So how does brushing your teeth fit into running in any way? Well, I’ve never been an athelete. I’ve done yoga on and off, sometimes for long stretches. (Ha, pun wasn’t intended, but I’m leaving it in!) But I’ve never been really consistent with any form of exercise. I have, since childhood, brushed my teeth very soon after getting up, every day, and would never leave the house without doing so. I have never had the same feeling about any kind of exercise. Not even close.
About three years ago, particularly after a week of my back acting up rather egregiously, totally due to lack of exercise, the penny dropped that I really needed to do something regularly or resign myself to increasing pain, lethargy, and inability. I started doing yoga, which I generally had enjoy doing earlier in my life, but I wasn’t enjoying it. I was so stiff and out of shape that during every pose I was thinking how easily I used to do so much of it, low loose and limber I was and so was not at the moment. The whole time I was mentally yelling at myself for having let myself become so out of shape. Every session my brain settled on how lame I was and how I needed to try harder and harder to get more proficient and in better shape. It was not fun. It was not relaxing. I was getting in better shape, but it was not sustainable.
But I knew I had to do something, for the rest of my life, or I’d fall apart and not be able to struggle back. A wise person said to me that I needed to find something I liked and that it should become like brushing my teeth, that I wouldn’t feel at all right unless I did it every day.
I immediately said, “There is no exercise I like, nothing.” And that was true. And I couldn’t imagine that it would ever be different.
A few hours later, trying to address my negativity (what, me negative!!??), I realized that if I did yoga without trying so hard, without trying to get to what it was like practicing yoga over 30 years ago, just concentrating on doing the poses correctly and making a little bit of progress over a lot of time, that I would like it, at least like it better. And I did make a bit of progress toward a sustainable practice, but only a little bit.
Then, about a year later, I came across the article in the New York Times that started me thinking the impossible, that perhaps I could run. And from the very beginning I did everything I could to make it as enjoyable as possible, taking the dog with me, listening to a book or podcast, running in a beautiful place, which, lucky for me, is right outside my front door.
I didn’t immediately get the full benefits of running, of course, but luckily I stuck with it. After a couple of years maybe these aren’t the full benefits, but they are enormous: I have never felt better in my life, ever, except for the few months in my 20s when I was running, but then had to stop. Several months of consistent bike riding, consistent yoga, nothing made me feel decades younger, improved the strength throughout my legs and even in my back and arms (I could tell when I had to stop for a month due to illness and started back – every muscle was slightly sore), weight loss, and especially the drastic increase in my mental well-being. Plus the invisible bone-strengthening of a weight-bearing excercise. Nothing else has given me that.
But in spite of all the benefits, it took just about two years for my running to be something that attained the stature of brushing my teeth, where it just felt wrong not to have run, where I have to really make myself take a day off here and there because it’s not good for you to go out every single day and not let your body have a day of recovery.
At first the motivation was weight loss, and that was a pretty good motivator. It got me through the first year, at which time more motivation was added by my learning my blood pressure and blood sugar were high. That made me more consistent and made me push myself a bit harder. (And running fixed both of those problems.)
I have realized that there is still one piece of running being like brushing my teeth that I have not achieved. I never have thought, “Gee, that plant looks like it really needs water. I should water it right now, not after I brush my teeth.” Or, “That pile of bills is really untidy, where I left it last night without straightening it up. I need to fix that before I brush my teeth.” Substitute ‘run’ for ‘brush my teeth’ and – you get the picture. But I am working on this, hoping I’ll get there soon because I generally run before breakfast and I get hungrier and hungrier as I procrastinate, making it harder than it has to be to actually get out there.
At this point the big motivator, the thing that has pushed my running into the brushing-teeth category of must-do, is the endorphins. (Or whatever it is that gives runners a much greater sense of well-being – apparently there is some question of what chemicals it is, but I don’t care what they are, they are wonderful.) I am not the same person when I don’t run, physically or mentally. So instead of dreading inflicting dragon-breath on the world and having my teeth fall out, I dread not feeling like I do when I run.
It took a while for that well-being to grow, so if you’ve started and you haven’t gotten to the point where you just don’t feel right if you haven’t run that day, just keep at it. It takes time, but it is so worth it.
Here’s hoping I can quit procrastinating this morning by writing this blog post and get out there – after I brush my teeth.