The Art Of The Leisurely Workout

Oh, how I want so badly to be a SoulCycle girl. A Barry’s Bootcamp girl. A girl who does CrossFit. A girl who is like, obsessed with Orange Theory. 

But I’m not that girl.

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I’m simply not a natural athlete. I didn’t play sports in high school, I smoked cigarettes and pouted. As a kid, my favorite activity was devouring the “Sweet Valley High” books and practicing my runway walk (with books stacked on the top of my head because I wanted to be a proper model).  I was notorious for scheming creative ways to get out of gym class. I had “period cramps” every gym class for six months straight and used that time to lounge on the bleachers and glare at my sweaty, sad peers as I bitchily smacked gum in my 20-eye Dr. Martin boots.

I didn’t work out at all in my early twenties. I subsisted off a strict diet of champagne, Marlboro Light 100s, and the occasional truffle fry. As I reached my mid-twenties the Kate Moss diet stopped working. Hunger won the race. I was ravenous, living in London and completely over being a miserable, sun-deprived bitch. I wanted to go back to America, home of the rosy-cheeked ~healthy~ girl. I moved to Florida. Put on ten pounds. Got a tan. Moved back to New York City before I turned into Malibu Barbie.

In New York, I moved into a charming six-story walkup on the Upper East Side; which didn’t bother me because the daily climb up and down those torturous stairs provided me with the greatest ass I’ve ever had in my entire life.

When I reached my late 20s I moved to the West Village and got fancy. Like, I had an elevator in my building which in normal cities might not mean anything, but for New Yorkers it’s a sign of making it. 

Consequently; my ass dropped and my depression sky-rocketed (and I quickly found myself jobless. This town has a way of humbling you the moment you get even slightly cocky).

I know enough about wellness to know that moving your limbs every single day is essential to living a healthy, non-manically depressed life. Endless studies reveal that exercise helps to increase our Seratonin levels, the hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for keeping us relaxed and blissful. Endorphins are also released during a workout, and endorphins give us a nice little euphoric rush (not entirely different than a drug buzz, except with no soul-destroying comedown and no body-destroying toxins).

I also know enough about depression to know that it’s as physical as it is mental. Sadness lives in the body. Your limbs feel heavy when you’re down. Your energy has been zapped by the emotional vampire of anxiety.

Yet, when we move our bodies we can’t help but snap out of the paralyzed funk for a few moments there, you know?

Plus, you just feel so much better about yourself and your life when you’re in motion.

Because I’m a sucker for anything supremely trendy, of course, I’ve tried all the fad workouts, I mentioned in the first paragraph of this essay. And while those boutique classes will definitely whip a girl into shape, I never stuck with any of them. If I was even slightly tired or stressed — the thought of waltzing into a hipster Bootcamp teeming with supermodels was enough to make me want to check myself into a hospital just to avoid the whole thing.

Plus let’s get real girls: I’m not trying to be a fitness Instagram star, you know? I just want to be healthier, less-depressed, hotter version of myself.

It was just this year that I really began to embrace the fine art of the leisurely workout. It’s been life-changing. I’ve now turned exercise into something I do seven days a week, no matter what (and I’m *so* not that girl). This is doable because I’ve made working out a therapeutic, non-pressured, meditative (yes, medi-f*cking-tative) experience I enjoy, over a competitive one. Look: I’m in a very high-pressure career that reminds me of how much I sorely suck every single day (thank you social media trolls!), I live in the world’s most competitive city, and I’m generally hard on myself when it comes to almost every area of life. So I’ve decided that my workouts will be leisurely and lovely. I do it as much for my brain as I do for my body.

And the beauty of the leisurely workout is this: It’s completely sustainable. I don’t need to worry about spending $30 a class when I can hardly pay my goddamn rent. I don’t need to rely on class times that fit into my haphazard lifestyle. I don’t need to fret over feeling like a piece of shit because I’m not as strong as the girl next to me. I can do the leisurely workout when I’m deeply fatigued. I can do it when I’m recklessly hungover. I can do it when I’m my bleeding and angry at the world.

And I swear to Lana Del Rey, my body is in one of the best places it’s ever been in. It looks even better than when I forced myself to do Pure Barre six days a week for a hot second there. It’s better than when I was die-hard keto freak. It’s better than when I was in a short, but committed affair with spin class (Does anyone else leave spin class with a violent hunger that leads to stuffing the entire contents of your fridge into your mouth, in a frightening, Zombie-like state? Or is it just me?).

Part of why I believe the leisurely exercise routine really works for me has to do with the fact that all those extreme classes stress me out, majorly. And when your stress is peaked, your cortisol rises (cortisol is a stress hormone). And high cortisol can assist in weight gain. I’m trying to keep my cortisol nice and low in my crazy life, and the boutique fitness world, really wigs me out as a non-athlete.

