Physical, visceral joy (also known as ‘exercise’)

Welcome to a series about exercise. *Cough*. Sorry, I mean sport. Um. Isn’t there a more appealing word for something that unlocks happiness?

Physical visceral joy banner

Whatever you do, do it because it makes you feel good. © Laura Eades 2013

Exercise. The thought is laden with duty. Urch.

Sport. I have never identified with the word. (If you have, you’re lucky: make good use of that gift!) I can hardly feel playful enough to consider enjoying a game – let alone the fear of letting everyone down in a team context, or of competing … These are quite advanced skills, and if you’re confident to participate in this way, you should definitely count yourself lucky.

For me, the challenge is how to engage with the body when you were never on the netball team.

I’ve noticed, that when I’m exercising regularly, I’m much, much happier

Only when I think of exercise as driven by the sense of pleasure that one gets from being inside the body can I embrace it. And much as I’m reluctant about taking exercise, and think of myself as unsporty and unsuited to the activity, these negative beliefs don’t allow me to really embrace the way it transforms me when I do it.

It’s absurd really: my physical world needs to be a priority because it’s key to my happiness. Taking exercise instantly gets all my habits circulating in a ‘virtuous circle’. Prioritising happiness is the name of the game.

Here are some joyful things your body could go nuts over

Messing around in the sea ‘surfing’ with a boogieboard. Snorkelling. Running with your favourite tunes. Swimming after sunbathing by the pool with a cracking novel on the go. Sex. Cycling with the wind behind you. The pleasant gong-tinging, Deutsch-murmuring, crystal-glowing of the yoga studio. Walking for miles in a breathtaking landscape. The “thuck, pause, thuck” of a shuttlecock suspended in motion. Dancing for hours like a lunatic. What gives you visceral joy?

“That’s all very well, but I’m a serious case of unsportiness”

Note: in case you’re thinking you’re a serious case and beyond help, I should add that my resistance to engaging with my body has been an ongoing theme in my life. I even made a theatre show about the body and mind in conflict, called Holiday. I also did a notoriously physical theatre training programme – Jacques Lecoq, in Paris, and LISPA, in London. Even after these periods of intense focus on working with my body, it’s still not second nature to be physical. I have to concentrate, to organise myself, to be vigilant in making sure I do it.

I noticed there was a common thread

When I think of the two times in my life when I’ve been happiest, I’d say 1) when I lived as an English teacher in Japan, and 2) right now, in Berlin.

Twice happy – twice exercising – that’s no coincidence.

What made the difference?

In Japan? Well, I’m sure I was free from my existential angst on many levels, being out of context there and with the whole ‘ambition’ question totally out of the picture. But there was something else too that might seem small but was in fact life-changing. I spent a large portion of my monthly salary on being a member of a gym with a very nice swimming pool and fluffy towels. Before I knew it, it was my sanctuary. My bliss. Swimming became – not a habit, in the repetitive, obligatory sense of the word – but a part of me, something I’d seek out, a luscious need to fulfil.

And now in Berlin? I’ve been running regularly. It’s doable in the city and it’s fuelling me. And you know what else? The first thing I did when I got here was join a yoga studio that had a special offer, and it hooked me. I gotta get my yoga fix each week – I really notice my tension building if I don’t. And then, now that I’m active, of course I’ve chosen cycling holidays over pool-lounging ones too… so it goes on.

Doing stuff with your body changes your whole way of being

So there you have it. Two very happy times. The two times in my life when exercise was really bedded into my day-to-day. Exercise has some transformative ripple effect on my whole life, my whole being.

I crave healthier food. I raise my confidence, my enthusiasm. I stop wanting to hibernate. Stop procrastinating by getting myself into action. I breathe more deeply. I sleep better. I like myself more. I give myself less of a hard time in my head. I’m less stressed and more humourous.

Make it long-term

I’m still on a mission to make physical joy a permanent fixture in my life. Not to find it and, as happened with Japan, lose it again. To keep it. Perhaps this will require a certain awareness, a certain vigilance. Not to let it slip through my fingers. Not to revert to the habits of a lifetime.

• • •

Have I missed any physical pleasures out? Feel free to chip in with your favourites. Click on the plus sign on the grey dot below to open the comments section