Body-positive movement helped me fall back in love with working out

Body-positive movement helped me fall back in love with working out

A few years back I was falling out of love with exercise. I was tired of being told I’d earned my dinner, and fed up with hearing that with no pain, there was no gain.

I was all set to hang up my gym towel for good, when I booked into a spin class hosted by Ashley Newburn, Ride Instructor at Walthamstow studio East of Eden. Far from yelling at us to pedal faster and harder, she encouraged us to do what felt right for us, to go at our own pace and appreciate our beautiful bodies for carrying us through the class.

“I have tried to create the kind of movement space I wish I’d had access to when I was younger,” Ashley says of her sessions. “I truly believe that supportive movement spaces can be life-changing. If I’d had access to radical anti-diet classes as a teen/young adult my relationship with my body could have been completely different.

Body-positive movement helped me fall back in love with working out© Instagram
Ashley Newburn helped me fall back in love with fitness

“I’ve had countless riders tell me how their relationship with movement has completely changed through coming to my classes and that has become my ‘why’ when it comes to the importance of creating a space where riders can feel safe and supported.”

After my first class with Ashley, I floated out, already planning when I could next join her on a bike. The joy I felt in her class reminded me of the feeling of childhood hobbies before exercise became a means to making my body smaller, which took all the fun out of it.

Ashley got me thinking of how in adulthood, exercise is often seen as a chore rather than a pleasure. This is a feeling many of us can relate to, with new stats from Asics showing that adults have lost touch with moving for how it feels, instead becoming obsessed with exercising to change how we look, with 63% of adults admitting the main reason they exercise is for physical gain.

This is a far cry from childhood, when we hopped, skipped and jumped our way through the day, with 77% of children asked saying the key reason they exercise is for fun. “We never ask kids to exercise,” says psychologist Dr. Linda Papadopoulos. “They’re just happy to do it because it’s never about the weight they need to lose.

“As adults, working out becomes a chore and that is a barrier to enjoying exercise,” she continues.

Ashley is working hard to help us reframe exercise as a joy and a privilege, explaining: “I discovered that it is possible for movement to be about loving our bodies, not hating them.

READ: This empowering workout reframed my attitude to exercise 

“I only want to do things that made me feel good in my body, and only move in ways that I enjoy and that led me to focus almost exclusively on spin. There are certain classes and movements (I’m looking at you, burpees) that I absolutely hate, they feel awful in my body, and I can now see are not compulsory or required for me to move my body.”

See inside Ashley’s classes

Falling back in love with movement isn’t an overnight thing, Ashley explains: “It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where movement is about feeling and not aesthetics and I feel it’s important to emphasise this; it’s absolutely not something that happened overnight.

“It’s relentless and hard work to resist the fatphobia and body shame which bombard us from all angles all day, every day. Choosing to move my body with no agenda other than to feel good is a radical act and when I have a difficult body image day, I try to remind myself of that.”

Red lit spin studio
The spin studio at East of Eden where Ashley works her magic

How to find joy in exercise again

“I know joy can feel out of reach for many,” Ashley states. “Lots of folks may choose to focus on neutrality as a starting point. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that joy is possible.

1. Work out how a class makes you feel

” I’d encourage people to start by giving some thought to what classes/styles of movement they enjoy. Some helpful questions to start thinking about this might be: 

-When I book into class do I feel excited?

-How does the movement/speed/resistance feel in my body?

-Can I name any pleasant/pleasurable sensations in my body whilst it’s moving in this way?

 RELATED: Why exercise can make you feel like yourself again – no mum guilt allowed 

2. Stop tracking your workouts

“I would suggest taking a break from tracking workouts (or maybe even ditching the tracker altogether!) to really allow space to focus on feeling.

“Getting out of our heads and into our bodies takes presence and an ability to listen to, and act on, what our bodies have to tell us. Since ditching my tracker I have never looked back!”

3. Read anti-diet books

“It can be helpful to seek out anti-diet books to read and accounts to follow on socials, whilst also unfollowing any accounts that make you feel bad about yourself or share problematic ‘fitspo’ content. 

Some books I have found helpful are: The Body is not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor; The Good Body by Eve Ensler; Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen; Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Marie Brown; Hunger by Roxane Gay; and You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar – but there are SO many and this is very much a non-exhaustive list. The Maintenance Phase podcast is also brilliant!

4.  Change your mindset

Dr. Linda explains that the language we use around exercise can make a difference. “The words we use really matter,” she says. “Rather than saying ‘I have to work out,’ say, ‘I get to work out,’ and think about all the things you stand to gain from exercise, rather than what you might lose.”

 Visit HELLO!’s Happiness Hub for inspiration on living a happier life

Leave a Reply