Also, when my cortisol is low I don’t crave sugary foods. I’m much less manic and binge-prone than when it’s high. My weight doesn’t flip flop so much.

If you’re like me I  suggest you attempt the low-pressure workout. Here are five of my favorites:

1. A slow, silent meditative swim.

Swimming is my latest obsession. Luckily my gym has a pool and because I like to wake up at the crack of dawn (I like to wake up before the depression knocks the wind out of me) I’m usually in the pool by six AM (right before the finance bros march through in their speedos and dramatically flap around the pool, loudly invading my sacred space).

I never swam because I love to listen to music while I move, but I’m finding that the silence is serving to be extremely peaceful for me. I’ll do about 20 or 30 laps in the Olympic size pool and the entire time I’ll think about what I’m grateful for in my life and just let my mind wander into all those awesomely strange creative places it rarely has time to delve into. (Starting the day with gratitude makes magical shit happen in your life, trust me, little sister).

I follow up my swim with a ten-minute steam where I meditate with my eyes closed the whole time. Afterward, I run home, dry skin brush (life-changing!) and take a freezing cold shower (I’m going to do a whole post on the art of the freezing cold shower, soon).

The whole thing takes an hour and I enjoy every second of it. Plus, my abs popped after a week of swimming!

2. The art of the “Yog.”

One day I was hanging out with a bunch of boys, when one of them announced they had to leave.

“I just really need a yog.” The young boy said.

“You mean a jog?” I snarled. I was sick of these stoners.

“No, Zara. A yog is a light jog where you don’t beat yourself up if you walk a little bit.”

This was five years ago and I’ve been an avid yogger ever since! Yogs are so goddamn enjoyable! And easy. And you’ll still be sore the next day if you go for at least forty-five minutes.

Plus, you’ll feel less depressed because you’ll be outside in the sun, getting some vitamin D, my sad sister! Which leads me to:

3. The sad girl’s ballad blast.

One of the reasons I never liked those cardio, spin-type classes, is that I’m not really into that fast-paced THUMP THUMP THUMP music. In fact, I detest all that repetitive early-2000s dance-party shit they always blast in that breed of class.

Personally, I prefer crying to Kesha over cycling to a Brittney remix.

But now I elliptical all the time to ballads, like Kesha’s Praying. I didn’t even know I was allowed to do such a thing, until I did it, and had the best workout of my life.

Working out to gut-wrenching ballads gets my heart-rate up beautifully. Do you know how gorgeously exhilarating it is to sweat and move while weeping to Lana Del Rey? It kills two birds with one stone: You get to have your emotional breakdown (which we all know are the best) and you get your workout in.

Sometimes I lift weights to Angel Haze. That really helps me sweat those demons out.

4. The stretch and the steam.

Here’s my rule. If I’m not feeling well or I’m in the throes of a deep physical laziness spiral, I must at the very least, stretch and steam. This way I’m moving my body and sweating (which is very important if you want young, glowing skin) at at least a little bit.

I’ll usually do a yoga flow by Charity Grace on YouTube. After about twenty minutes I’ll sit in the steam room and stay in there until I’ve released a few of the bevy of sinful thoughts that live inside of me.

5. The ‘too good for the subway, but too poor for a taxi’ workout. 

As a city girl, this has been the staple exercise routine in my life, without me even realizing it. I’m not a cool Brooklyn girl. I live in Manhattan and I loathe the subway. I once had a panic attack on the 6 train and it’s been hard for me to step on a train platform ever since. That was almost ten years ago.

However.

I can’t afford to be taking taxis every single day, you know? That shit adds up in New York! So I vowed to myself a few years ago that I was going to walk to work every day in lieu of public transport. I lived on 92nd and Lexington. My office was on 23rd and 6th. That’s about four miles.

I did that four mile walk every single morning regardless of the weather. I quickly grew to love it. Walking through the city is exhilarating and inspiring and reminded me as to why I pay through the roof to live in New York. I made specific playlists for my walks. I listened to a slew of podcasts and self-help books. I called my friend who lived in London and had a weekly catch-up. It was the only time in my day that I truly had to devote to myself.

And this is also when I had that hot six-story walk-up ass. This was one of the happiest times in my life, babes (a good ass will really lift your spirits).

So if you’re in a walkable city, make a commitment to walk as much as possible. I literally did that walk five days a week for about three years. I was a toned bitch back then! I thought it was simply because I ate well, but in hindsight, I drank a ton of wine and ate pizza almost every night. My diet was shit. But because I moved so consistently, I was in shape. It was the first leisurely exercise that transformed my body, helped to lift my depression and gave me precious TIME to think.

Tell me, dirty beauties, what is your favorite leisurely workout?

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