Conscious, joyful movement is not some woo-woo, psycho-babble terminology for exercise. I make a clear distinction between the type of exercise regimen that the Fitbits of the world prescribe and the kind of activity that we engage in because our bodies and minds ask to move. In fact, if you are walking just to get a thumbs-up from your handheld device, it is probably going to get old fast.
If your efforts to be physically active are all about looking good, weighing less, or competing for more steps, then, once the initial thrill of doing something new or meeting your goal wears off, why continue? Physical activity is truly about being in your body (ideally, a break from being in your mind) and being in the moment. If the workout is fun and engaging, you’ll be more likely do it again and again. Maybe for decades.
Many of my clients exercise compulsively. They can’t take a day off without tremendous guilt. That’s fine if daily workouts feel good and their life falls nicely into place around that schedule; but so often I hear about hours of sleep lost, social engagements declined, and injuries worsened because the workout program was literally in charge. The joy of moving gets stripped from the activity when it becomes compulsive.
• What form of movement feels good to your body and soul?
• Do you like to move outside or inside—or a combination of both?
• Do you like to move your body alone or with others?
• Do you have more energy for physical activity in the morning, afternoon, or evening?
• How does movement fit best into the rest of your life?
• Does vigorous or more gentle action ground you? Or a combination of both?
My advice for cultivating mindful, conscious, joyful movement:
• Find ways to move that you love and that help you feel present and accepting of your amazing, unique body.
• Listen to your body. If you feel overly sore, tired, and spent after exercising, you may be exercising at a level that is not sustainable.
• Never ignore injuries. Soreness, when using new muscles, is normal, but pain is a message. What is your body telling you?
• Think outside the box (or gym). Find ways to move in your daily life. Yes, taking the stairs and biking downtown does count. Find nourishing movement nuggets!
And if your body doesn’t feel so good moving at first—if it’s been a while or your body has changed and you don’t feel as capable as you once did—then it’s even more important that you find something that you enjoy. You may need to move regularly for a while to get to a place of ease and comfort—let alone joy.
Make sure that if you are moving with others or a trainer, you don’t lose that connection with your own body. Our bodies tell us when we’ve had enough or when we need to do something different. Stretching with a trainer is great; but mindful stretching, in which you follow the needs that your body is indicating, may be even more nourishing. Slow down, and notice what your body likes. It may surprise you!
The right music can transform dishwashing into a satisfying dance party in my kitchen. Movement is like eating: It is a pleasure that sustains us and should remind us that being in a body is one of the joys of life. Honor your body’s wisdom. What kind of movement are you hungry for—today, in this moment?
Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S is a nutrition therapist with over 20 years of experience in the field of eating disorders and emotional eating issues. Heidi began her career at Boston Children’s Hospital as a clinical nutrition specialist. She is currently the founder of Nourishing Words Nutrition Therapy, where she works as a writer, consultant, and certified eating disorders registered dietitian, based in the Greater Boston area. Heidi also facilitates the No Diet Book Clubs, and supervises other nutrition therapists in the field of eating disorders. She is the author of Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self, which is available from Amazon and wherever fine books are sold.