Our bodies need to move. This is one sentiment we can universally agree upon, right? Our bodies seem designed for movement and animation, to transfer energy and help us deliver and fulfill our purposes and desires, whatever they may be. And they definitely benefit from all forms of movement. But do we need to workout? (All my trainer friends are screaming YES! right now!)
It is my belief that “WE” are not our BODY. We are infinite beings, spirits, souls…and we use the body to exist on earth, as a vehicle for learning, communicating, interpreting information, and also as a method of pleasure. We are in a complex and divine relationship with our body: daily giving and receiving in a way that could/should bring about joy and happiness. This communion involves much communication, especially in regard to how we nourish the body—through food, nature, relationships, sex, and movement. When you do something your body likes, it makes you FEEL GOOD. Who doesn’t want that?
Do you want to feel better about your body? Do you want to like how it looks, improve your level of energy, and minimize all the various discomforts and intolerances you have? Or even beyond that, do you want to tap into some of the magic psychic awareness your body can provide?
I hear you! I have been on this journey to remember the magnificence of my body for a long time. Like you, I have abused and over-used these organs and bones and muscles. I have shamed these parts, I have cursed them at times. I have overtired my limbs and over-fed my belly. I have put toxins and chemicals and pollutants in without much thought, or even with much regret. But I have also learned along the way to be tender, to appreciate, to love, and to nourish this body with everything it needs to be happy. In return, it gives and gives. I am consistently amazed at how much delight and awareness I can receive from what I used to view as my flawed machine.
When I was about 4 or 5, I was looking out the window at a bird circling in the blue sky. I had the thought: I wish I were a bird, it would be so amazing to fly and look down at the world! For a brief moment I could almost feel myself in the air and the freedom of floating on the wind! It felt exciting and I literally smiled imagining it! Another second later I distinctly recall having a panicked thought: But if I were a bird, who would be Gretchen? And would I hear her thoughts? And immediately I confirmed, I will stay as Gretchen and just look at the bird.
I think of this moment often. I understood at such a young age that I (the spirit) was distinct, but not separate, from my physical form. But I also instinctively knew that in my body was where I WANTED to be—even if it meant I couldn’t fly! How cool is that? I remind myself of this so I can keep choosing to create this body.
Each day upon waking, I choose this body. With every breath, every pose, I choose it again. When I refrain from things that make it feel bad, I honor this body. When I take action and select the things that make it feel good, I gratefully occupy it! I am more sensitive to subtle energies, to my instincts, to gut reactions, to what my body wants and needs, even to what your body wants and needs. I enjoy my body now. It often feels good. There was definitely a time I wouldn’t have said that.
Do you enjoy your body? Do you tolerate it? Resent it? Hate it? Do you (an infinite being) inhabit your body? Are WE in our bodies? Or are our bodies inside the great, expanding, vibrating, infinite energy of us?! Think about that! Could ALL of you fit into one little body? Hmmmm…
How do you physically react when you read the words: workout, exercise, calories, reps, muscles, abs? (They all kind of make me nauseas.) Do they create joyful images and a feeling of communion with your body? What if, instead of just getting fit you could start inhabiting the body when it comes to MOVEMENT? What if you never "worked out" again? What would that feel like? (those of you who are panicking, you definitely need to keep reading!)
I used to be the kind of person who would panic at that statement. I come from the athletic/workout world. I was always drawn to yoga but I was a runner, triathlete, kickboxer, fad-ciser, dieter. I moved in ways that I hoped would achieve a certain physical aesthetic and I liked pushing my body hard. Yoga was very different for me! I had to learn to appreciate slow movement, movement without burning sensations or instantly sore muscles. In fact, for a long time even my yoga was very athletic and difficult. But eventually I realized I had to let the yoga be YOGA, not a “workout.” And I finally allowed those two things to become separate. This changed everything for my body! I would practice yoga--I could stretch, hold, breathe, bend and feel amazing! Then, another day I would sweat it out at the gym and burn my calories for the week. It was torture of sorts, but I felt it necessary and liked knowing “I did something.”
Gradually, I realized that I was dreading those gym workouts! I found myself skipping them in favor of doing more yoga (which I allowed not to be “working out”). And weirdly, I liked how my body looked and felt more and more. This was shocking to me. So I told myself I didn’t have to do full-body workouts at all. I relinquished the need for hour-long EXERCISE and I gave myself permission not to go to the gym. I was already doing yoga, so I just set the intention to also move a little bit every day and to do some non-yoga movements a few times a week, with no set caloric or time goals. I went a step further and stopped referring to what I was doing as “exercising” or “working out” or even “practicing”…I just started to say/think MOVING MY BODY, exploring movement, playing around.
This was a profound shift. I very deliberately started to do what I think of as healthy, integrative functional movement, or PLAYING! Although these sessions were shorter, snuck in between appointments or kids' activities, I was getting better results. And I was feeling better than ever! I have returned to playing since having the baby--the way he moves is really inspiring me! Some days, it is only sweeping my arms over my head in a dynamic mountain pose for 20 minutes. Other days it is some crazy combination of dancing, squatting, yoga, and stretching. I incorporate weights sometimes, or resistance bands, props, videos, or medicine balls. I’m kind of a weird movement junkie who daily experiments with how my body feels in space. I research anatomy and play around to find new muscles, connections, and awarenesses.
