole approach to exercise has completely changed now that I am learning to listen to how I am feeling in my body and not to push myself beyond what my body is telling me. Gentle movements have enabled me to deepen my awareness and connection with myself and I feel far more energised and supple than before.

  22. Nicole, you raise a very important point about exercise to support you in your connection back to your body and not stimulate it to not feel what is going on in my body.

  23. That’s the deceptive thing about addiction for as you shared Nicole ‘the more I did, the more I wanted to do, and it became the basis of my day’ and we become dependent on trying to satisfy the insatiable craving for more to drive us.

  24. Wow Nicole your amazing blog is breaking a consciousness in the “exercise-world” where it is normal to push and to challenge oneself. To do it in a way that felt more nurturing and caring for the body is the last thing what would be part of this consciousness. Therefore I love it that you are not holding back with your experiences while exercising in such a way as it opens a door to exercise in a more loving way.

  25. That is certainly breaking some of the ingrained exercise consciousness where more is always better; what actually happens when we exercise in disconnection from the body? What is the damage, long- and short-term and is there a more intelligent way to exercise? These would be great research topics.

  26. I was just reading another blog how someone was sharing how they used to use alcohol as a way to numb themselves and that they observed that often when people give this up they then reach for another stimulant to suppress what they are feeling. Because exercise is something that is good for us it is not always so easy to see that it can be used in the same way.

  27. I can feel overwhelmed sometimes by all the knowledge I have about what my body needs in order to keep it healthy and fit. To the point where I don’t do any of it sometimes. And yet, when I allow my body to lead the way, there is no overwhelm and complication, just pure simplicity and ease.

  28. ‘She could not see the point of doing them if I was not challenging myself.’ How much of this ethos underpins sport and exercise of all kinds? I’ve found it in everything from tennis lessons as a kid to bellydancing as an adult. Unless we’re pushing ourselves, in whatever form that takes, apparently we’re not enough. A belief well worth throwing out the door!

  29. I can relate Nicole to thinking that the stronger I felt in my body the more healthy and fitter I was but in becoming so hard and through pushing myself I too disconnected from feeling just how sensitive and truly delicate my body is and how harming it is when I push it beyond its natural limit. The biggest change for me was in discovering how much I enjoy being present and moving with my body when I exercise, and the natural joy that arises when I do.

  30. I have witnessed many people get addicted to exercise classes the way you describe in this blog. To me, this is a red flag, as I know that other things in my life that have been addictive have never worked out that well for me and I tend to become reliant on them to the point that I don’t know myself without my crutch. This blog offers another way to strengthen the body, a way that takes into account how sensitive we are as human beings.

  31. Your last line is key ‘my body feels expanded and open.’ and often with exercise I’ve not felt that, but in fact tight and slightly out of my body if I’m honest. And it’s only been in the last few years actually listening to and feeling what my body really needs and dropping any ideas of what I should do that I’ve built a new relationship with my body, one that is deeply loving and supportive and one that allows me to feel more open and with me as I move and am. A very different way to exercise and be yet one that is very powerful as you note here Nicole.

  32. .” I am now able to do exercise when and how I feel to, and when I’m finished, my body feels expanded and open.” the above statement is so opposite to how exercise is approached these days with so much drive and push to become so called “fit” with no connection to what the body is truly feeling. But with awareness gentleness and support the body knows how much and when to exercise, leaving us feeling our loving connection.

  33. This blog brings to the table an important subject: once you discovered the importance of the ability of the body and the fact that we can compromise it through our actions, the question in relation to exercise is how much strengthening the body is too much in terms of body awareness?

  34. I also used to approach exercise with the ‘no pain, no gain’ attitude as well, and of course my body would often get injured or I would feel quite exhausted from pushing myself so much. Like you I committed myself to learning to exercise more gently and in connection with my body and from this choice I now experience a healthier and more vital body without the need for any push or drive.

  35. We can really smash ourselves about in the name of exercise, I know I use too. The many injuries, the recovery and the treatments that had to happen because I was exercising for my health, when in fact it could be argued I was making myself unhealthy. If you truly looked at the injuries I had due to this exercise and how my body was you would question what I was doing. Now I absolutely still exercise daily but this exercise is their to support me to live and not to showcase what I can do to myself. There is a lot of walking and stretching but no running or extremes. I don’t push past pain or run to fix things I deal with what I am feeling and exercise to support that and to support myself. For this I am the fittest and healthiest as I have even been and my weight has been stable for years. My body never enjoyed extreme exercise or being pushed into exercise and it was showing me that, only I just never truly listened as I do now.

  36. Hard exercise makes me feel hard, exhausted and sore/stiff afterwards. With gentle exercise, feeling my body and breathing as gently as I can, I feel more flexible, more vitality, less or no sore or stiff muscles and I feel supported as everyday physical demands are less of a strain on my body.

  37. Reimprinting a way to exercise that supports gentleness in the body rather than driving it and making our body hard is very inspiring and your body confirmed this true way for you by feeling expanded and open after exercising.

  38. Nicole I can recall working my body with that saying ‘no pain, no gain’ and thought I was exercising in the name of fitness. It is only since I too start attending some of the Universal Medicine workshops that my attitude towards the way I exercised changed. I don’t go to the gym and huff & puff anymore, I go there and be present with myself whenever I perform any of the exercises. I even have a break from going to the gym if I don’t feel like it whilst before I I would still push past the tiredness or needed to be really sick to not go to the gym – my poor body.

    My relationship with exercise has had a whole new makeover, body comes first, exercise second.

  39. By allowing ourselves to feel exactly what is needed by our body we deepen our awareness to explore a new way of exercise and movement that honours our natural rhythm and our true sensitivity.

  40. I too recall putting my body under a huge amount of stress in the name of sport, and in the illusion that I was actually keeping my body in good shape, only to realise how exhausted I was becoming because my body just couldn’t keep up with the demand. Exercise is good for the body but in moderation and I have found it hugely beneficial to stay connected to my body, as that way I know when it’s too much, or a different kind of exercise is needed.

  41. This is a huge shift in the body – and that you saw more flexibility and less pain from your shift in approach is awesome Nicole. The whole consciousness of exercise is about feeling better rather than confirming what already exists within.

  42. It is quite a head set we can get into about exercise. Which is crazy really as we’re exercising the body not the head, but so often the head is running the show. When we let the body guide how we exercise, it is simply lovely – and often quite different to how the head would do things.

  43. The body is an amazing thing – not just physically, but in it’s intelligence too. Through connection with our bodies, we can find true wisdom.

  44. We can totally hide in exercise under the guise of we are doing our body good and looking after ourselves. Our bodies most definitely need some form of exercise, but that is to each person’s individual body and where they are at. I thought I was getting away with pounding myself in the gym everyday, going for a run when I would get home and then exercising in my room after… but I most definitely was not getting away with anything. I didn’t have physical pain I was trying to numb but emotional pain. There is no amount of running or weights that can cover up any form of pain.

  45. Letting go of a focus or target outside ourselves with exercise and making it all about connecting and moving with the body revolutionised exercise for me, it became far more about listening to how my body wanted to move, knowing exactly when to stop and enjoying being so present with myself felt far more supportive than all the pushing and striving which only hardened and drained my body.

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