Savor the body in movement

How do you find opportunities to move when you’re sequestered inside due to wildfire smoke or other weather events? During times like these, it’s helpful to get creative. As I’ve previously said in sessions with psychotherapy clients, we need to defuse the dreaded “e-word” of exercise (and its shame-filled baggage) and find pleasurable, mindful ways to move our bodies. To simply savor that we have bodies to move, and to give our precious bodies a brief reprieve from a life filled with so much sitting in front of screens.

For decades, medical and mental health professionals have touted the benefits of exercise. Physical activity is one of the most frequently underutilized and yet positively impactful interventions we can reach for, especially in the midst of stress. However, let’s face it – many of us don’t move nearly as much as we should.

Here in our own house with a walkability index of zero and the current hazardous air quality levels due to local wildfires, we’re doing what we can to move. Every step, stretch, pose, jump rope session, and dance party counts. “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect,” according to one American Psychological Association article. If you don’t already have favorite workout videos or exercises that you incorporate into your weekly schedule, consider a couple of these more playful ideas:

  • Videos you can dance to – shake things up. One of the “go to” movement breaks I take with my distance-learning tween on school days are songs like Shout (You Make Me Wanna) by Otis Day and the Knights, or goofy ones like The Chicken Dance. In fact, here’s a techno version if you’re inclined (or just need a good laugh, or are infatuated with poultry, like me):
  • A few yoga poses or stretches – you can find a dizzying number of yoga videos on YouTube, and maybe you’re already streaming sessions from your local yoga studio during this period of social distancing. I’m fond of my former teacher (and massage therapist) Alix Northrup, who also teaches at People’s Yoga and specializes in gentle/mindful yoga, which my middle-aged body especially appreciates.
  • Use what’s available to you as a movement prop – an indoor basketball hoop, a jump rope, a game of twister, stairs in your home or apartment complex, a slow and mindful walk from one end of the house to the other, a table or chair or doorway to lean against or use as an anchor. If you’re lucky enough to have exercise equipment in your home or easy access to a workout center nearby, rock on. I’m not fond of machines, but lately I’ve been known to briefly climb onto our old eliptical to watch a few minutes of my favorite medical drama.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention fitness or weight loss in this posting, and you won’t find them in any of my other mindful eating (or therapeutic horticulture) posts, either. I’ll leave that business to my other professional colleagues: licensed dietitians, physicians, and other exercise specialists who are trained in Health at Every Size. But if you’re interested in the mind/body health benefits of movement – and there are quite a few, check out the links below.

Most importantly, however, show up for your body. Give yourself some rest, some love, some yummy food, and some mindful movement. Do things that feel good for your body and savor what you can.

Read more:

The exercise effect, from the American Psychological Association

Working out boosts brain health, from the American Psychological Association

Dance like your doctor is watching: It’s great for your mind and body, from Time Magazine

Yoga – benefits beyond the mat, from Harvard Medical School