Mindfulness during Exercise

I have made it a priority to practice mindfulness in my recovery, especially in the area of exercise. I grew up a competitive athlete and my career has always revolved around numbers. Score in gymnastics, time in swimming, score in jump rope, etc. Any athlete strives to make a certain time, hit a certain number. It is an imperative part of winning. But what happens when those numbers start to control you instead of you controlling them? My self-worth became completely dependent on these numbers. Eventually these numbers that had been associated with training and competition were not enough. I found myself chained to a treadmill running x amount of miles or to burn x amount of calories. It no longer became about winning or having fun, just an all-consuming obsession. I convinced myself I was doing it for training. Doing it to win. Part of the lies of an eating disorder. I wrote in a previous post about how completely abstaining from exercise helped begin to change my mindset. I was forced to stop all exercise due to a spinal fusion surgery. This was a blessing in disguise and I really don’t know where I would be today if I wasn’t forced to stop. Prior to the surgery, although in pain, I pushed and pushed myself to exhaustion. I spent an entire World Championship in pain and had the worst experience of my career. I needed a change and after surgery is when I decided to re-enter treatment for the eating disorder. I knew if I rushed back into exercise I could permanently damage my spine so I gave up all control to my treatment team and started from scratch. As I began to heal and slowly started more activity, I went to a specific group for athletes with eating disorders. I really suggest finding a group like this for anyone who has a disordered relationship with exercise. I highly suggest if you are an athlete or struggle specifically with exercise dependence to seek out an eating disorder therapist who specializes in sport psychology. I was very hesitant with the group at first because I wasn’t sure how being in a room full of competitive athletes –who thrive on competition- could be a healthy environment. It turned out to be extremely healing. One of the first things that was discussed and practiced was mindfulness. And for mindfulness to occur, the numbers had to go. Running with no set pace or time or mileage. Jumping without keeping score and counting. With practice, it became more intuitive to just be. It was very therapeutic to focus on how my body felt, how my muscles moved, how my breath felt. I also branched out and tried other forms of exercise like yoga and more resistance training. I became very appreciative of my body and my strength rather than loathing workouts and forcing my broken self through repetition. Even if you are in the depths of exercise obsession, I challenge you to try a workout using mindfulness. Cover the numbers on a treadmill, run outside on new trail, whatever you need to do to separate the activity from numbers and to really focus on yourself. It has been a slow transformation, over two years, but I have been able to return to training for competition. I have regained control of the numbers which now hold a very different meaning for me. They represent my strength and leave me excited for the next challenge. There are times I still catch myself falling back into old patterns. When this happens I immediately go back to a few days of a new activity or more active recovery. It is a balancing act just like every other aspect of recovery. Through this group I was also able to gain a sense of peace with my competitive nature. I am able to appreciate other athletes for their strengths instead of constantly comparing myself to them. I have found an identity outside of my sport and love trying new forms of exercise. Gyms can breed negative competitive environments, but find people or a gym that fits your personality. I have found overwhelming support in mine and I promise you that you can restore your relationship with exercise as long as you don’t try to do it alone.

 

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