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Exercise: Pleasure or Punishment

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

There are countless reasons that people choose to exercise and when it comes down to it exercise is physically good for us and therefore surely any reason is a good one…..

While this is sort of true for our physical health, it is not at all the case for our mental health. Exercise produces endorphins and endorphins make you happy – we all know this from a certain blonde bombshell with a killer brain. So yes, we naturally feel good AFTER a workout, but shouldn’t we enjoy the process too, shouldn’t the thought of moving our beautiful bodies fill us with joy?

We’ve all been there, slogging ourselves through a gym session when really we have zero motivation or passion for it, but hopefully you’ve had workouts where the playlist is on fire, you’re moving faster, feeling stronger and loving every second. The latter is so much more pleasurable, right? Try to remember back to when you did something active as child, and not the sport your parents made you do and you hated, but the running in the playground, the rolling down hills, the racing your siblings up hills. That was exercise; pure passion, pure pleasure. Shouldn’t working out as an adult be like that too?

For me my exercise journey started as a weight loss mission, which is perfectly okay by the way. Somewhere in the months of hitting the gym that first summer I fell in love with it. I fell in love with all of it, the planning of my gym sessions, the excitement when I had a class coming up, the achievement when I’d beaten a PB. But as time went by my passion started to turn to punishment. I would exercise so I could eat, I would exercise so I could fit into a smaller dress size, and suddenly

I felt OBLIGATED to exercise. I felt a pressure to workout. If I didn’t burn enough calories it wasn’t a ‘good’ workout, even if my endorphins were telling me it was I’d convince myself otherwise. Guilt and obligation became the reason I exercised.

Don’t get me wrong I still enjoyed exercising but my sessions weren’t all driven by passion, many were driven by punishment.

Somewhere in the midst of this yoga became a bigger part of my life and I started to remember the pure bliss of movement. I remembered the joy I had felt with every workout when I started my fitness journey and I began to find pleasure in moving my body. My workouts returned to being things that I loved. However, the dark cloud of guilt still hovered. Although I loved working out and more often than not looked forward to it there were days when I felt I had eaten too much so I needed to workout, or days where I didn’t want to workout but I would either force myself to or feel guilty for not exercising.

As a yoga teacher I am constantly telling my students to listen to their bodies, but I had stopped listening to mine. Now I am in a place where my body dictates how and when I exercise. I have been taking my own advice and doing what feels right in my body. If you do not feel up to a workout, then don’t. If you don’t want to workout, then don’t. If your muscles are exhausted then take a rest day. Just because you planned to do a run today doesn’t mean you have to, if your body is too tired, maybe take a walk instead or sit and watch Netflix, make the choice that is truly best you’re your body AND brain.

Being fit and healthy is important for us to live our lives well but this fit and healthy must also refer to our mental health as well as our physical health. Exercise is more than a way of burning calories. Exercise is a privilege and a pleasure so let’s start working out for pleasure not punishment.


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