Given all the chatter on this site lately about breakups, I thought I’d join the conversation, from an exercise perspective.
Exercise provides a unique benefit for those going through tough times, because it changes the actual chemistry and function of our brains and bodies. It’s not just an accessory or style change, like cutting your hair or getting a new wardrobe (although those can be powerful in their own ways).
Exercise has the power to change us from the inside out.
Have you noticed how people going through breakups often react with physical changes? They diet, change their hair or makeup, update their dress, exercise, maybe they even get plastic surgery. These reactions reflect the close connection between body and spirit. A spiritual or emotional change evokes physical responses.
While it’s great to get in shape after a breakup, your motivations for exercising matter, and they will largely determine just how healthy you become, physically and emotionally. From what I’ve seen, people exercising in reaction to a breakup usually have two main motivators: 1) to please or impress others, and 2) to respect and please themselves.
Those who exercise to impress or influence other people often focus on how exercise will enhance their appearance. I’m not saying that appearance doesn’t matter, but a focus on it indicates deeper issues. It reflects a reliance on others’ approval in order to feel valuable. And more significantly, their approval of our external features, rather than what we offer from the heart.
Whether in marriage or another long-term relationship, our sense of significance and our identity becomes embroiled in that relationship. We mistakenly feel that another person’s love or admiration of us gives us some of our value—that what others think of us or to whom we are connected defines our worth. People with this perception, feeling the hurt and humiliation of a breakup, often embrace the inclination to make their ex-partners jealous, hurt, or sorry they left. “I’m going to look so good, he’ll wish he never left.” Or, “Just wait until people see the next person I’m with.” You’ve all seen it…maybe even experienced it.
And so people go back to school, change jobs or careers, get new wardrobes, move to fresh locations, take up new hobbies, diet like crazy, etc. None of these are bad in and of themselves, but doing any of these things to attract someone else, impress someone else, or make someone jealous only leaves you a slave to others’ opinions of you, and therefore a slave to things you cannot control.
Someone out there will always be more of whatever outward standard you’re priding yourself on, whether beauty, wealth, education or intelligence. At some point, you will be displaced again, only to find yourself back at the starting line. The only thing no one can ever beat you at is being more you than you.
Rather than being a catalyst for negative gut-responses, a breakup can provide an opportunity to reconnect with yourself to become freer and healthier. Instead of enslaving yourself by attaching your self-concept to the conceptions and whims of another person, use this occasion to liberate yourself, both emotionally and physically. This takes some thought and some work, on both the spiritual side and the physical side. You are worth just as much now as you were before the latest relationship.
Now for the physical side: What I love about exercise is the way it can bring our bodies and spirits in sync with each other. It’s wonderful when your body can express the same freedom that your newly-released spirit has.
Consider the binding effects of obesity, weakness, exhaustion, frailty, depression, stress and poor sleep. All of these tie you down and keep you from functioning at your peak. Regular exercise relieves every one of these constrictions and frees you. It reduces depression, anxiety and the effects of stress, leaving you free to focus on what you want and what you can control. It promotes sleep, leaving you more refreshed for the coming day.
Exercise helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight, freeing your body systems and joints from physical stress. Exercise builds endurance, giving you the freedom to work, perform or enjoy activities for hours, and giving you the stamina to run 5 blocks to make your appointment or catch your child’s jazz band number. It increases strength, allowing you to toss a case of waters in your shopping cart or carry your 13-year old retriever up the porch steps. It promotes mobility and flexibility, leaving you free to tie your shoes, shave your legs, straddle a pile of garbage in your garage, or, more thrillingly but not more importantly, go kayaking or rock climbing.
As you make exercise part of your breakup recovery, appreciate it for its freeing power and do it out of self-respect. It’s part of living consistently with who you are—an individual with unlimited worth. Exercise to physically unveil your newfound emotional and spiritual freedom—to let the freedom of a healthy body reflect your inner freedom. When you achieve that consistency in body and spirit, you will feel complete, whole, and beautiful, with or without a partner with which to share the richness.