Falling asleep was never one of my strong points. Even when I did fall asleep at a reasonable time, it wasn’t unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep until roughly 20 minutes before I needed to be up for the day.
Needless to say, I was often pretty tired during the day. So when people talked about their runner’s highs, endorphins, gains, and personal bests, my eyes would glaze over and I’d want to lie down for a nap (more than I already did before the conversation started).
I just never ‘got’ the love of exercise. “When I have a bad day, I go for a run and I feel so much better,” runner friends would tell me. But if I went for a run, I ended up swearing under my breath and praying for it to just end already. It was not relaxing. Making playlists of the best saxophone solos from 1978-1983? For me, that was relaxing.
There were times when I’d attempted to push through the hatred of exercise. But I never really put in the effort to research what type of exercise might be a good fit for me; I’d just pick whatever I thought would burn the most calories in the least amount of time.
That usually meant joining a gym so I could get on an elliptical machine and go nowhere, sweating and swearing the whole way. Eventually I’d lose some weight, give myself permission to slack off and enjoy my life again, and I’d be right back on the couch binge-watching every British murder mystery Netflix has to offer.
Rinse and repeat, again and again. Nothing stuck.
I never really put in the effort to research what type of exercise might be a good fit for me; I’d just pick whatever I thought would burn the most calories in the least amount of time.
But several months ago, I accidentally happened upon the exercise for me.
I was scavenging Google for possible insomnia solutions when I came across a video for evening yoga. It was a mere 10 minutes long. I had done a little yoga in the past, but I never kept up with it. The more strenuous types of yoga didn’t appeal to me (surprise, surprise) and the gentler styles just seemed like a waste of time (since exercise, for me, was only ever about the calories burned). In this case, however, I wasn’t concerned about burning calories; in fact, I wasn’t concerned about my body at all. I needed to train my brain to calm down and transition into sleep mode.
The video I used walked me through gentle stretches, including cat/cow pose, bridge pose, happy baby pose, spinal twists, seated forward bends, and legs up the wall.
With this video, I started to do 10 minutes of yoga before bed each night—a totally doable amount—and it made a positive difference almost immediately.
My brain responded to the slower, deeper, more deliberate breathing by calming down and stopping its “helpful” suggestions (i.e. what I should have said in that meeting at work, what I could maybe write about tomorrow, and who was that juror in that murder mystery anyway?).
Related: Shop yoga blocks and mats.
I also realized how much tension I constantly hold in my back and shoulders. With yoga’s easy, gentle stretching, I learned to un-clench my muscles, which ended up making sleep a lot easier. Yoga signaled to both my body and my brain that it was time to rest, and I finally understood that mind-body connection that other people found through running, lifting weights, or other more intense forms of exercise.
Eventually those 10 minutes helped me move on to longer, more challenging sequences. My arms and legs are definitely more toned and I am also stronger—I can do several pushups now. Plus, I’m more flexible. When I started I could only grab my calves during seated forward bend—and now I can grab my toes!
I finally understood that mind-body connection that other people found through running, lifting weights, or other more intense forms of exercise.
It may sound like nothing, but 10 minutes of gentle yoga is an excellent way to start or restart exercising. It’s over quickly, it’s not competitive, it feels good, it meets you where you are (even if that’s barely off the couch), and it counts as exercise! For me, it was a way to finally make exercise a habit, and it got me into doing more, more often.
I don’t know if I’ve lost any weight because I no longer weigh myself, but I do know that I’m stronger, happier, and more flexible. Between that and getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, I finally have a consistent exercise routine that I actually like—and that works.