When Less is More

9.24.07:Sometimes, it pays to back off.


Over the years, I have spent thousands of dollars on yoga classes, meditation retreats, and psychotherapy sessions aimed at helping me figure out why I simply can'’t get a little bit more done in my life, or at least feel a little bit happier making the effort. Every single day of my life, post-adolescence anyway, I have failed in some way—to clean something, to work harder, to exercise, to relax, to pay a bill, to organize a closet, to fold some laundry, to...well, the list is endless. Having a baby has only amplified this sense that I'’m hopelessly behind and will never catch up. Is it any wonder that I feel impatient, irritable, slightly angry, and/or out of gas pretty much 24/7?

Yesterday, though, my Fit Preg personal trainer LaReine Chabut gave me some good advice: Do less.

This is nothing I haven't heard before, but somehow she said it in a way I was able to hear with new ears. I'd been complaining to her about setbacks #185-200 on my personal fitness plan (I have another cold, and so does the baby; my babysitter is taking some time off; my husband is working lots of overtime; and so on). As soon as I'd get a rhythm established, I'd find myself flailing about again. All I want was more time for the gym, I explained, the one place I really love to be, but I kept getting sick!

"You know, I noticed that you jumped right into the working out with a lot of energy from the start," she said. "I was impressed by how much and how fast you were willing to exercise, but sometimes slow and steady wins the race. Less might really be more for you—what I mean is, you might respond better to 20-minute workouts. Some people just can'’t do one-hour intensive workouts. I'm that way myself."

Oh. With that, I realized a few things. For starters, I realized that whenever I got anytime to do anything at the gym, I was overdoing things at the gym. Why do six simple moves when you could do 26 moves? Why do 20 minute on the elliptical when you could do 45? Why take a nice restorative yoga class when you could do power yoga?

"Sometimes you have to keep in mind that two workouts are better than three workouts a week—you have to count all the times you pick the baby up and put him down and all the things you do every day that you never used to do," she told me. "It sounds silly, but it'’s all very taxing. Resting and taking care of yourself are more important than working yourself too hard and getting a setback."

And with that, I "got it." I'’m no fitness queen. I was overreaching—and not just at the gym. LaReine made me realize I wasn'’t doing a very good job of respecting my own boundaries (something I should have learned to do in all those yoga classes, meditation workshops, and therapy sessions). And I wasn't taking very good care of myself. How can I take care of a baby when I'm walking around half dead all the time? We put the oxygen mask on ourselves first for a reason.

Her prescription for my next six weeks: take it back to the beginning, and back to the six basic moves. Do them at home or at the gym, three times a week. Continue with Eileen's sound diet plan. And let the rest go.

That is what I'll try to do, setbacks or no. Because I've realized that that is all I can do. Hopefully, that is enough!

Hillari Dowdle is doing the best she can in Knoxville, Tennessee. Write to her at hillari.dowdle@gmail.com.