That’s right. SKIP THE EXERCISE.
At least in the way most of us think of it currently. Here’s why…Our view of and approach to exercise, as a culture, isn’t bringing us closer to the connected, deeply nourished lives we crave. Exercise has become, for many, synonymous with a grueling chore. Something we disconnect from, and need to ignore our bodies, just to get through. Our approach to it focuses on intangible, far-off goals (i.e., a body type that isn’t ours, 6 pack abs, or avoiding health problems we fear). These goals often aren’t kind or aligned with the things we value most in the first place. And it’s simply not working for the majority of us. So many of us struggle with motivation to exercise. Or we quit doing it altogether after “failing” enough times. And for others, it’s the opposite. We feel fear and rigidity around exercise that keeps us going past the point of nourishment to depletion and injury.
What’s worse is we’ve been unintentionally led to believe the problem is US. We feel shame if we can’t consistently exercise or our body is not responding the way we want. We’re led to believe it’s a problem with our willpower. Our motivation. Our flawed body. Our character even. “But what if ‘exercising’ is the real problem, not you?”¹ What if the whole concept of “exercising”, as we know it, is the problem?
Consistent and varied physical movement is crucial to our health and well-being. On so many levels. There is absolutely no doubt about that. But if we are miserable while doing it, or are getting farther away from a connected relationship with our body in the process–we are not actually nourishing ourselves or our lives.
So skip the “exercise.” Truly.
Instead let’s practice moving our bodies in ways we enjoy, in ways that energize us, as often as possible. And nourish a connected, kind relationship with our bodies in the process. Let’s lay down the struggle with exercise and transition to nourishment.
Now, if you are wondering how in the world to do that, not to worry! Below are 7 of my most tried and true, road and research tested tips for cultivating balanced and nourishing movement in your life. No matter where you are at in your relationship to movement, these tools can help keep you moving joyfully for the long haul.
7 Ways to Cultivate Balanced and Nourishing Movement In Your Life
1) Choose activities you enjoy. Dance, skip, run, play, do somersaults–do anything that brings the joy back into moving your body! All movement counts. And there are so many ways to move. So choose something that lights you up and makes you smile. Now I’m not saying you will, or need to, enjoy every moment of movement. Or that it is not worth trying things that make us uncomfortable. But as much as possible, choose activities that you value and that are interesting to you.
TAKE ACTION: Once a day, or at least a few times a week, move just for fun. Turn on some music in your kitchen and dance like a wild woman. Skip on your walk to the store. Do handstands against a tree in your front yard. Do a cannonball instead of swimming laps. Wrestle around on the floor with your children (or your friends’ children). Play tag. Jump rope. The only requirement is that you move just for the joy of it!
2) Go for variety and get creative. Just like with food, a variety of experiences is great for your body. Balanced movement habits integrate the following 6 movement types: aerobic (cardio), joyful (just for pure fun and enjoyment), strengthening, flexibility, balance, and restorative (i.e. restorative yoga, physical therapy exercises, tai chi). Note that many activities integrate multiple movement types. For example, yoga may include any or all of these categories! So mix, match, and keep it fun.
TAKE ACTION: Write a list of ways you would enjoy getting each category of movement (aerobic, purely joyful, strengthening, flexibility, balance, and restorative). Then use this as your menu to choose from as you are deciding how to move each day.
3) Practice mindfulness and connection with your body while moving. We are all in a relationship with our one sweet gift of a body. And like any relationship in our lives, listening and making time for connection are absolutely foundational. So it’s not only important to move your body, but to also practice listening to and connecting with it as you do. For most of us we’ve never even considered this, let alone practiced it. So you are in great company if this feels like a new concept! It’s also much simpler than most people think. You need only curiosity and a little bit of practice.
TAKE ACTION: Do the following on your next walk or during your next movement activity of any kind. Challenge yourself to keep checking back in with the sensations of your body and the world around you, instead of checking out or disconnecting into the world of your thoughts. Feel your body. Notice your environment. Enjoy the feeling of your breath. Employ your senses. As you begin to work harder or bump into discomfort, see if you can get really curious about the sensations in your body. Look for a wonderful blog by Cara on just this topic (which deserves a lot more attention!) at the end of the month.
4) Individualize your movement habits. No one else can tell you what feels best in your body. There is a lot of great info out there on what types and amounts of exercise tend to be nourishing for people. This is a great place to start. But it is far more important to try things, listen to your body, and find out through experience how to best nourish yourself with lots of different types of wonderful movement. This will change for you depending on the time in your life and maybe even the day! So you will always need to come back to connecting with and listening to our body.