For example, the other day I crawled around my yoga room for like 20 minutes (literally crawled) and then did handstands against the wall. I followed this with a 10-minute savasana.
Sounds strange. I know! I have no idea if I burned calories or built a bicep. But I had fun! And my body felt engaged, integrated, alive, and pretty great afterwards! That is not to say this is all I do, but playing around like this has become my favorite way to find length, tone, space, and energy! How awesome is that? That’s enjoying my body! It has nothing to do with anything but moving. It feels pure and organic and simple…and I’m choosing to do it frequently. I’ll repeat—I’m enjoying moving, doing it more often, for less time, and getting better results in how I feel and look…and I am NOT “WORKING OUT.”
I am inviting you to explore your body. To wander through it’s shaded corridors of pain, tolerance, and pleasure! To consider what actually benefits you the most—what is serving YOU greater? Is it a repetitive arm movement lifting a weight until you reach a certain number? Or is it exaggeratedly pulling your arms apart and breathing deeply? To me one feels like exercise, one doesn’t. Maybe to you it would feel different. But you might find that once you remove those labels, you can actually crawl into that skin and participate in your physical well-being…you are not a prisoner of that body!! You are playing with it! Toying with gravity, flight, animation, delight. What if all if it feels pretty good and that’s totally okay? Could you find even more new ways to test the edges of what you think your body is capable of? Of what it likes? Of the shape it takes?
Treat it as an experiment. Start to notice how your body feels, what it is asking for. If you dread going to the gym—don’t go. Ask yourself—what would feel better today? If I didn’t have to exercise, how would I move my body? Or ask your body: hey body, what type of movement do you need today? Consider what makes ALL of you feel better—your spirit, mind, and body! Maybe it is 20 minutes of yoga. Maybe it’s a movement that allows you to connect with someone? My body LOVES walking with friends! Maybe it is playing in nature! What movements will facilitate a healthy spine, fluidity, suppleness, dynamic rotation? What movement makes me feel strong? What can I do that gives me a sense of peace? Try it!!
We need to move, yes. But do we need to workout? Meh. I’m not sure! I do know that as I continue to play with creative, healing, functional ways to engage and move my body in my world I’m less and less concerned with the latter. I offer this for what it is worth my friends!! GO out and gratefully play with that amazing miracle you are wearing! You just might enjoy it!
Instead of working out…try this:
- -Connect parts: stand and sweep your arms in different directions with the breath—hold them out and twist the arm muscles around the bones as you open the palms to the sky and turn them to the ground. Notice how much awareness you can get in your fingertips. Notice the relationship between each finger and your chest, back, throat, head. Pull from side to side. How does sensation change when you engage the core or soften the glutes? Try something similar lying down with the legs. Try it with the spine on all fours. Discover how things are connected: where does your stability come from? Can you find the origin of discomfort?
- -In addition to linear movement, rotate and flow! Move in spirals, circles, spins, waves, and twists. Carefully test joints by engaging muscles and turning slowly. (or just dance!)
- -Move and open your hips often!! Squat, Hula-hoop, roll the pelvis, sway as you walk! On all fours you can fully manipulate and lubricate the pelvis and hip joints by pushing forward and back, circling the hips, cat/cow, lifting/lowering the tail.
- -Stretch! Daily! Linger in areas that need space, use your breath to lengthen and expand. Use walls/blocks/straps/bolsters/pillows/rollers/chairs to help you find versions that keep you stable in active stretches. Also do passive versions, like supported back bends, heart openers, and folds.
- -Be dynamic—move with the breath, change the speed: start, stop, hover. Experiment with opening and closing, try to move like an octopus (not like a robot)!
- -Go outside. Do anything in nature!
- -Involve fun equipment and change it up: bikes, paddle boards, roller blades, skis, kayaks, fishing poles, boats, balance beams, ropes, rings, weights, kettle bells, jump ropes, racquets, balls, clubs, trampolines, swings=FUN!
- -Just walk—how many different ways can you walk? Use your breath, swing your arms, sway the hips, lift the knees, lift the toes, engage the core, walk like an ape. I promise you will feel it!
- -Imitate animals and children…this one is hard! They jump, spin, stretch, fall—all in a 30 second span of time. Play with animals and children too! Chase, throw balls, tickle, climb things, collapse!
- -Combine seemingly contradictory methods like zumba and yoga; HIIT and pranayama; ballet and weights. Make sure you do higher and lower levels of difficulty. Not every movement needs to be exhausting in order to be good for you (in fact, quite the opposite!).
- -REST. How is that moving? Well, it’s not but we all need it. Take time to passively stretch, breathe, and relax. Be purposely, delightfully still for a bit each day. Navel gazing, it’s awesome. It gives your body time to absorb and implement all the changes you made doing everything above.
SHARE SOME OTHER WAYS YOU PLAY WITH MOVING YOUR BODY!