My sister, Angela, called me last November and wanted to pick my brain. She is a personal trainer and owns a gym in Boise, Idaho. One of her fellow trainers was trying to convince her that she should take a month off from working out. Her fitness friend said she had read several studies and articles that show that the body needs time to repair and that it actually performs better after a period of rest.
Angela wasn’t buying it. She could not imagine not exercising for a whole month. This is a gal that exercises for a living and works out two to five times a day. She wanted my opinion on her partner’s opinion.
I immediately started to form a theory. I said, “I am making this up right now as I go, so hear me out. I think she may be right. And I am basing my opinion, not on any scientific study from an exercise journal, but on nature.”
I went on to build and form my theory as we spoke on the telephone. It was all over the place as ideas came to me. My exercise/body/nature theory sounded something like this:
What if we took our exercise cues from nature? God created nature and He created us. Maybe we should look to a perfect system designed by our Creator. It seems like His plan would be a good one to follow. Nature has periods of rest- times and seasons. Each week has a day of rest built in and each year has a period of rest built in also.
In Winter things shut down or go dormant. Plants aren’t dead; they just stop producing and growing. They don’t need as much food and water. Bears hibernate. Bees go to bed. So maybe our bodies deserve a winter season too? I was on to something.
Angela was intrigued, and we went on to discuss what are bodies might do in the Spring, Summer and Fall if we patterned our exercise after nature all year long.
At the time of our conversation, I hadn’t been exercising at all. I joked that I was giving myself my winter. Angela on the other hand had been going strong and fierce, and it was difficult for her to conceive of slowing down and resting. We ended the conversation with her agreeing to think about my theory.
I liked where I was going with my nature model, so when Spring started, I started to exercise. I believed it was a great time to start something new and fresh, and I was ready to blossom. I found a yoga studio, and I started going 4-6 times a week. In the Summer and Fall, I added in walking with a friend as well.
I maintained a healthy, dedicated exercise regimen until the new year. I was doing very well physically until January where it just became difficult to move. I had no desire to get out of bed or to go to yoga class. I kept pushing myself to exercise because women are great at doing what they think they ‘should’ do, not necessarily what they ‘need’ to do. We are often better at listening to our egos then to our own bodies. I trudged through January, willing myself to move, and I was miserable.
Then I remembered my nature theory from the year before. Maybe my body needed a rest and a break? It was January after all.
I loved my idea in theory, but it was harder to embrace in practice. I could talk the big talk with Angela, but could I give the gift of winter to my own body? Could I really stop exercising and give my body a chance to rest and renew?
I wanted to test my theory and take a month off, but I had many fears:
What if I lose momentum?
What if I can’t get going again once I stop?
What if I gain weight?
What if I lose the progress/muscle/endurance I have worked so hard to develop?
My husband was nervous too. He knew how much I loved yoga and what it did for my moods and confidence. He didn’t want an emotional wreck on his hands.
I finally mustered the courage and put my own body/nature theory into practice. I decided to take February off from any kind of formal exercise. In a bold, vulnerable move I didn’t buy a February pass to my yoga studio. I turned off alarm clocks. I gave up my early morning “Thirty Minutes to Thrive.” (More on that habit later.) I gave myself permission to not be motivated by any ‘shoulds’. February was going to be about listening to my body, honoring it, and letting her rest.
I also realized that if I was really going to follow the patterns of nature, that I couldn’t eat a lot in February either. Both plants and animals don’t need a lot of food in winter, and I needed to follow that rule as well.
The first couple of weeks of rest, my body was so grateful. She didn’t feel like moving and she was so glad when I didn’t make her. I slept in as long as I wanted and didn’t push myself in any areas. My body continued to feel tired and weak as the month went on.
I did go snowshoeing and walking here and there, but more as recreation than exercise. My heart beat was never up. I also did a few stretches some mornings, but no fitness classes or hard core exercise. I spent as much time as I could in bed, resting. I ate less too.
Three weeks in I still had no desire to exercise. I was getting nervous that I would stay in an eternal winter.
But luckily by the time March hit, I was excited to go back to yoga. My body was ready to move again. It wasn’t mentally hard to pick back up. I went to yoga four times the first week of March.
I haven’t gone back to the 5-6 times a week (including Body Barre classes) yet because I’m still taking my cue from nature. Spring is a little more sporadic than summer, and so is my exercise program. Some days are sunny and some are rainy. I’m giving my body time to get back into things gently.
Now I did feel weaker at my yoga classes when I returned, and I did lose some progress for now. But I tell myself there is no way that one month off can undo 11 months on. I am not back to square one. I am just a little rusty, and I am confident that my ‘winter’ will spring board into greater things. I believe my body will be able to go longer and harder in the long run because I gave her a rest. I’ll take a little set back now for amplified future gains.
And more good news is that I didn’t gain any weight!
February was a risky month and fears swirled around my head. It took a lot of courage and curiosity, but I’m so glad I honored the pattern of nature. I’ve enjoyed easing back in, just like Spring, and I plan to be full bore in the Summer with the most intense exercise plan of the year. Running may actually enter the picture. (Whoa!)
I’m convinced that nature can do all that she does in Spring, Summer, and Fall because she had her Winter.