Over the last twenty years, I have not only used exercise to soothe my mood but to unlock and release stuck emotional energy. Movement can be a powerful tool for emotional release as well as releasing weight, increasing strength, flexibility, longevity, and general health- your exercise can become therapy! When you use exercise as a therapeutic tool, you transform the act of exercising into a form of love, which can heal body shame.
A placebo-controlled study conducted by James Blumenthal, professor of psychology at Duke University, was published in an issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. The study compared exercise to a common antidepressant medication in a group of individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and found that exercise was as effective as the drug at alleviating symptoms of the disorder. Exercise is clinically more effective than drugs to elevate your mood because emotion is energy.
Before my husband and I met, I had an argument with a guy I was dating. Frustrated and angry, I could feel that displeasure well up inside of me like a fireball that needed a target. Due to the inconvenient fact that I was volunteering at a workshop for the weekend, I didn’t have any time to go to the gym or even step outside for more than ten minutes. Assessing my need to hit something, I took a friend to the bathroom, grabbed the seat cushion from the lounge chair, handed it to her, and said, “Can you hold this? I am going to kick and punch it.”
Within three strikes, the third one including a loud grunt of frustration, the bubble of emotion inside of me had been broken and the tears were streaming down my face. Without too many words, I acknowledged my anger, which was really masking the fear of being rejected, and then felt a sigh of great relief. Once I could identify it and release it, it no longer had power over me. I was free! My energy level came back to normal and I was the happy, pleasant person I normally am, and I felt clear- headed and calm all within five minutes.
Emotions sometimes create a barrier and add resistance to you moving forward, so choosing the appropriate exercise can make all the difference in soothing or releasing what you might be going through. There are many different types of exercises out there and I will be not able to cover them all but here are a few to start with and try out in your own routines.
Anger has energy to it, the frequency and intensity of thoughts that are going on in your mind and transmitting to your body need to find a release in order for the anger to move through you. Kick boxing, boxing, and running are great ways to give your body an outlet for these emotions. The impact of your body against the ground, a heavy bag, or some focus mitts can help release that tension (and adding sound is even more effective!) Sexual frustrations can also be eased with these same exercises.
Anxiety has energy to it as well but less streamlined than anger. If anger is focused tension, anxiety is nervous energy that is unfocused and all over the place. Because you are unfocused, organizing your thoughts to the present moment will help calm you down. Using mindful resistance training, which means focusing on what is going on in the body and recruiting muscle fibers with your mind, and high impact cardio classes bring you into the present moment. Efficient resistance training requires that you are in tune with your body and using your brain power to engage your muscles. If your mind is somewhere else, not only are you not getting the optimal benefits from the exercise, you could injure yourself, because you are not in tune with the body’s messages of when you are nearing failure and fatigue. Choreographed cardio classes will also require that you are in the moment and provide an opportunity for you to focus so you can ignore the worry about the future or replaying something from the past in your mind.
Sadness, depression, and fear are emotions that have less or blocked energy. Ease of movement is the most important factor in dealing with this low- level status, so walking would be my first recommendation. Most of us walk for some duration of time in a day, even if it’s around the house; -increasing the duration interrupts the pattern of thought and you start to think about different things. Rollerblading or biking provides a gliding that the body doesn’t do without wheels. The momentum of energy created from the wheels is an instant pick me up – you are using less energy while the ease of gliding is comforting. Dancing is also a great way to combat sadness, depression, and fear because of the power of music. Choose a dance that is appropriate for music you like or a dance that feels good in your body. Take a few classes in different kinds of dance to find the one that really inspires you – it’s a great workout too!
Adrenal fatigue and burn out require a different kind of restorative energy; – fast paced or high intensity movement will only challenge the body to heal itself even more. Isometric training, hatha yoga, and Pilates would be best in combating burnout. Start by asking yourself how it is you feel, and what you might need to feel better. Rather than skipping the workout because you are cranky, use your exercise to move through that. You’ll get your workout in and feel better when it’s done!