Jane Day is co-author with Dr. John Day of "The Longevity Plan," documenting their journey to China's Longevity Village. "Preparing food for guests has always been a stressful thing - feeling inadequate and fearing that the dishes wouldn't turn out. Posting recipes has been an exercise in the ultimate confrontation of this fear. Gratefully, the joy in figuring out how to make favorite dishes with healthier ingredients now exceeds the fear and I take courage in the idea that maybe I can help someone else do the same."
“That candy bar you ate from your kid’s Halloween bag is stuck right there in your thigh! Squeeze harder! Get it out! Come on, you know you ate more than you should. We all have our favorite jeans that we want to fit into! Keep lifting!”
So we did. We all lifted our leg higher at the “counsel” of our Pilates instructor.
What was the message offered to us that day?
External appearances are more important than our internal well-being?
We’re not good enough as we are?
We can’t trust our body to tell us what it needs?
The tragedy here is that we may take in and even look for these types of external cues to tell us how we’re doing. These external cues abound in our modern society.
Productive Movement in China’s Longevity Village vs. Our Typical Gym Experience
During our most recent trip to China’s Longevity Village, as I worked along side Mrs. Huang and her neighbor in the fields one morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on the stark contrast between my gym classes which are designed to mimic the real motions utilized in real work and real work itself.
I noticed the strong steady rhythm at which Mrs. Huang and her friend worked. With seeming ease, they carried the packs that held the substantial fruits of their efforts; their faces expressed both contentment and determination. Side by side, they conversed about the issues in their families and community, identifying possible solutions as they went. At the end of the day, they would prepare their harvested food and partake with their families of multiple generations in one home.
There I was outside working with these women and with the earth, thinking about what a strange phenomena it is, by contrast, that I hop in my car and drive to a building so that I can stand on a machine or in a room, with others doing the same–to move.
As these women work in their fields, their focus is on harvesting the fruits of the earth.
By contrast, as my friends and I work out in the gym, our focus is on the mirror in front of us and the images that are reflected back to us. We focus on the external appearance of ourselves and others, as instructors call out our next move, telling us what we need to be doing.
In this way, our cues come from an external voice while our focus is on an external image.
Similar to my Pilates instructor, who encouraged us to squeeze the candy bars out of our thighs, my cycle instructor admonished us as Thanksgiving approached:
“Who is planning to eat pie? Are you going to be naughty? Pedal faster!”
We pedaled faster then we got in our cars and drove home.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have loved the gym since I was old enough to join one. I still love it. For some of us, the gym may be the only way we can work in physical activity, and is a vital component of our well-being.
However, for our ultimate well-being and enjoyment, we need to learn to identify and confront the external messages that can override the messages our body will most definitely give us to tell us what it really needs.
Making the Shift from External to Internal Cues
I used to exercise to compensate for the junk food I ate and measure my exercise status by the number of calories burned, the maximum heart rate achieved or the minutes spent on a particular machine. I exercised primarily alone with the sole focus of “getting in shape.”
Today, gratefully, I move simply because it feels good. I get outside more. I join with friends and family more. Together, we produce more.
Our family is always looking for new and creative ways to get out and enjoy nature together. One of our favorites that we just discovered is, instead of driving all the way to grandma’s and grandpa’s, parking and riding our bikes the rest of the way.
I feel so much better and can accomplish so much more than I did when I was trying so hard to do the exercise thing according to the rules I thought I was supposed to be following.
What great freedom I experience with this shift from focusing on the external to honoring the internal!
By observing with compassion, I can now identify and confront these messages that sometimes exist at the gym and elsewhere that tell me that how I look on the outside is more important than how I am taking care of myself on the inside, that I am not good enough and should do something to compensate, and that I need to look outside myself for the answers.
Challenge for the Week
Here is your physical activity challenge for the week:
1. Make it natural.
2. Make it social.
3. Make it productive.
4. Make it enjoyable.
5. Do what feels good to your body.
6. Politely dismiss any external cues that may suggest you do otherwise.
Listen, honor, and let us know what you discover by leaving a comment below!
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.