Emotional fitness

The other function of organs
The other function of organs

I work out for emotional fitness. I work out for heart health. No, not just the cardio blood-pumping heart health. Sure, that’s good common sense, which we all know. I like to work out to make my heart feel stronger on an emotional and spiritual level. Yep, that’s right. I think emotional fitness is where it’s at.

Exercise has been a lifelong habit. I work out when I am sad, happy, bored, lonely, anxious, depressed, excited, joyful, or worried. It fits all my moods.


Fitness is encouraged to support physical health, fight off disease, and for sex appeal. It is also encouraged for stress relief. What does it mean to reduce stress exactly? I think it means that we take care of our emotional fitness.

Walked by this once and have been inspired since.
Walked by this once and have been inspired ever since.

I have a list of reasons to exercise to support what is referred to as mental health. I would rather call it living.


My list includes familiar methods, but instead of listing the obvious physical benefits, I share how I am effected on a mental, emotional, or spiritual level. I am sure everyone experiences these differently. I’d love to know how others feel their emotions are enhanced with workouts.

I do intervals of jogging, sprinting, and walking. Intervals, the mixture, is ideal for me. I find jogging boring and slightly miserable after a while. Walking makes me slow down and see things around me more closely. I learn to appreciate my surroundings. Running fast makes me feel like a stone skipping across water. I like the short maximum demand, like a speeding bullet train (at least in my head).

For me, running burns off anxiety. It reduces fear.

It’s quiet under the water. I come up with new ideas because I am less distracted by reasons why I can’t do things. It’s just me and the water. The water’s fluidity encourages a more flexible way of thinking.

Perspective shift in progress
Perspective shift in progress

I have to take deep breaths and hold it and release it, and that creates a lot of bubbles that I can float through. I move through space differently and that brings forth creativity in problem solving.

Laps to freedom
Laps to freedom

For me, swimming is forgiveness. Swimming makes me feel the most loving. I love everyone after a good swim.

Lifting weights:
I feel strong, and therefore confident when I lift weights. This makes me less paranoid, less concerned about perceived threats. I like to hold weight, to lift it with control. When confident in this arena, I am more likely to bring myself stronger to whatever I am doing. This includes things that don’t require obvious physical strength. Another bonus: I don’t feel as vulnerable to negativity.

Lifting weights can offer stability and build confidence.

It is good for me because it makes me go slow. My favorite instructors offer a bit of history about the poses rather than powering through it on a purely physical level.  Yoga can be a great blend. It offers a good dish of humility. My best life teachers have been humble. Knowing these teachers taught me to be vulnerable, to ask for help. I like yoga for making friends with myself, for practicing flexibility.

Yoga encourages me toward a more humble and yielding position in the scheme of things.

Burpees: Falling to the ground and getting back up again, over and over when it seems impossible, is pushing it. This is about perseverance through discomfort and even fear. After I do burpees I feel like my cells have been washed, purged, and rinsed repeatedly. By the time I am done, I feel more clear. I feel my body, mind, spirit have been flushed and hung out to dry. I’m ready for anything.

When you're all in on all levels
When you’re all in on all levels

Burpees reduce negativity. You’re simply happy you lived through it. They also reduce stagnation. I am cleansed. I feel nearly euphoric.

A little shout out to the heart and lungs on a emotional level: Older health paradigms assigned emotions or feelings to organs. For example, in Chinese medicine the heart can house anxiety, but also joy and enlightenment. The lungs can store grief, but also can produce generosity and integrity. In my thinking, the more we are stagnant, the more negativity builds.

This does not mean we cannot be still. Stillness or meditation is absolutely essential in good mental health. Being still for wellness is a completely different blog, so I’ll save that for later.

Paddling relaxed
Paddling slow and relaxed

In summary, the above listed methods of exercise offer me:

less fear
less anxiety
more love
less negativity
less stagnation
a sprinkle of euphoria

These are health goals that I can get behind!

What about you, what works in your world?

The finish of the PCT, back from the wilderness

Remember when I interviewed Chance Fitzpatrick about halfway through his walk from Mexico to Canada? Here is that:  http://www.maryannpetersen.com/?p=120

Chance kept going as a thru hiker and made it to Canada in good time.

The end of the trail
The end of the trail

We decided to chat again at the end of his journey. I wanted to ask a few more questions.


