To Be Alive 1/11

January 2011

Calla Lily

The last week of November, 2010 is one that I will not soon forget. It started with my mom being hospitalized on the Monday for sudden delirium. Thursday she was diagnosed with pneumonia. Friday we got "the call." Sunday mom passed away.

Adrenaline carried me through the next week as I averaged four or five hours of sleep a night and lived through the initial phase of shock, grief and the onslaught of decisions and necessary tasks. That’s what adrenaline is meant to do.

Back at home eight days later, somehow I needed to return to my life and my body – without relying on adrenaline or other stress hormones. My life was changed. I didn’t feel like myself. That is, not until I went to the gym a couple of times.

Physical activity lets you feel and experience your physical body. There are certainly other ways. But for me, when I worked out I started to feel like myself. Not that the grief had left me, but at least while I was working out it took a short holiday.

I was reminded that to feel alive I needed to inhabit my body. Not just hide inside it, but feel it – by pushing the boundaries, so to speak.

If you’re wondering what it means to inhabit your body, here are some typical examples. A change in body temperature frequently occurs and then sweat emerges. Breathing becomes more rapid and difficult, even audible. When you’re in your body you know how your body feels and you’re aware of where it is, what it is doing. Movement is intentional. You’re purposely standing, squatting, sitting, walking or running. You feel your muscles stretch and shorten, lift and release, burn and relax. Cool, or what?

In order for me to experience the temporary transformation that occurred, exertion was required. In hindsight, my first gym visit I didn’t push any boundaries. I was just there and not fully present in mind or body. Consequently I received little benefit. It wasn’t until my second visit where I showed up with the intent to work my body when I thought, "Wow, that felt good. I feel kind of like myself again."

If you’re not in the habit of regular physical activity it might not make you feel like yourself, but moving your body will definitely make you feel alive. There are plenty of studies showing that physical activity changes mood and in some cases works as well, or better, than anti-depressants.

If you do work out and you’re trying to forget what you’re doing, or ignoring the vital signs by reading or watching television during the activity, you might be missing something. I encourage you to become fully present to your breathing and other evidence.

Celebrate! Yes, an increasing heart rate during physical activity is usually an indicator that you’re doing something good for your heart and lungs. Once you’ve exerted yourself you will really notice and enjoy the contrast of the rest and relaxation that follows. It feels great to be aware.

So the next time you’re feeling stressed or down and out, try moving your body. Don’t be afraid of sweat or a rapid heart rate. It means you’re alive. That’s a very good thing.