A compassionate approach to exercise

The response to last week’s post, Returning to Fitness After Loss, was both comforting and overwhelming.

While I read every single comment and email and Facebook post, I found myself unable to respond to them, grief being still so very fresh. Sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic look or a gentle hug to start the tears flowing again.

Thank you all for taking the time to offer condolences, share experiences and suggest ways in which I might use exercise to help heal myself and move forwards, towards a ‘new normal’ with my family.

Some of you shared with me how running or yoga helped you through a period of loss.

Others suggested simply walking in nature as a soothing way to nourish both spirit and body.



A few told stories of stopping exercise and abandoning healthy eating for as long as a year after the death of a loved one. And how they returned once again to fitness, when the time was right.

A close friend suggested an obvious solution to my anxiety about going back to a gym where I know everybody (and even in the absence of personal tragedy, can barely get through a workout without stopping to chat and acknowledge clients, class participants, colleagues and friends…); switch gyms for awhile. Brilliant!

Another friend suggested I just ‘do it’. (No offence, but Nike slogans don’t motivate me at the best of times 😉 ).

Many of you posted variations on the themes of ‘give yourself time’, ‘practice self-compassion’, ‘celebrate the small victories’ and ‘what you can, when you can’. Sound familiar?

Surprisingly, even though these themes focus prevalently in my fitness coaching practice, I’ve failed to apply them to myself. Sometimes the teacher needs to becomes the student.

I took all of your suggestions to heart, but in the end, realized that my biggest challenge right now is to reconcile the fact that what I need exercise for right now, is completely different for the reasons I needed it in the past.

Now is the time for finding joy in movement, feeling better in my body and minimizing the aches and pains that set in when I’m not exercising regularly. Bicep development, bench press PR’s and pull-up progress seem unimportant these days.

And that’s okay.

I need to take a compassionate approach to exercise.

I need to be gentle with myself and avoid comparisons of past progress and goals with where I am right now.

I need to plan a small number of short, weekly workouts and be willing to adjust my schedule depending on how I’m feeling on any particular day. Alas, I still can’t predict how I’ll feel by lunchtime, let alone tomorrow or the end of the week.

I need to keep up the daily walking routine my husband and I have created. Revisiting the paths and trails that Clara loved. These hand-in-hand outings provide the opportunity to talk about how we’re feeling and to shares thoughts and memories our beloved daughter. We recognize that tragedy can destabilize a marriage and are determined that ours remains strong.



I need to let movement soothe me and still the blender of thoughts in my head.

I need to let members of my community share their condolences and sadness with me, knowing that even though it may move me to tears, others are hurting as well and only want to offer comfort and support.

I’m hopeful that by meeting myself where I am, doing less than I think I should and being present in the simple task of moving my body, I’ll be setting myself up for longterm healing and success. (This approach, coincidentally, is what I recommend for anyone just getting started with exercise, or returning to it after a hiatus…).

At least that’s the plan. A compassionate approach towards exercise.

And since it’s always worked for my fitness coaching clients, I’m hopeful that it will work for me, too.







  1. This made for a beautiful read at 2:30am! Ha! Insomnia . . . what I love is that you are finding your way back in your time and in your way. Your journey is teaching us all to follow our own hearts. I’m practicing along with you. (I love the new gym idea—I could see how that could be super helpful–it makes me think we could all use a “secret” gym!)
    Meg Root recently posted…Just Say “No!” to Holiday StressMy Profile

  2. It’s hard to be the student when you are used to be the coach. But sometimes it is exactly what we need….to let something or someone else take the lead. To move because we can find some strength, some joy and some piece there. The gym has always been my salvation during the hardest times in my life and I hope it helps you. 🙂 Hugs. 🙂

    • I think it’s going to get harder before it gets easier. I went Monday, at a relatively quiet time, but still managed to have to tell the story to a woman who asked (rather insensitively, I might add). The re-telling and looks of sadness from others are a very strong trigger for tears.

