Wellness Corner - one step at a time | Aga Khan Academies

Wellness Corner - one step at a time

03 December 2020

For years I have felt like a bit of a wellness fraud, keenly aware of one particular exercise-shaped hole in my self-care regime. Uncharacteristically for me, I have shied away from openly acknowledging this neglected area of my health. What follows is my confession, through which I hope to shake off the shackles of shame and perhaps inspire others to join me in prioritising physical health as part of a balanced wellbeing regime. If you find yourself reading this, picture me lobster-red in the face, passed out in a sweaty pool of despair having gone for a run.

Before launching into the ways in which I have neglected my body over the last decade, I’ll start by acknowledging some of the ways I have and do take care of myself. For 3 years, I have gone to therapy every week and although it’s not a legal imperative in India, I also engage in professional supervision once a fortnight. These six hours a month are vitally important in supporting my emotional wellbeing and sustaining my energy for acting in service of others.

Yet my physical health is a shambles. I vividly recall my embarrassment back in April when my brother-in-law nominated me for a 5K run. I can’t run 5K, I can’t run a mile without having to stop to catch my breath. When I tell people about my level of fitness, they usually react with incredulity. Somehow the fact that I remain relatively slim (a combination of genetics and strategic dress sense) makes it hard for people to believe that I am unhealthy. This idea, that physical fitness can be measured on the basis of outward appearance is so damaging. Indeed, when I approached the exercise with the primary motivation of changing my outward appearance, the backdrop of self-hatred fiercely undercut my sense of achievement; I was never satisfied. Instead of focusing on how my body looks, I have found it increasingly useful to focus on what my body can do. Flooding my social media with images of different body types has been essential, likewise learning to internalise empowered voices of body confidence advocates like coach Jess Heading.

Endurance athlete Tony Riddle played an equally vital role in transforming my approach to exercise. Tony recently ran 462 miles barefoot over the course of nine days, tackling the United Kingdom’s three highest peaks. You’d think his story would be intimidating, but I found the opposite. Tuning in to watch Tony run one day, I felt a wave of relief wash over me as he shared his mantra and vision of endurance: jog when you can’t run, walk when you can’t jog and crawl when you can’t walk! What I heard Tony say that day was that endurance is all about putting one foot in front of the other, even when it’s difficult. This shift from thinking about distance to thinking about effort enabled me to redefine myself. Even running a mile, even walking the last 300 metres of a mile I set out to run – so long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I can be proud, I am enduring.

In this time of limited social contact and mobility, I am finding I can no longer ignore the call of my body to get moving. Whether it’s a walk, run, yoga, dance or any other form of movement, I wholeheartedly encourage you to keep putting one foot in front of the other with me and to show yourself some compassion on days when it's difficult. For those keen to get serious on an intention around physical exercise, try using IF-THEN plans, which are featured in our LEAP curriculum. For example:

Intention:        Increase level of physical fitness.

Goal:                Exercise four times a week.

If-Then Plan:   IF it’s 6 pm on Friday, THEN I will go for a run.

Alternative:    IF I feel too tired to go for a run, THEN I will go easy on myself and do a yin yoga practice

Some of my favourite resources to support fitness at home:

-       PE with Joe Wicks

-       Yoga with Adriene

-       Qi-gong with Guy Burgs