1. Why would you recommend thru hiking?

For me it was an opportunity to prove to myself that fears can’t stand in the way of achieving your dreams. Thru hiking is not for everyone. But I do believe that anybody can successfully complete a journey like the PCT if it’s in their soul. I love hiking and being out in nature without any distractions. Lots of people fall victim of the “Too’s”: I’m too young, old, fat, busy, afraid, etc. This list could go on and on. But I met countless hikers from all walks of life that really inspired me on the trail. We’re all equals out there.


2. Did you feel lonely?

One of my greatest joys was discovering that walking alone does not mean that you have to feel lonely. At first, being gone for about five months seemed like a long time. But in reality, it’s like a blink of an eye or a drop in the ocean in the bigger scheme of things. Sure, you’re going to be missing out on lots of “things” happening. But honestly stepping out into the void of constant daily change and being way outside of my comfort zone was awesome. I felt more alive, and in times of difficulty would chat with my trail companions or call close friends.

Some wild flowers live out there

3. Barfing and diarrhea in the woods? Seriously. How to deal with that?

Haha, this isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. My first bout with the “runs” was the evening before reaching the Paradise Valley Cafe. I poured a very generous serving of coconut oil into my dinner thinking nothing of it. Only to awake several times at night to face the wrath of my midnight cleanse. While talking with several hikers further up the trail they revealed similar stories after digesting too much coconut. My next round  was due to eating bad salami because the vacuum sealed package was  compromised. My only time vomiting was heading out of Stehekin (WA) as a result of eating way too much rich food. All of the examples above could have been avoided and easily prevented.


4. Nature is often advised for mental health. Yet difficult emotions must still come up. According to your blog, there were ups and downs. Talk about some of those and how it landed out in nature.

Each day had its ups and downs that ebbed and flowed like the changing landscape. There were many times when my emotions and experiences were far too personal to share. It’s a long time to be with your thoughts. I would allow myself to feel a full range of emotions, yet move through them and not have any attachment. Also, I’d usually focus on deep and slow breathing to bring myself back into the present moment and be centered. Maintaining a daily blog requires a lot of commitment and dedication. It really only provides a snapshot of the entire hiking experience. This worked wonders as you can’t really grind out mile after mile if your emotions are dragging you down.

You have to start somewhere
You have to start somewhere

5. What lessons learned there apply here?

It’s made me more aware of opportunities when I can help others and pay it forward. Being able to step away from my mind and thoughts controlling me was one of my biggest lessons on trail. You can have any thought or emotion pop up in an instant but it doesn’t have to define who you are or how you’d like to feel for the rest of the day. Hiking day after day for 12-13 hours puts you in a very real space. It also helps you to view the world with a different set of eyes. It’s made me appreciate many things on a whole new level. Plus gratitude comes into play at every turn and twist in the road. You also get to experience the generosity of many strangers that help you along the way.


6. People might expect an epiphany from such a journey. Is it something big? Or a series of small things?

I didn’t find a holy grail or discover the meaning of life. It’s a series of many small events and daily miracles coming together to form the entire experience. It brings clearness to questions like: What’s important to me? What makes me happy? What am I afraid of?
You start to see and experience a level of honesty and transparency within yourself.


7. Trail angels. What are they? How can we be trail angels to each other, while at home, not on the trail?

A trail angel is usually defined as someone who will help you with a ride, food, water, shelter etc., and always seem to show up randomly at just the perfect time. One of the most common things done to reach resupply points is to hitch-hike. Most people can’t imagine stopping to give a stranger a ride. It’s too dangerous, there’s a lot of weirdos, etc. The feeling of someone pulling over and giving a ride when you’re out of food, tired, and looking forward to enjoying your next town stop is magical. People helping people is what trail life is all about. Often times we can become so enveloped in our own little worlds. Completely oblivious to the joys that come from helping others in simple and subtle ways.


8. There is a spiritual thought that we need to step out of our thinking, and step into the wilderness. Often this refers to internal work, but you literally did go into the wilderness. Were you trying to step out of overthinking things, to move out into a more organic space?

Yes, one of the most satisfying parts of my journey was being fully present. Turning walking all day into an active meditation. Letting emotions and feelings rise and fall while being centered and taking in all of my surroundings. Many of us, myself included are at our best when we stop thinking so much about everything. All of the analysis, processing, and figuring just gets in the way of being mindful. I enjoy walking in nature to achieve a feeling of overwhelming stillness and joy. But this can be done in any activity that someone is passionate about. Thru hiking provides the opportunity to walk in nature for months on end without the stress of daily life interfering.

Enjoy the whole journey by going to Chance’s blog: chancingit.com