I am constantly thinking about what needs to be done; how to stay one step ahead in my day so as not to be swallowed whole. My planner sits open with beautiful blank pages waiting to help me organize my thoughts into actionable tasks. The problem is, I am fearful of messing up those beautiful pages. My handwriting has to be perfect so it is pleasing when I look at it…a work of art. I don’t want to brain-dump on these pages…maybe I can find some scratch paper? I end up keeping the thoughts to myself in my already cluttered mind so as not to mar the page. I think about how to best be efficient with my time instead of actually being efficient with my time. I hypothesize, theorize, and philosophize about my day. The time spent in my head ends up hindering me from accomplishing what I want to. Critical thinking is a good thing but what is all that thinking good for if it produces nothing? I am in desperate need of a little less (mental) talk and a lot more action. Exercise is the answer to quiet my perpetually running mind.
Burpees. That infernal exercise that makes me look like a complete imbecile. The fitness model in the book I reference begins in a perfect push-up position: legs, back, and head in one long lean line. She hops effortlessly bringing her feet forward to land outside of her hands then shoots high into the air like a rocket. Back down again, hands to the floor and hops her feet back to the starting point. Bing. Bang. Boom. She makes it look so easy. I start with good form but as I continue, my push-up resembles more of a mountain shape, my rear end inching higher and higher like a periscope searching for ally ships come to rescue. Heaving and panting, I count reps with each squeak of my sneakers against the hardwood floor.
When will this be over!
Why am I doing this?
I put myself through this exercise a couple times a week, motivated partly out of vanity. I would like to look like this fitness model, to execute this exercise with consistently good form, and demonstrate my strength and agility. Surprisingly though, I have realized that I look forward to a workout, not for the vanity, but because when I do something physical with my body, it offers my brain a chance to shut off.
When I exercise, it is time for my mind to listen and not do the talking. I tune in to how my body is feeling and listen to what is physically challenging and what isn’t as hard today as it was yesterday. Stretching out a sore muscle and gently breathing deeper into the discomfort is a way of allowing my body to be acknowledged for the under-appreciated things it does every day. My muscles seem to be thankful for the opportunity to work. My lungs are grateful to do their job of breathing in and out. It feels good to have blood pumping through my veins, and each drop of sweat is a hard earned nugget of euphoria; valuable because it is rare in my days filled with giving my all to my young family.
When my mind begins to reel off course and I begin to think way too much about the order in which I should shower, do laundry, write a grocery list, and the like, moving my body is often the missing component needed to restore balance to my well being.
I exercise to clear the mental fog and break up the cycle of overthinking everything. Incidentally, I have found that when I offer my mind this kind of break each day, I end up having some of my best ideas. Like finding a dollar bill in the pocket of a pair of jeans I hadn’t worn (or washed) for a while, these good ideas are given to me without me having to search or strive hard to find them. Just as a passenger in a car gets to relax and take in the scenery while the driver remains alert to events unfolding on the road, my brain enjoys being the passenger instead of white-knuckling the steering wheel of decision making all the time. When my brain rests, creative thought comes bubbling up. That makes me happy because I thrive on creativity.
I love that this very physical practice fuels my creative life.
Establishing the habit of doing something physical every day helps me to be a better mother. I give my children a positive example of prioritizing a healthy lifestyle even though I may look silly and sort of pathetic as I do it. Knowing I am helping to instill in them healthy habits for their lifetime pushes me to work harder–both figuratively and literally–as they enjoy handing me heavier weights during my workouts. “Now do it again with this weight, Mom…it’s heavier!” You got it, Coach.
So I lace up my sneakers every day. I’ve determined it is worthwhile for me to put up with looking like a dork with a periscope booty. I keep showing up for these workouts that help to center me and bring every last cent of determination to let my mind rest and allow my body to take control and move. Tomorrow I will be capable of more because of what I have struggled through today. I am stronger today than I was yesterday. Burpees, you bloody beasts, I’ll see you tomorrow.
Jennifer Van Winkle lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (twin boys and a baby girl). She is a teacher, musician, and currently a stay-at-home mom. She loves fueling the imaginations of her children with creativity, songs, all things science, good food and lots of play indoors and out. She blogs at Pepper Sprout Home and you can also find her on Instagram.