For decades, daily exercise has been the mantra of health gurus and doctors alike. And yet, in our modern era of busyness, exercise slips to the backburner all too easily. We have all heard the formula for health — eat well and exercise often — but doing the work doesn’t come easy. Once the pink cloud of early sobriety dissipates, reality can deliver some real low-down funks and those funks make it even more difficult to engage in something as helpful as exercise.
I personally found myself stuck in moods that I couldn’t pray away or talk myself out of. And I had no tools, no coping strategies. The sobriety toolbox was never handed to me, and I was tasked with building my own. After discovering the Kundalini Breath of Fire, I quickly learned that simply sending fresh oxygen to my brain can shift my emotional energy.
So I finally admitted that maybe (just maybe) exercise — that daunting and most-obvious task I once resisted — could be a tool to change my mind and to shift me out of my deepest funk. But do I really need to become a runner? Physical fitness has never been a long-term motivator for me. Maybe I could find a movement that wasn’t torture. Even with that subtle turn of phrase, using the word “movement” instead of “exercise” started to slowly shift my attitude towards the idea.
As the sober veterans before me recommended, I wrote a shockingly long list of activities that I enjoyed before I became dependent on booze as my sole source of fun. Other activities on my list were new experiences I wanted to try. Since then, I’ve tried a lot of things and found that moving my body a little bit every day is essential for my stress management, especially when I feel emotionally triggered to drink. Here are my top seven favorite ways to get moving:
1. Roller Skating
Thanks to COVID-19, and our grappling search for fun ways to entertain ourselves, the roller disco is back! The recent renaissance has made used skates hard to come by, but a quick Google search should lead you to a good beginner pair. Urban Outfitters even carries them. And go down any Instagram hashtag rabbit hole with the word “roller” in it, and you’ll hit a goldmine of inspiration.
Don’t linger in cyberspace long though. Not only is roller skating a fun way to move your body, it can be extremely humbling for beginners and wildly expressive for seasoned skaters. It’s a great practice in enjoying the process and celebrating the small wins. So yes, buy the kneepads, too.
As a kid, I was known to do a random jig here and there throughout my day, often to the embarrassment of my family. But somewhere along my adult journey, my tendency to bust a move was inhibited, if not halted altogether. My self-consciousness stole my zest. Now that I’m of sober mind and slowly coming back alive to myself, I make an effort to freely move to one song a day in a way that feels good, usually while I am making dinner. The more ridiculous, the better. It’s a contagious mood boost! And it’s free.
You can go further with professional dance classes or YouTube choreography to your favorite song if that’s more your style. Also, Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) is a thing, and it’s been proven to reduce stress and improve mood management, self-esteem, and body image. Even further and with a little time investment, dancing in a therapeutic setting can help our unconscious mind learn how to respond more authentically and truthfully in our daily lives.
3. Restorative Yoga
Restorative Yoga is all about surrender, which the sober community knows all about. This practice won’t lift your heart rate but the mental challenge is real. Restorative Yoga fosters self-awareness, cultivates acceptance, and strengthens our ability to let go. The long, deep poses help move stale energy and restore your spirit.
Educate yourself on the health benefits of each pose and as you hold them for long periods of time, soak in all that goodness, and visualize the positive effects in your body. Consider it active meditation and a peaceful way to reset your intention for your best life. For more other practices in the same vein but with a little extra physical challenge, try a Yin Yoga, Hatha Yoga, or Iyengar Yoga class. These styles of yoga focus less on flow (the fluid movement from one pose to the next) and more on alignment (holding poses for longer periods of time). B.K.S. Iyengar believed that once our bodies achieve balance, our minds will follow.
Nature medicine has been a huge part of my sobriety, and for that reason, hiking is the double-whammy of movement. Hiking and exploring untouched landscapes has opened both a world of adventure for my family and a world of activism for the protection of public lands. I care. And caring feels good. Simply placing ourselves in nature, setting aside time to notice the 100’s of worlds that continue on each day whether we tune in or not, can change our perspective and bring a big sense of gratitude, belonging, and even divine purpose.
If you want to get a more professional look at the power of nature on mental health, explore Ecotherapy, Nature Immersion Therapy (Forest Bathing), or Adventure Therapy. If you, like me, have watched way too much Dateline to enter into nature alone, bring along a friend and your device. Emergency calls will connect even if your phone is out of range. If you have a dog, bring her too. As you get more practice and more familiar with your surroundings, you can venture out alone without the extra anxiety.
I bought a pro hula hoop almost a decade ago, used it a couple times in between day-drinks, and now it’s rotting somewhere in Austin, TX. Even in that short, unfocused time, I learned how to seamlessly swing the thing from my hip to over my head. It’s such a fun rush.
You can snag a weighted hoop on Amazon for $20, hit the backyard or driveway and get to work. Add some music for an extra rhythm challenge. Just like roller skating and dancing, YouTube has everything you need to know. Hula-hooping can be a really funky skill to have at music festivals and other outdoor events. There is an entire subculture waiting for you.
This is the number one activity that makes me feel alive, which is really what we are all after, am I right? All of a sudden, I completely understand wind-in-the-hair motorcycle gangs, and I’m scouring my area for bike socials. It’s such an invigorating way to get around town, and can be integrated into your lifestyle so that it doesn’t feel like exercise.
You will start to notice new routes through your town or city, and new hidden gems along the way — a fabulous mural here, a divey coffee-shop there. In my experience, my world got a lot smaller, in a good way. I started focusing on the amenities right under my nose, instead of jumping in the car and letting Google Maps direct me across town. In this way, I met more people that actually lived close to me. Hello, new community.
I am the last person who should ever recommend running because I’m notorious for avoiding the activity (see above). However, hear me out. Apps like Strava that bring in a social component have made running so much more fun for me, even if my brother is the only person who follows my activity. It has deepened our bond and created low-pressure accountability. Walking counts, too. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I recommend grabbing a pair of comfy walking sandals, because if you’re anything like me, the thought of lacing up shoes to start moving sounds like commitment. Every day, if I’m feeling blah, I slip on my sandals and walk out the door for a bit. No goals. Just go.
Reaping the benefits of all of these mood-boosting activities has opened a once-closed door to more intense workout routines. And now that booze is out of my way, I’m able to schedule time to exercise and stick to the plan, putting an end to the frustrating cycle of endlessly letting myself down and letting myself go.