Written by Sean Riley
500 RYT, LMT
When was the last time you took a long road trip? Remember the feeling of getting out of your seat after being in the car for hours? The feeling of your circulation returning to your tissues as you take a deep, long stretch?
For me, this illustrates the idea that our bodies crave movement. They need it to function well. The feeling you got from that post road trip stretch was your body saying thank you for getting out of that position! Now I bet you can think of many times throughout your week where you were still for long periods. I don’t believe the solution is to completely change your lifestyle and become an athlete- but I do believe we can all find ways to interrupt those long periods of stillness, to keep our body from getting “stuck” in any position.
We’ve become disconnected from our bodies. We’ve been blessed with so much comfort and convenience in the modern world, that moving has become a chore, relegated to hour long “workouts” that we force ourselves to do a few times a week, often hating the process. We also tend to look to the experts for answers- trainers, yoga teachers, chiropractors rather than feeling for ourselves. We may feel unqualified or not ready or too tired to move because we have a certain idea of what exercise is and for many of us, that idea is scary.
The idea of going to the gym? That could be a 2 hour ordeal! I have to pack clothes and whatever else I need, including shower stuff, headphones, supplements, then drive there (getting a front row parking space so I don’t have to carry all that stuff too far) to get to the gym where I pay monthly to move stuff around. Once I’m at the gym, I notice all the other people who look like they know what they’re doing, wearing cool clothes and displaying a hard earned or naturally gifted physique. Then I start to imagine what they must think of me as the beginner. The same goes for any public fitness class where we are thrust into a space full of people we’ve never met, to perform movements that are unfamiliar.
Walking into this space, it can be easy for the newcomer to feel intimidated. They may even have the idea that fitness should be focused on aesthetics first and mental and physical health second. So in their case, it could take a tremendous amount of courage to even go to the gym or studio, let alone keep a consistent habit of it. And as it often happens, when we eventually break the habit, we beat ourselves up for it, creating more disconnect between ourselves and a practice. People often end up in this cycle of starting a routine, keeping it for a few months or a year, maybe more, only to eventually become injured, unmotivated, or just too busy and quit.
Do you see all these layers of separation between us and movement? Instead of giving ourselves the authority to move how we feel, we are asking someone else to tell us how to move, and often in an artificial space that’s completely separate from our everyday lives. We even have devices that tell us our heart rate and how many calories burned, and we value these numbers more than the sensory input and endorphins we get from our practice. Instead of listening to our bodies and making adjustments based on feeling, we have learned to trust other people and machines to tell us what we feel. Go to any gym and you’ll see treadmills with people on them watching tv, perhaps also listening to headphones, so they don’t have to think about what they’re doing. The treadmill itself can be pretty boring, and maybe we don’t even like running so there’s a tendency to want to be distracted. Do you see the disconnect?
So how can we reduce the disconnect? I’m not saying to stop going to the gym or studio- I believe these places serve an essential purpose. I’m also not saying you should get rid of your fitness tracker because I believe it’s a great thing to measure progress, nor do I think you shouldn’t listen to music during a workout because that can help you into a flow state. But I do think there should be fewer requirements to move, so that if you happen to forget your music, you still go for that run.
I do think it’s a mistake to limit our movement to structured workouts alone. It’s a mistake to think that there’s one right way to do something and if I don’t know it then I shouldn’t try. It’s also a mistake to think that a move that’s uncomfortable now will always be that way. It’s totally within our capabilities to more seamlessly integrate movement into our daily routines, to become the expert on our own bodies and to fine tune ourselves internally and in relation to the world around us. Instead of thinking in terms of calories burned or reps completed, can we learn to gauge success by how we feel? Isn’t that the point anyways? Unless you’re an athlete who has a very specific training regimen, then shouldn’t the goal just be to attain a higher level of mental and physical wellness? So, here are some ways that I think you can bring more movement into your life, without upsetting your normal routine:
- Stretch. All the time. You don’t need a license for this. Just reach overhead for a few breaths, then reach for your toes. Step one foot forward and lunge, etc.
- Find something fun. If you enjoy doing it, you’ll find fewer excuses to back out when you aren’t feeling it. It doesn’t have to be conventional! You can dance, climb, walk the dog, jump up and down, crawl like a monkey, take up a martial art, throw a frisbee! Enjoy yourself!
- Keep a tennis ball at your desk or by the couch or anywhere you spend a lot of time not moving. It’s always fun to toss or bounce or self massage.
- Interrupt periods of stillness. Our bodies are happiest when they are moving. It doesn’t always have to be a grueling HIIT workout. Any movement counts. It could mean you sit on a stability ball instead of a chair so you are constantly shifting positions. This could mean you make yourself stand up and walk around when you take a phone call.
- Park further away from the front. Don’t sit in your car and wait for someone to load their groceries so you can get a good spot.
- Appreciate the struggle. Moving more may not be easy and you might find a million reasons not to. But the more resistance you experience, the greater the reward will be.
- Put a pull up bar in one of your doorways. Every time you walk through, do a pull-up or several. If you can’t do one, just hang there as long as you’re able. Or you can do a push-up or many, each time you walk through. Something consistent, with the idea that you don’t need a full workout all the time. Consistency is more important than intensity.
These are just a few ideas to get you moving more, and I don’t think you should follow those exactly. You might not even do one of them. But you can start thinking along these lines.The idea of “getting in shape” doesn’t have to mean spending everyday at the gym. Think about what you can add to the things you are already doing everyday. Start moving more without interrupting the current flow of your life. What are your reasons for moving? As you try new things, allow yourself the space to be a beginner and not get discouraged when something becomes difficult. No one starts out as an expert and the journey will be more valuable to you if you had to struggle along the way. Remember- you don’t need any special skills or permission to move your body. Just keep moving it!