TAKE ACTION: At the beginning of the week or before choosing to move on any given day take a few minutes to check in with your body. Get quiet. Breath deeply and slowly for a couple of minutes. Feel the sensations in your body. Ask yourself, what do I need today (or this week) to feel truly nourished? Listen with curiosity for what comes up. Then choose your movement accordingly.
5) Choose to move and count everything. Somewhere along the way we got the idea that if we are not sweating profusely or wearing workout clothes or doing an activity for at least 30 minutes, it doesn’t really count. But the research firmly disagrees. EVERYTHING COUNTS. Leading motivation researcher and author Michelle Segar, PhD, writes, “We should count any and every opportunity to move that exists in the space of our lives as valid movement worth doing.” Many studies confirm that people who integrate small commonplace opportunities to move throughout their day get all the health benefits of those who exercise in a more structured way–if not more. It’s helpful, and highly suggested, to plan some concentrated chunks of movement into your week. But it is equally, if not more important to choose to move as a way of life, in the little moments. Walk to the store instead of drive. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stretch for 10 minutes on your lunch break. Start a family ritual of a neighborhood walk after dinner. Nourish yourself with little movement “snacks,” as well as big meals.
TAKE ACTION: Look to your week ahead. Think of 1 simple, enjoyable way you can take an extra opportunity to move during your days. Then make it happen! Keep it simple, easy and light.
6) Give yourself permission to prioritize self care. This is a big one. Our culture bases a lot of our self worth on productivity. We wear stress and busyness like badges of honor. So it’s no wonder it’s challenging to slow down and make self care a priority. But the vitality of our life suffers dearly when we don’t prioritize our own nourishment. Our health suffers. Our contentment suffers. Our job performance suffers. Our relationships with those we hold most dear suffer. So it is in all of our best interest to prioritize our self care. It’s an amazing paradox too. “The more energy you give to caring for yourself, the more energy you have for everything else,” writes Michelle Segar. And I would add, the more easily you’ll sustain these life giving habits. So think of your self care, and movement in particular, as essential fuel for your daily life–rather than a gift, optional, or mutually exclusive with other important things in your life. It’s even more important when life is full and demanding.
TAKE ACTION: Find a sticky note or small piece of paper. Write at the top “Permission Slip”. Then write yourself a permission slip, in your own words, for prioritizing self care. It might read something like these: “To prioritize my self care needs.” “To value my own needs as much as those of my jobs and my loved ones.” “To sweetly and loving nourish myself with movement and self care.” Then place your permission slip somewhere you’ll see it regularly–in your wallet, on your bathroom mirror, on your desk.
7) Connect your movement goals with your deeper why–your values. There is a ton of research out there on what sustains human motivation. And one of the things that comes up over and over again is that people are far more likely to continue doing something if it is connected with their values. As Cara wrote, in her blog on Finding Your Why in the New Year, “Values are our heart’s deepest desires for the way we want to interact with the world, other people, and ourselves. They’re what we want to stand for in life, how we want to behave, what sort of a person we want to be, and what sort of strengths and qualities we want to develop. Values are like a compass, they give us direction and guide our ongoing journey. Values-based actions help us to make what matters most happen, little by little.” Our lives feel so much richer when we are acting in line with our values. So connect your goals for moving and nourishing your body with YOUR deeper why, with your values. And notice how it fuels and empowers you.
TAKE ACTION: Take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions — How does moving your body in sustainable and nourishing ways relate to the things that matter most to you? What is it you value about moving your body? Is it compassion and kindness for yourself? Is it respecting or honoring your body? Is it cultivating strength and resilience? Is it renewing energy so that you have fuel to be the most present and loving mother/daughter/wife/friend/human possible? How does moving your body nourish your deeper WHY? To read more on values check out Finding Your Why in the New Year.
Enjoy your amazing body today!
P.S. If you are tempted to slip into overwhelm after reading this, take a few deep breaths. And know you are in process just like the rest of us. More importantly you are worthy and wonderful just as you are. When you are ready to try some new things, we suggest implementing no more than 1-2 new action items, simple goals, or concepts into your life a month. Slow and steady is the way.
- No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitnes. Michelle Segar. Available at: http://michellesegar.com/books/no-sweat/.
- Rebranding exercise: closing the gap between values and behavior. Segar et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:94. http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/8/1/94
- 6 Tips for a Mindful Exercise Routine. chopra.com. Available at: http://www.chopra.com/ccl/6-tips-for-a-mindful-exercise-routine.