We are told, by our own experience and other people too, that you should exercise because it gives you energy. Which is true, certainly, but only in context. Exercise gives you energy, but it also demands energy of you, and the energy it yields is different from the energy it requires. All energy isn’t the same energy.
Endorphins are great, but they are made of protein, and our supply of them is not limitless. You can become depleted. And what then? Train harder, diet harder, chasing that good-exercise-feeling? Or take a break and eat more?
Motivation and enthusiasm are funny issues. I’ve had plenty of good training sessions when I really wasn’t up for it – but once I got started I felt good, and I felt like I achieved a lot. But these tend to occur every now and then – if every damn time you set foot in the gym it’s like having teeth pulled, something else is going on.
I remember a kung fu master once saying – when you feel like training, that’s not really training. When you don’t feel like training, that’s training!
I get it, and again – context. Are you a young competitive athlete? Are you trying to overcome particular obstacles? Or are you running on empty and expecting to be able to force something that goes against your nature? Are you playing to your strengths? Are you being respectful of – or trying to dominate – your body, mind and capacity? Do you understand where your limitations truly lie, and are you supporting yourself well so that you can overcome them?
I know I’ve got my agenda, but I really am asking these questions, knowing that on any given day, for any given individual, the reasons and answers are going to vary wildly. It’s good to have questions for yourself, for when you’re feeling off, because they can help you to find answers. It’s like having an internal flow-chart. Yes? No? Then what? Have we reached a firm conclusion yet?
But on energy – there seems to me to be a certain dynamic surrounding the survival of the species. It is strange that we exhaust ourselves for the sake of exhausting ourselves, rather than for the sake of finding food or shelter, or protecting ourselves and our loved ones. When you restrict food for a short period of time, you have more energy. When you start to exercise, your body comes up with more energy to allow you to follow through. At the end, one would hope, the activity has yielded some sort of reward – if you’ll forgive the cliché – you chased down that antelope and ate it. The energy your body created – did it pay off? Did that expenditure that you couldn’t really afford – did it lead to future nourishment or not?
What then, of exercise for the sake of weight loss? Of diminishment? What does it mean then, to push yourself, to exploit your body’s ability to create energy, without adequate replenishment? With the constant prejudicial thought looming in the background – if I give in, if I eat that antelope, it means I’m weak. I must be disciplined. I must reject my own need for sustenance. Where does that really lead us?
Rather than talk about chi, prana, or breath – that’s not what this post is about – but to look at energy through another window – there’s the energy you have that arises as a result of being nourished, rested and vital, and then there’s the energy that comes from stimulants, and from being stimulated.
The latter can be generated through mental techniques, through exploiting your own kind of fitness momentum, or it can come from stimulating your adrenal glands to action via the use of chemical or nutritional stimulants (natural or not – coffee and energy drinks and drugs, they all work to a point, in different ways).
And there’s the rub: if you’re relying on your energy coming from stimulants, from working yourself up into a state, and ultimately you feel – day to day – exhausted, fatigued, unenthusiastic – sooner or later, you’re simply going to have to stop, sit the fuck down, and eat more.
And you’ll feel terrible about yourself. You’ll wonder why you’re suddenly failing, why you feel like a failure when you’ve been trying so hard – and mostly succeeding, you thought, up until now – at being so damn good. So obedient. So moral.
It’s not your fault that you’re human, and it’s not your fault that you’ve been lied to. Do what you need to do, to take care of yourself, to rebuild your health, your capacity, your vitality – but you’ll have to do so in the face of a body-hating society, one that believes exercise is a moral choice, that we always need to be doing more, more, more. It can be really hard to take time for ourselves. We have to endure questions, criticism, and we are tempted to rush into pushing ourselves again too soon.
But it’s a strange state of affairs – we train for the purpose of exhausting ourselves. It is human nature to seek out efficiency – efficient methods, efficient movements, and to avoid needlessly exhausting ourselves for no immediate reward. And as much as work can be satisfying, hard work for its own sake isn’t always a good idea, and efficiency, lethargy, fatigue and laziness are not the same things.
It is not lazy to sit down, take a rest, and work out for yourself what you really need to do for yourself, prejudice-free. It doesn’t matter how long you feel like you’ve been resting. It doesn’t matter how lazy you think you are. You simply might not be ready to move yet. And you can try to force change, or you can try to be understanding and compassionate towards yourself, and if you imagine in five years time – what sort of life do you want? What do you really want to be working towards? Your own fulfillment, or not?