Today I did morning yoga at the Broad art museum on my college campus. I’ve never done a formal yoga class before, and the only way I can describe my feelings post-class is… zen. Yoga rocks! I can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed, and I left thinking that maybe I should make this a permanent part of my morning routine.

I’ve never been a huge exercise person. I like to stay active, but the word “exercise” sometimes sends me to this weird place where my mind says things to me like “you aren’t fit enough to be an ‘exercise person,'” “you’re never going to have that washboard stomach,” “don’t be one of those girls who’s always instagramming her workout.” My mind is kind of a jerk. It forgets that exercise isn’t just about looking good, it’s about feeling good. It also forgets that the separation between the us (me) and them (“those girls”) is a destructive and arbitrary mindset. It forgets to be zen. So here are five things I learned today during my morning yoga session:

1. For me, exercise is about feeling good, not looking good.

A lot of people I know exercise because they want to look a certain way, but that’s never been a sustainable mindset for me. Given the choice between waking up early to work on my abs and butt versus an extra hour of snuggles with Boyfriend or Tigger, the choice is clear. Always snuggles. Always. But, waking up early for some mood-boosting, day-starting yoga or pilates is a completely different story. For me, if it’s about doing something that makes me feel better, I’m much more likely to follow through. As much as I sometimes wish a flat stomach was part of the equation for me (see last week’s post on bikini body stress for reference), that’s just not as important to me as feeling good about myself and my body. My body likes afternoon runs (and so does my mind’s stress levels)… so we run. If my butt gets a little more toned in the process, so be it.

2. There is not “right” or “wrong.”

Okay, so barring exercising in a way that’s going to cause you strain or injury (like running without stretching or straining your wrists in a yoga post), there really is no proverbial right or wrong workout. There is only right for you and wrong for you. Boyfriend really enjoys racquetball because it’s active and competitive, and my mom enjoys long walks after a hard day at work. I enjoy going for runs along the trail behind Boyfriend’s apartment complex, and I learned today that starting my morning with some light yoga gets me relaxed and prepared for the day ahead. It’s easy to compare yourself to what others are doing, but if you find a routine and style that works for you, that’s all that matters. I avoid competitive workouts, and generally I like to exercise alone, because I know I’m much more likely to compare my progress to the other person’s and thus much more likely to lose the joy that comes from exercising.

3. Don’t be afraid to take it easy.

Some of the poses during our session today were a little difficult for me, because I haven’t done any kind of flexibility training in a really long time. At first, I was a little stubborn and tried to keep up with the yoga pro a few mats down, but after the instructor’s gentle reminders to “follow your own practice” and “listen to your body,” I did. Sometimes, I had to stabilize my pose further by putting my knees down on the mat, but really, so what? That was just part of my practice. Maybe someday I’ll be the yoga pro who can go into a full side plank, but there’s no sense pushing myself too hard before my body is ready to get there.

4. Working out can be fun!

Most of the time, Judgmental Brain equates working out with unnecessary amounts of stress and strain, but that’s really not the case. Going back to #2, workouts that feel like a chore are clearly not in the “right for me” category. I’m not saying that every run I go on is some magical experience where I smile the whole way, but it also doesn’t feel like a punishment. It’s okay to have fun with your chosen activities, because really, if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, why are you doing it? For me, this means a distinct lack of competition in my workouts, because I’d rather focus on my own benefits than focus on comparing myself to someone else.

5. Own it.

Remember “those girls” that I talked about, instagramming their workouts? Well, if exercise is an important part of your fulfilled life, don’t be afraid to own it! Who cares if that’s not part of someone else’s regimen? If you want to post about your work out because you’re proud of the work you put in, or you landed a really kick ass tree pose, or you just look really cute in your shorts and tank top, it’s okay to celebrate that publicly. It’s okay to celebrate privately, too! Whatever is part of your practice is 100% okay, as long as it’s right for you. The world is full of people who try to police what you say, how you say it, what you do, and how you do it… we’re all guilty of “shade-throwing” and judgment from time to time, but rising above that a little each day and being confident enough to own our own choices makes the world a much better place for everyone. Today, I did yoga for the first time in my life. I found my zen, and I found what could be a lasting part of my morning routine from now on. I found out that I have a really awesome tree pose, and you bet I’m gonna own it.

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