Okay, here we go. Exercise. You may think this will be a discussion on all the health benefits of moderate, regular exercise, statistics about the current obesity trends, or calculations about calories in and calories out. Well, it’s not. There are plenty of really good articles on those topics out there that you can read, and maybe someday I’ll be inspired to write one. But not today. I want to share with you what I believe is the real power of exercise, that is, its ability to prove you’re alive.
This may be surprising, and it actually surprised me, too, when it surfaced that way in my mind tonight. I was at the gym, and it was one of those days when my soul needed to go even more than my body did. I attended a really challenging fitness class and had planned just to hit the steam room after, but I decided to spend some time on the cross-trainer for a bit more cardio. I strapped on my iPod and let my intuition pick the songs I needed to hear.
Even from the start, I felt that my muscles had been pushed from the class before, but I just felt I needed to keep moving, so I focused on my music and my breathing - meditation on the fly, as I like to call it – and kept going. As the minutes passed, I started to sense a different kind of energy flowing through my body, a pure, strong rhythm that moved through the music and me. I felt my back lengthen, my chest expand, my breath drawing from deeper inside me with each inhalation.
Every few minutes, I also felt an emotional release rising up, and as it did, I felt my breath get shallower, my back hunch over in protection, and the energy available to my muscles decrease. I felt tears well up in my eyes or a panicky, choking fear, then, as the wave rose up out of me, I involuntarily inhaled really deeply several times, shook briefly, then felt good again. Better, in fact, each time it happened.
Does this sound strange? It would to me if I didn’t know what I do about what was actually happening. You see, a couple of years ago, I was blindsided by post-traumatic stress disorder, though I think it would be better named post-traumatic chaos disorder. I was forced to get exhaustingly up close and personal with the fight-flight-freeze survival cycle. Most people are familiar with fight or flight, but fewer have heard of the freeze part of it.
Let me explain. When an animal, including us, perceives that its life is threatened or decides to attack another animal, the primitive brain immediately mobilizes all the energy it can to either fight or flee. This is the adrenalin rush with which we’re all familiar. In the instant the prey animal senses that all of its resources are insufficient to ensure its survival, however, the brain automatically switches gears to the freeze response, and it collapses.
Anaesthetic hormones flood the body, completely immobilizing the animal, as if dead. We know this as “playing possum,” and it serves either to dull the pain of being eaten alive, or possibly to offer another chance to flee. If the predator is fooled into thinking its prey is dead and decides to come back for it or drag its “kill” to another spot before eating it, the prey will, in an unguarded moment, “come back to life” and escape.
If the animal finds itself still alive and out of danger, it will then start panting, shaking, or even convulsing, then, after a minute or two, take a few long, deep breaths, and recover. If played in slow motion on video, this phenomenon sometimes looks as if the animal is running or otherwise fleeing. Essentially, it successfully completes the fight or flight cycle, discharges all the stress energy mobilized earlier, and returns to regular business, no worse for the wear.
Why am I telling you all this? Because humans are the only animal to have overridden this response. For some reason, still unknown to my knowledge, we do not allow ourselves to release this trapped emergency energy after a traumatic or shocking experience. It stays pent-up inside us, and our primitive brain never gets the message that it’s safe to calm down again.
And guess what else? We’re also the only animals to suffer from the ravages of chronic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder. Keep in mind that I’m using animals in the wild for contrast. Animals that are caged, mistreated, and used for modern agriculture do suffer the same stress and diet-induced illnesses we do.
Fast forward to our modern lifestyle, where this primitive survival system is triggered daily. The inner alarm bells are clanging, our breath is shallow, energy for non-essential physical and mental functions (that is, not critical to immediate survival) is restricted, and adrenalin rushes through our bloodstream unchecked in an effort to combat a perceived emergency that is never resolved. Can you imagine the toll that years worth of this exacts on us?
Because very few of our daily activities generally involve a physical effort that might be sufficient to complete the fight-flight cycle and give our hard-wiring the signal that we’re safe again, exercise takes on a huge new significance. Survival dictates that priority for energy use will always be first directed to those functions that increase our chances to stay alive. Other activities like creativity, rest, play, digestion, and repair must wait for the “all clear” signal.
Which brings me back to the gym. Sometimes, when my PTSD symptoms were really challenging, I would either be so hyper-alert and sensitive that I wanted to jump out of my skin (fight-flight phase), or so completely numb that I could hardly feel myself in my body (freeze response). On these days, I had to drag myself to the gym, and even when I got there, I was often “stuck” on the bench in the change room for a few minutes before I could force myself just to make it to the rowing machine.
Exhausted, I would slowly get my muscles moving, let my music hold me in the moment even if for a few seconds, and then it started. The thick glue of resistance would release a bit of its hold on my energy, and a wave of emotional release would bolt through my body. On its way out, I would either feel like I was suffocating or worry that I would start sobbing in the middle of the cardio room. Then it was gone. I could breathe again, and sensation would return to my legs.
Each successive wave brought further relief, and I gradually made it through the chaos and came back to life. And that is where, for me, the true power of exercise lies. Whether we’ve just had a rough day or are in full-blown crisis mode, our deep self needs to know that we possess self-sovereignty. That is, we need to feel assured of our own self-mastery, strength, safety, and freedom. For most of human history, this simply meant the supreme gratification that we were still alive.
This primal need to feel our life force coursing through us is still intact today. In fact, coupled with the drive to get our genes into the next generation, it motivates almost every one of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We are inextricably bound by this natural law, though the world we have created for ourselves is very different.
Knowing who we are at our essence is crucial to navigating our modern lives with success. We have become so much more than what we once were, for the good and the bad, but being able to speak and understand our core “language” still very much informs our evolution. Working with our natural instincts and needs instead of ignoring or suppressing them frees up a tremendous amount of energy for higher functions and a more enlightened existence.
Prove to yourself that you are alive, and push yourself to discover how alive you can be. It is the deepest desire within us. It is a freedom to which we are all entitled.

Author's Bio: 

Carey Kress is a raw gourmet chef, instructor, and raw food nutrition educator, certified by the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute, the premiere institute of its kind in the world. She is also an author, Reiki Master, and has additional training in relaxation massage, energy medicine, and Feng Shui.

Using her comprehensive base of knowledge, strongly developed intuition, and deep passion for Truth, Carey brings a fresh, unique, and much-needed new voice to the field of health and conscious evolution.

Knowing that real and lasting health cannot be divided into compartments that separate the body, mind, and spirit, nor the self from the whole, Carey offers a new path to radiant vitality and freedom.

Conscious evolution is the key to both radiant vitality and personal, social, and global health. Everyone deserves to be empowered to choose it. Carey relentlessly seeks to gather more pieces of the puzzle to make the journey back to wholeness as effective, efficient, and fulfilling as possible. She has made it her work to live, serve, and voice Truth, and she has made it her play to share just how delicious and amazing the taste of awakening can be.