Developing a true link between fitness and health

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Developing a true link between fitness and health

I used to equate high levels of physical fitness with health and wellbeing, but some revealing presentations challenged my perception of what it means to be fit. I saw that wellbeing in its true sense requires a different way to approach exercise.

As a young child I loved to be active; my memories are of many long days spent playing games with friends. What was important to me as a youngster was the fun of play, being social and active, exploring and learning. For years I resisted the lure to join structured groups such as the Boys Brigade or a team sport, partly through lack of confidence and social unease, but mainly I just didn’t like the idea of being encased in this way.

It wasn’t until I was 13 that I started to train with a football team. Perhaps that was the acceleration of the change. Playing more structured sports created a tension in me, a desire to fit in and be accepted. Growing up, sport was the perfect way for me to adapt to fit in and feel more socially accepted, giving me a false feeling of success. As a shy young boy, excelling or even just being good at sport was my way of both blending in and standing out, a funny contradiction that defined my unease.

I also started to get hooked into the ideas of developing my body through sport, training in cycling and running. I embraced the pain of the burn in my legs from climbing hills on a bike. I associated this pain with developing muscly legs that I could be proud of, identified by. I was super-competitive with myself, tracking times against the clock and seeing if I could beat it each time. It was a punishing way to reward myself, and although I had a satisfied glow of achievement, it was all rather hollow and internalised, and ultimately not bringing me the friendships and affection I craved. I actually was uncomfortable in my body even as I grew fitter and stronger.

Both the individual activities and team sports very much changed from the spirit of friendship that defined my early years of carefree play. I further developed this burn of pain through the sport of triathlon in my late 20’s, which left me isolated in a solitary pursuit, filled with determination to be the best I could be. Within this no outcome could ever be enough; this was proven to me at the very start when I won the first race I competed in. The momentary glow of being first was replaced quickly with an empty feeling of direction-less-ness and lack of purpose.

Sport and exercise were being used to squash feelings I didn’t enjoy having, and as a short-term fix it worked a treat. But longer term . . . ?

I immersed myself in the sport of triathlon until I was 33, at which point there was a groundswell of change in me – the tension of the dissatisfaction was pulling me towards something else. It was at this time a friend recommended Universal Medicine healing courses and presentations by Serge Benhayon. I learned deeper understandings of the meaning and power of words like gentleness, and started to understand how natural it is for us all to live from this essential quality.

Sport has been a huge a part of my life, the hobby, the pastime, almost an addiction. But I couldn’t ignore the feelings of awareness I now had around competitive sport and my use of sport and intense exercise to medicate tension, ignoring the feelings that needed to be faced. The very thing I had immersed myself in as a false template of health, now stood out in its intensity as being detrimental to my wellbeing, and harmful to others if it was succeeding at their expense.

While this was an instant knowing, it took time to start to develop a gentler body, less driven and more in tune with my needs. I had become less taken by the idea of using sport as I had done, as my crux, my go to. I started to develop a new relationship with exercise, one that considered movement in an entirely different way. I stopped equating pain and muscle soreness with health, and instead saw that gentler movement was essential to wellness, in fact not truly attainable without it.

The point of being fit was no longer to win a race or overcome a hurdle, but instead to nurture the body, develop strength and feelings of connection and enhance awareness of my being through gentle movement.

Understanding how much and how often to exercise based on feeling, not external goals. Intensity has its place in building a strong body that is fit for life, but I am no longer seeing benefit in choosing pain-filled exercise sessions that leave my body sore and damaged. Stressing the body overly, I came to see as counterintuitive.

Strength now equates with gentleness and is matched by a vibrancy, feeling energised by working out, not requiring protein recovery shakes and ice baths. I’m at the start of a road of re-discovery, letting go of the ideas that surround exercise and health that glamorise painfully pushing through.

What is sold in the fitness industry is not it, there is nothing to prove, no body beautiful we need master, only a body here to enjoy and support with gentleness and loving discipline. A new measure of fitness is not a race against the clock but an ability to wake refreshed in the morning, to handle a workday with ease and communicate richly with colleagues. Exercise for health took on a whole new meaning and it’s one I look forward to continuing to explore.

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    By Stephen Gammack, Health & Fitness Teacher

    Stephen has worked in health promotion for his career of 15 years across both the public and private sectors. He works with clients of all ages and levels to make fitness about wellness.