Don’t Let Stress Ruin Exercising

This is one of my stories about my exercise routines. My exercise routines are something I regularly change and update! So, as you are reading this, I may or may not be doing what I outline in the article below. But, that’s not the point. The point is to find what works for you. Maybe it will be the same for years to come, maybe it will change every few months.  This is the story of how and why I started to take charge of how I exercise, and mixed and matched practices to create my own work-out. I hope it inspires you to listen to your own body in a new way!

Is it just me or does the world of sports and exercise have something very out-to-prove and agressive about it?

I used to think that doing sports was supposed to feel stressful to your body. That getting in shape was about setting targets and trying hard. That it was about being confronted with your limitations head-on and pushing through resistance.

Yet, on my own journey out of Chronic Fatigue, I discovered a whole new way to work out. One that, unfortunately, isn’t advertised much.


The (False) Dilemma


I always felt like I had to choose between “male” competitive and agressive sports with focus and determination versus very girly dance classes. Those seemed to be the main options. Having to choose… I went for the male approach. It worked in a way, until I got fed up.

I got fed up with having to push myself and force myself. I got fed up with not being able to naturally excel at something which seemed to come so naturally to men. I didn’t care about being sporty anymore.

I discovered that my biggest impediment to a healthy body and being was stress. So, obviously, stress would be the thing to avoid in a workout. I still didn’t like typically girly stuff like ballet and aerobics either, and for a while it seemed there was nothing out there for me at all.

Yet, determined to find a way, I started with tai-chi. Of all the movement ‘stuff’ out there, tai-chi has relaxation as its prime goal. I started hatha yoga, which is about strength and stretching. I tried different kinds of dance: zumba (because it’s fun) and bellydance ( because it’s different). None of these was quite what I was searching for but they all had elements of what felt right. (sorting that out took a while)

In the end, my workout has become a mix of all of these. In bellydance, there are great isolation-routines in which you exercise very specific muscles. Not unimportantly, bellydance is specifically designed for the female body (That’s not to say men don’t bellydance, but there is a difference). Bellydance has helped me strengthen and become aware of muscles I never consciously felt before. The trick for me was finding a style and bellydance music that I find inspiring (for again, there are many frilly styles that I personally abhor). The most important thing though is that, it is so easy to relax into and enjoy!

Tai-chi has taught me the mind-set to work-out in a conscious and relaxing way. It has taught me focus, good breathing, taking your time and the (health)benefit of doing anything slowly. The whole theory on which it is built is inspiring and helpful. However, too much tai-chi makes me feel like an old chinese man (especially with some of the typical tai-chi music, ugh!) so I limit tai-chi to once a week.

Yoga taught me to accept and breathe through pain in a gentle way. Yet, a purely yoga work-out is very boring and uninspiring to me and quite frankly, too taxing on my body.

So, at home, I do a simple yoga warm-up and cooldown and then practice bellydance and various other dances as I feel like it. I use dvd’s because then I get to decide what to do and what not to do and I don’t have to think while I’m doing it. I also avoid the extra stress of getting to a class in time, having to fit into the group tempo…and on dvd, I get to replay the instruction as much as I need. No need to push myself, no social pressure, noone is watching. Inbetween I can get a drink, go to the loo, pet the cat, whatever. Finally, a work-out that’s all about me!

I could never manage all that with any more stressful workout, which is why it’s so important to spend time noticing what does and doesn’t work and feel good for you.


Here’s what I learned:


1. I like not having to think about what I do too much. So a good teacher that talks me through the exercise is necessary. I don’t like doing exercise from written instructions.

Self-Reflection Question: do you prefer to learn in a live class, from dvd, from a book, or another way?


2. Initially, when learning something completely new I need a live teacher to correct me and give me personal tips. Once I’ve got the basics, I can pretty much teach and motivate myself as long as I have good instructions.

Self-Reflection Question: Do you need a live teacher to encourage you or explain things? If so, when? Always? Or only for some parts of your work-out?


3. When learning something new or doing a workout all kinds of distractions get in my way, so I prefer a peaceful setting.

Self-Reflection Question: Do you feel energised when there’s a lot going on, or do you get overstimulated quickly? We Highly Sensitive People get overstimulated more quickly. We start to feel uncomfortable and even panicky when there is too much happening at once. It could be as simple as loud music playing at the gym! However, if you’re a Highly Sensitive Sensation Seeker you might also crave a regular dose of happy bubbly activity with lots going on, even if at times it does get too much and you’re not sure why.


4. I need detailed and precise instruction, otherwise I get frustrated.

We HSPs tend to be detail-oriented which makes us thorough. This also means that if someone gives you a vague instruction, you have a million questions trying to understand what exactly you need to be doing. Not all teachers are good at teaching in such detail, but if you are thorough, chances are you’ll feel 10 times better and more successful with a teacher who can explain and guide you on what to do in minute detail.


