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Breaking Free of Exercise Guilt: Yoga for Self-Love, Not Hate

Breaking Free of Exercise Guilt: Yoga for Self-Love, Not Hate

By Sarah Kelleher

The day I left a yoga class ten minutes in was the day my relationship with exercise began to shift -- for the better. 


I just didn’t feel like being there. I felt that way when I woke up. And I felt that way when I was signing up the night before. The 10:30am start time loomed in the air with the smell of my morning coffee. 

I didn’t want to go when I put on leggings or my cutest sports bra, or while I searched for a hair tie. 

“Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I wish I didn’t have to go this morning,” I mumbled.

I left my house begrudgingly. This wasn’t making me feel better. This was making me feel worse. 

The truth was, I didn’t have to do anything that day. I fell into the “trap.” The trap I had fallen into so many times before. The trap of thinking that doing this certain thing would change my mood. Undoubtedly, yoga, movement, and exercise, in general, most certainly did that a lot of the time. But there were other days, like this one, where the thought of forcing myself to exercise felt more punitive than therapeutic. This wasn’t empowering, it was punishing. 

After spending the warm-up internally building up the courage to step out of class, I left…exactly eight minutes in. I felt instantly relieved. I didn’t feel like exercising that day, so I didn’t. I went home and did my laundry, showered, and cleaned. 

Statistics show that humans exhibit increased resistance when being told they “must” do something. Exercise is no exception. 

The assumption that we humans exercise to solely lose weight and change our bodies is harmful and untrue. Movement helps manage anxiety, depression and helps to regulate our hormones. We also learn about our bodies and what feels good in the process. I was viewing exercise as a method to control, or hopefully change the way I looked, not to love it.

The minute I stopped thinking I had to exercise was the minute I started to enjoy it. I started to experiment and figure out what exercises left me drained. or fueled both my mental and physical health. 

Here are some tips I came up with in the process: 

1. Be Kind to Yourself

This isn’t to say you should leave every workout class early when you just don’t feel like doing it. I am saying there are days you won’t feel like exercising and days you do. Cherish both. Both are needed and normal. Push yourself but also know when to give yourself a day. 

Appreciate your body for everything it does, from breathing to walking. Find 5 different things every day to be grateful for about your body. (You’ll be surprised when you have to get creative on day 3!) 

2. Share. Share. Share. 

Talk about exercise with your friends and your community in a positive way. Explain that you exercise out of self-love, not out of self-hate. We assume that people exercise to lose weight, but people exercise for tons of different reasons. Share your experience and people will begin to share theirs. 

Also, stay out of body-shaming conversations! Stay out of conversations that obsessively cover exercise, diet, and fitness. Exercise is supposed to be freeing not constricting. If the only conversations you’re having with your co-workers is this week’s diet, it might be contributing to why exercise has felt so awful lately. 

3. Find People Who Also Move Out of Self-Love

There are communities like this that exist!! People who are there because they love to move and feel good about themselves. People that don’t exercise because they want to change themselves but because they care about themselves. This is something I love about teaching for Drunk Yoga—we’re all about lifting each other up, and celebrating the JOY of movement! Here’s a few more wellness communities we love: Diva Dance, Luminary, Primary, Runstreet, Katonah Yoga, The Camaraderie, and Daybreaker!

(Got your own fitness community that lifts you up? Share it with us on Instagram!)