  3. We are always more compassionate to others. I’m glad you’ve figured out a new “why” that makes more sense in this time that makes no sense. Your commitment to taking walks with your husband is probably the most important thing – the simple act of walking hand-in-hand can work wonders.
    Coco recently posted…Grateful Holiday Giveaway Blog HopMy Profile

  4. Now that I’ve dried my eyes, just sending hugs. 🙂

  5. Made my cry, but also smile at your inner strength ….that’s what needs fitness right now. You’re fit on the outside; bravo for recognizing this! I was afraid to keep working out after my healthy husband just didn’t wake from his nap. Afraid I’d die too. Doctors told me it’d save me, save my soul and mind, if I walked, planked, lifter a few weights….easy stuff for starters. And it does work. Walking with Adele singing gave me determination to go the 3 miles; tears flowing all the way. I thank her for helping through grief in that first year.

    • Oh Joan. I have those fears too. And fears of losing my other two children as well. But I know that living in fear is worse than facing the grief and overwhelm. I’m all about the easy workouts that’s for sure… xo

  6. You are an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing this…I know it will help others. I will continue to pray for your family.
    Pam@over50feeling40 recently posted…Gratitude and Personal StyleMy Profile

  7. Beautifully written. I’m so very sorry for your loss. I think that your ability to allow yourself time to grieve and time to heal and time to just be – all of those things will bring you along on your journey. Sending so much love and strength. May your walks with your husband be just what the two of you need to hold onto memories and moments, and provide strength for one another. ((hugs))

  8. I’m sure there will still be times of overwhelming grief when even a walk around the neighborhood seems impossible. All we can do is provide virtual hugs and remind you to be kind to yourself. When you are ready, your body will respond. Wishing you courage and peace.
    Suzanne Fluhr recently posted…Zentangle Diva Challenge #245 – Happy Thanksgiving United Statesers EditionMy Profile

  9. Just offering a virtual hug. You should have my email if you need to vent. Take care.

  10. You are so right…..easy to be teacher, hard to be student. We can encourage and support and give everyone compassion and time, but we can’t give it to ourselves. Be your student. Go easy on yourself.

  11. Catherine Newell says:

    I’m a friend of your sister, Tracy. I lost my husband a few weeks before you lost your beautiful daughter. In fact I believe it was at my husband’s memorial service that Tracy learnt about your daughter’s prognosis. Why am I telling you this? I feel your pain. I am having to face the same heartbreak of helping my 2 sons come to terms with their devastating loss. I am trying to navigate the world of grief (far sooner than I would ever have imagined) and reevaluate what is important in life and how the ‘new’ future will look. Losing a husband and soul mate is heart wrenching. I simply cannot imagine how devastating it must be to lose your child.
    I am inspired that you are even considering exercise. I know how much energy it takes to get out of bed! Similarly I have committed to walks as this seems the only exercise I can face. And something about walking makes it easier to talk and the tears flow. In fact it was on a sunny Friday last week that I took a walk with Tracy and she patiently listened to me whilst also sharing some memories of your beautiful daughter. I hope you don’t mind me responding. I just wanted to reach out and say how sorry I am for your family’s loss.

    • Catherine, Tracy has told me so much of what you’re going through. I can’t imagine your grief and pain. My husband is literally the raft I’m clinging to right now. To have to go through grief without yours must be very difficult. I’m so glad that you have my sister to talk to and walk with. She is a beautiful and caring person, who’s also helping me very much with her love and support. If you ever want to talk, just let her know. I’d be happy to cry with you. xo Tamara

  12. Dawn Whitcomb says:

    I understand and know your pain. I friend of mine sent me this website a few days ago. My son died the same day as your beautiful daughter. He was 18, a beautiful, strong and compassionate young man. However, his depression over took him and he took his own life.
    Your website, gave me hope to get going again. I haven’t gone back to my gym just yet, but I’m getting up, getting dressed and doing little things around the house.
    I just wanted to let you know you are not alone, and one mother to another…I understand ❤️

    • Oh Dawn, my heart aches for you. Some days it is all I can do to get out of bed too. I have two other children who are giving me my ‘why’ right now and that’s helping a bit. You aren’t alone either. xo Tamara

  13. A very nice way to exercise. I want to try this exercise. Thanks for your nice sharing.I’m so very sorry for your loss.


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