5. Getting to a class adds stress to my life.

Self-Reflection Question: Do you crave getting out of the house more? Or do you already feel pulled in too many directions and actually crave a simpler schedule?


6. A pleasant room, smell, light, music etc are all essential to how a workout feels to me.

Self-Reflection Question: what makes a room pleasant and comfortable for you to be in?


7. I get nervous and self-conscious when someone watches me, so I perform best when alone.

Question: do you feel supported with someone watching you, or does it distract you from focusing on the exercise?


8. I work out out for me, and not to socialize (although socializing is an added bonus).

Does knowing the people in a class motivate you to go? Or do you go for the class itself and is any socialising just a bonus? In other words, do you tend to work-out because you want to do the exercise, or does it really help you knowing that other people are expecting you to be in class? It doesn’t have to be either or, it may depend on the class too. It’s just handy to know whether you should be on the look-out for a friendly group and some work-out buddies, or whether you need to just find the best teacher and class for you, regardless of who else is there.


9. I like to do workouts that don’t require special clothing. It’s just easier to do something if you don’t have to change into a special outfit first (and then discover that outfit is in the wash etc).

Self-Reflection Question: do you enjoy shopping for exercise outfits, or does it just become another tedious thing on your to-do list?


10. I like workouts that have a goal other than just “working out”, there needs to be a playful element or something to learn.

Self-Reflection Question: do you like hitting the gym, even if the exercise is really repetitive? Do you not mind repetitive movements or even love them? Or do you need to mix things up to stay interested?


11. My daily needed balance between wanting to learn new things and following a familiar routine varies.

If you’re a Highly Sensitive Sensation Seeker like me, then your ideal day will be about striking a different balance each time between “quiet” and “excitement”. Getting this right depends on a lot of different factors, read more about that here


12. The workout I like in the morning is very different (usually less creative) than what I’d need at the end of the day (when I like to improvise and do new things).

Are you a morning person, or an evening person? Do you jump out of bed in the morning, or do you need to have all your exercise gear laid out for you to even consider doing a work-out first thing? Don’t fight your tendencies, plan for them. If you’re an evening person, you can write yourself morning instructions and lay out everything you need, all ready to go when you wake up. If you’re a morning person, you can use the morning to plan and prep the rest of your day.


13. On hot days I need a mild workout, on cold days a more vigorous one.

Even if your gym or house has climate control, it’s still helpful to take the outside temperatures into consideration. It may affect you more than you think. Notice and see if you spot a pattern.


14. I get the most benefit from working out almost daily, so that I don’t feel like it’s a drag or an obligation, yet that it is often enough to feel the benefits and slip into a certain ease and grace.

Are you more of  a “slow and steady” person at heart? Or do you like to do intense work-outs a few times a week?


What are the things you need? What is your list of requirements? If you had a HSP-friendly Personal Trainer (someone who helps you find what works for you instead of pushing you to get over yourself), then what kind of work-out would you come up with?


What if it’s hard to figure out your true exercise needs?


If you’re not sure, or you’re not sure how to go about coming up with your own list of preferences, go ahead and set up a Clarity Call with me here.

I’d be happy to help you figure out what you love, what you hate, and where you are getting stuck thinking you “should” do a particular kind of exercise that doesn’t actually work for your Highly Sensitive body and that doesn’t make you happy. I promise you, all the info you need is inside of you, we just need to take a moment to let it bubble up so you can make naturally motivating exercising choices.

Too many workouts sell themselves based on mysterious averages. No one fits the average. Trying to fit the average ideal doesn’t do justice to you or your body. A workout should be inspiring, relaxing, invigorating and whatever you need it to be! Enjoy :)

P.S. Here are some of the dvd’s I like – and still like after over a year:

  • Fransini Giraldo’s “Samba Body”. It’s a very gentle continuous workout and don’t worry, she’s wearing a basic fitness outfit for the exercise programme, not a thong :)
  • Tribal Fusion Bellydance: A Practice Companion with Rachel Brice. This DVD has a yoga warm-up and cool down with belly dance drills in the middle.
  • Michael Nevermind – The Perfect Martial Arts Workout
  • Kim Eng – Yin Yoga
  • Cardio Hula with Kili
  • Bellydancing: The Sensuous Workout 2 with Shamira “Pure Technique”

For more suggestions on workout dvd’s to try out, take a look at this post where I walk you through a whole stack of DVD’s in a video, explaining why I think they are great. These are suggestions for when you have low energy, but you can also use them when you feel fine!

Share to spread the happy sensitive inspiration
Share on Facebook
Email this to someone
Tweet about this on Twitter
Pin on Pinterest
Print this page

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: