My dad, whose childhood was pretty chaotic, loved the Marines. He really took to all that discipline and order and has lived with adherence to order and performance of daily tasks like exercise ever since.
I don’t think it’s my natural inclination, but after a childhood of being adjured by him to live with equal discipline, I became pretty good at making myself do stuff every day if I “should” or it would be “good for me”, etc. As a result, until recent years I’ve more or less kept up with one from of exercise plan or another since I was about 15.“
I’d think of it as something I just learned from him but when I look around in U.S. society, I see a lot of importuning everyone to eat certain things daily or exercise daily or meditate daily. Often there’s an implication that you’re failing somehow if you don’t do it every day… regardless of how you feel or what your instincts may be telling you to do differently.
Discipline has been slowly falling apart for me over the many years of struggling with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Even though I was in far worse shape in the early stages, I was also young enough that I managed to push through trying to keep up with some of those “must do” activities. When I lived in Marin, for instance, I joined a gym and pretty consistently went every other day, doing yoga on the days in between.
In this last few years of struggling with the muscle issues in my head, I seemed to lose the ability to push on through. I finally just hit the place where I couldn’t cope with the health issues and still keep up a disciplined schedule. And for a long time that kept feeling like failing.
Recently,, though, I’ve been trying a different path (see here for more) that includes trying new things and not committing to a schedule. Initially I avoided creating a regimented program because the issues with my head are still leaving me with lots of sleepless nights and too many headache-filled days and I just didn’t want to add pressure.
I’m noticing some things as I move along this path of flowing from one day to the next and tuning in to see what feels like the next thing to do. I’m exercising more than I had been but I’m not following a plan, as I usually do. I might do my favorite yoga series one day and a kundalini yoga dvd the next, followed by a day of the 8 Key Breaths and Chi Gung, and then a day with my spine series and a bunch of my triggers of release work.
I go with what feels good or what I’m drawn to do. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes of something, sometimes I might spend 45 minutes on riding the exercise bike followed by a yoga set. I feel much less like I’m dragging myself to it and much more enjoyment by doing what feels good. And I’m slowly getting back some of the ground I’d lost, getting stronger again, getting into better balance and energy flow, etc.
Same thing with food. Some days I’m pretty pristine, sometimes I’m drawn to foods my more health-minded friends would frown upon but that feel right to me. I’ve tuned in with guidance more often and been surprised at some of the foods I’ve been pointed toward, always with an explanation of something needed from it that I didn’t have to understand… Whatever I do or eat each day, I do more readily by choosing to do it instead of “having” to.
I’ve been feeling better and stronger since I’ve been just floating around among different choices on different days. I also feel so much less pressure by letting go of needing to have some kind of daily routine, followed strictly. The floating includes having some days I just don’t feel up to the exercise and I don’t do it.
I’m asking myself a lot of questions about the need for regimented daily plans. I’m not saying there aren’t times when you need to, say, take a medicine every day or make a strict dietary change for health reasons or do certain exercises for a while. But I wonder if regimentation over all is as good for us as so many pundits would have us believe.
I’m not sure this experiment would have been as successful earlier in my life, when I don’t think I tuned in as well–or as often–to what felt right for me right then. But at this stage, following my intuition about daily tasks like eating and exercise feels so much more relaxed and healing than setting up some “must do” list–usually something put together by my mind instead of my intuition — and berating myself to stick to it, or feeling bad if I didn’t.
While I’ve been pretty good at setting up a practice schedule and sticking to it more or less, I secretly buck against it, so there’s a big measure of relief in this new way. And I find I much more readily do things when I flow toward them than when I force myself with dragging heels.
Have I ever had times when I felt better after making myself exercise or eat the healthy choice or meditate? Yes. Have I also sometimes felt worse for making myself do it when I didn’t feel up to it or eat it when I really didn’t want it or meditate when I knew I couldn’t focus? Absolutely. So I check in with myself to see whether I’m just resisting or whether I’m not doing something because it really doesn’t feel right.
Because I know a lot of spiritual practices and types of exercise, I really can’t do all of them. My belief in the need for regimentation has often led me to mentally run through pros and cons and decide which ones to do every day. And then I keep doing those no matter what. This new floating thing is allowing me to tap into the repertoire and bring out whatever feels best at the moment.
This is so much more fun than a strict daily practice schedule. And, as I mentioned, I’ve really been feeling good. Muscles that had lost some of their strength are stronger and other that lost some stretch are stretching farther. I have more energy and it’s balanced. My body and spirit seem to flourish with variety. And I’m happier.
As I continue to play with this new path I’ll let you know how it goes…