Friday, 1 August 2014

I think I'm starting to 'get' exercise...


I was going to start this by going, "like most women, I have a complicated relationship with exercise…" but this is complete bollocks. I don't have a complicated relationship with exercise, I have a simple one. I hate it. I have always hated it. I have written off Sport Aid as being for boring people who couldn't do Comic Relief. I think that pretty much sums up my attitude to exercise for a long time – it was there for the people who weren't good at other stuff to have something that was theirs. This is all the fault of PE.

It has taken years to learn the difference between humiliating and badly taught PE, and life affirming, enjoyable exercise. It's taken until now, at the age of 25 when I haven't done PE for 9 years, for me to have friends who are are getting into exercise and for me to consider it worthwhile thing to do.

I think my problem with PE is that it is all so public. Everyone can see you struggle because it is all there for them and not hidden in an exercise book. Even now I remember the cheek-burning embarrassment of being unable to climb out of the swimming pool without the steps while my whole class watched and waited. Why was this a thing we were made to do? It was completely unnecessary and felt like some strange punishment. The worst part was that I could actually do it! I just lost confidence when everyone was watching me. I can't imagine what the point of that was? In case I found myself in a swimming pool without steps? I just wouldn't get into one without steps. 

No one knows what PE is even for. Is it so that you can learn how to do lots of different sports and athletic events? If so the only sport I got good at was sitting on same grass, anxiously waiting for my next turn.  Is for health? I can't see how 1 hour a week of half-hearted exercise is really going to do any benefit. Is it to instil a love of pushing your body, living in the moment and feeling strong and alive with every fibre of your being? I don't think anyone has ever felt like that from being forced to play team sports without ever being taught the rules. It seems like everyone thinks that PE should happen but no one really knows what it is for. What does "Physical education" even mean?

All I ever learned from PE is not to try so it doesn't matter when I fail. 

Then came the idea of exercise as the way to be thin and beautiful. But not too much exercise, that would be weird and make you too muscled and manly. You aren't supposed to enjoy it either, you are supposed to endure it for the results. For a long time that's what I believed it was about. Either you exercise to get thin or you play a sport because you are good at it. I believed that enjoyment with sport only come with being extremely talented, and for the majority it was to be avoided or endured. I had absolutely no experience of exercise being enjoyable for its own sake. Just the word reminded me of the creeping, prickling heat of embarrassment that came with PE*

But then I started to read about people enjoying exercise for its own sake, because it made them feel strong. Not exercise to get thin or to be an athlete, but exercise because of how it feels to do it. Because it reminds you that you are a human and you are alive and that you are in your body, and all the parts of you that you neglect are as much part of you as your imagination or your sense of humour. Think of the all the sensations you are losing if you just focus on your mind. You may not be the best runner, but that doesn't stop you having a go. You don't stop singing in the shower because you'll never be Dolly Parton.

It has taken me 9 years, but I am finally getting to the point where I'm beginning to feel that my body is part of me, not just the fleshy frame that carries around my brain. To be fully alive I need to use it. I need to run and walk and swim and see what I can do. I like feeling tired from doing something. I want to be one of those people who goes for a run whenever they have a problem. 

* You may think I am being over the top about my hatred of PE but I'm really not. One year I felt sick through every single geography lesson because I had PE immediately afterwards. I never once sat in that room without feeling slightly sick.

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