My Pandemic Fitness Journey, and the Emotional Benefits of Slowing Down

Having played sports and been active all my life, I’ve always thought of movement as something as natural to me as breathing. When I was a little girl, kicking a soccer ball around a muddy field or dribbling a basketball down a court filled me with joy. 

In adulthood, hurling a barbell over my head or traversing the open forest on a 20-mile trail run brings me happiness akin to that of those early childhood memories. I feel most like myself when movement is a part of my daily routine, which is perhaps why playing sports when I was growing up has lent itself to an active lifestyle in my 20s. I recognize its invaluable nature and keep coming back for more. This continued to be true when COVID and quarantine hit earlier this year.  

Here’s what I’ve learned about my fitness journey, how quarantine has shifted my perspective about exercise, and how slowing down has improved my quality of life. 

The importance of setting goals

For the past two years, I’ve set specific goals to improve my strength and endurance, like running faster and longer, lifting heavier, and feeling confident in my ability to complete difficult workouts. When setting these goals, I fully understand I am in it for the long haul. After all, it’s simply not realistic to expect that I’ll hit a personal record every other day. 

Because I have long-term goals, I recognize there’s always something to be working on with my fitness, and I’m okay with that. In fact, I thrive knowing I have an opportunity to slowly chip away at these goals each and every day and better myself mentally and physically. While I don’t always have the motivation to train, discipline holds me accountable and keeps me from getting discouraged. All I ask of myself is that I give my best in every session. 

Quarantine challenges

Quarantine amidst COVID-19 presented me with unique challenges and forced me to take a pause. With gym closures, race-day cancellations, and a “new normal” to adjust to, I had to get creative and pivot. Once my initial disappointment about the change in circumstances wore off,  I was already beginning to embrace a change of pace and intentionally pour into the areas of my training that I had neglected previously, like yoga and walking outside. 

I never imagined I would seek out or — if I’m being honest — enjoy something that was more low intensity in nature. However, I chose to sit with the understanding that I needed to do something to bolster my mental health during such an uncertain and often overwhelming time in our lives. Through these intentional choices, I’ve felt calmer, less anxious, and more at peace. 

Slowing down is key

Yoga and walking are quite a bit slower than my CrossFit programming and endurance training, where the goal is typically to do things as fast or as intensely as I can. So while I initially sought out these activities as a means to de-stress and better navigate this difficult time (and perhaps also kill time), I began to realize all the things I may have missed otherwise, had I not taken the time to actually slow down. I was able to process some of the collective grief of the pandemic and feel joy for the simple things of life, like a butterfly floating by, warmth from the sun, or briefly connecting with a stranger.  

It is in those moments I felt the universe expand in a way that I hadn’t experienced before, not because I didn’t previously appreciate the importance of slowing down, but because I never actually practiced it. All the moments I used to glaze over were now right in front of me, and my gratitude increased tenfold. 

Moving meditation

For me, yoga and walking are two different forms of meditation. I am a mover, so walking comes more naturally to me, and was something I was more inclined to try. Yoga has allowed me to physically sit with my emotions and work to process them, however slowly, which has worked to grow my love of movement and made it come full circle from ways I traditionally exercised. Ultimately, yoga and walking helped me achieve and create balance in a way I never knew I needed, and made me healthier by actively appreciating the silver lining and beautiful simplicities of life. 

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