You’re Not “Bettering Yourself” by Exercising

A stock photo of bamboo shoots

Originally published on my yoga website, Liza Does Yoga.

I hear this all the time — that it’s great to see people of all sizes exercising because they’re bettering themselves. And while yoga is so much more than a physical pursuit, it often gets lumped into this.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: that notion is garbage.

Physical activity, yoga included, can improve things about your health and life. But the concept of “bettering yourself” takes on a moralizing tone, which is unacceptable.

Exercise in nonmoral. It does not make you a better or worse person. To paraphrase Ragen Chastain, running a marathon and watching a Netflix marathon are morally equal activities.

We live in a neoliberal society where healthism is rampant, and being in “good health” (which is different for everyone, and not always even attainable) is seen as a moral imperative. This means we (general we) have created a hierarchy for behaviors. Anything that can contribute to health, like exercising or eating certain foods, is assigned moral superiority over other activities. A person’s needs, abilities, and desires don’t matter here, what is important is performing health for everyone around you.

But guess what — you don’t owe fitness or health to anyone. You aren’t better or worse based on whether you do yoga and eat salads or watch TV and eat cookies.

What makes you a better or worse person is how you treat those around you. If you’re kind to other people, the environment, children, animals, and so forth, you’re a good person. If you aren’t, that is what to work on to better yourself, not how many hours you spend at the gym.

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