Movement. Exercise. Physical activity. Synonyms for punishment, right? "No pain, no gain," is a popular motto for people who are seriously into body sculpting and other efforts to make their bodies look different than they do. Maybe you're fortunate enough to have gotten past the impossible aesthetic ideals of looksism, and now you see exercise as a way to take care of something far more important than your appearance, ie your health. Unlike the shaky expectation that exercise will change your size and shape, the prospect of better health through physical exercise is realistic for almost every body. But even when health is your goal, it's still possible to fall into a harsh, disciplinarian regimen that ultimately just makes you want to rebel.
I believe we all have a desire to move our bodies. That desire may be buried under a history of failed attempts at exercise programs that forced us to move in ways that were painful, unpleasant, or just boring. But underneath all that, when you really think about it, have there in fact been times when you've just enjoyed the way your body feels in motion? To access that feeling, I suggest starting with exercise that is gentle rather than forceful, such as stretching, water walking, or perhaps just taking a stroll, stopping to check out the storefronts or the neighbors' gardens.
Yoga is a great way to move gently, breathe deeply, and enjoy not only pleasant sensations, but also a variety of proven health benefits. At this month's FREE brown bag workshop on Tuesday, April 19, we'll be viewing excerpts from Sally Pugh's new video, Expanding into Fullness: Yoga for Large Women, and we'll talk about how to find gentle, nurturing ways to move. You can register at www.FeministTherapyAssociates.com/BodyTuesdays.html
Meanwhile, try one or both of these exercises for listening to what your body knows about the ways it might like to move:
1) Get seated in a comfortable place. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Repeat that a couple more times. Now, notice the position your body is in right now. Try shifting that position a little bit. For example, if you're sitting back, sit forward. If your legs are crossed, uncross them. If you're arms are in your lap, drop them to your sides. Just play this way with different positions, nothing strenuous in any way. Now stand up. Notice where your feet are and how your weight is distributed. If you have pain or balance problems with standing, find something to hold onto, or you can skip this part. Now stretch your arms (or free arm) over your head. See how many ways you can move your arms and legs without strain. The point of this is not to "get your exercise" or achieve any particular goal. The point is simply to notice how your body feels when it moves. Notice your breathing, any changes in the way your muscles feel, and any thoughts that run through your mind ("This is boring; hey, that feels kind of good; ouch, I didn't know I had a pain there . . ." You can play this way whenever you want to spend a few minutes just listening to your body.
2) Think back to a time when you felt really relaxed and you noticed a spontaneous urge to get up and do something physical. What was that something? What surroundings were you in? How did your body feel after you did (or didn't) do that activity?