June 13, 2023
In a world where exercise has often been associated with grueling workouts, strict regimens, and a relentless pursuit of physical perfection, joyful movement encourages us to shift our focus from rigid exercise routines to a more intuitive, flexible, and enjoyable approach to staying active throughout all stages of life. It embraces the idea that movement should be a source of pleasure, nourishment, and self-expression rather than a means to an end. It emphasizes that we should be able to take breaks and rest when we need to and not get hung up on rigid schedules or forcing ourselves to move in ways that we don't enjoy. But what actually is joyful movement and what if you don't feel joy when moving your body? Let's explore...
I posted this definition of Joyful Movement on my Instagram account this week.
In my practice, joyful movement is an extension of Intuitive Eating. Similar to Intuitive Eating, where we tune into our body's innate wisdom and honour its unique needs when it comes to food, joyful movement does the same thing with exercise. It encourages us to let go of rigid rules and external expectations of what movement is "supposed to" look like, and instead prioritizes our individual preferences, sensations, and desires when it comes to physical activity.
Exercise is often seen as a way that we can shrink our bodies or punish ourselves for eating too much food. However, if we feel like we are working hard but aren't seeing the "results" we're expecting, or aren't seeing "results" as fast as we are expecting, then we often stop exercising altogether. This all-or-nothing mindset really hurts our ability to exercise and get enjoyment out of moving our bodies purely for the sake of movement. In addition to this, if we have a very rigid definition of what exercise is supposed to look and feel like, it's easy to let it fall by the wayside if we aren't meeting that expectation. For example, if you feel like you need to go to the gym 5 days each week for 60 minutes, but something comes up and you miss a few workouts, it's easy to think that the whole week is shot and rather than going to the gym when you can, you tell yourself you'll just try again next week.
Joyful movement is about developing a positive relationship with our bodies, embracing movement as a form of self-care, and celebrating what our bodies are able to accomplish, rather than fixating on specific outcomes. It allows for flexibility and emphasizes that often some movement is better than none, even if that movement falls outside of what we normally think "counts" as exercise.
A key aspect of joyful movement is shifting our mindset from "should" to "want." Rather than forcing ourselves to engage in certain activities out of obligation or societal pressure, we are encouraged to explore movement that we enjoy and actually want to do. This could involve anything from dancing, hiking, swimming, practicing yoga, gardening, or even playing with your kids. The possibilities are endless. The goal is to find activities that genuinely bring us joy and make us feel alive.
Engaging in joyful movement on a regular basis can lead to numerous physical health benefits. It can improve cardiovascular health, enhance flexibility and strength, improve stamina, create stronger muscles and bones, and even improve sleep. I read something recently that talked about using movement as a way to create your "old lady body" and that really resonated with me. So much of what we think of as exercise is about short-term gains when really we need to be considering the long-term impact. If we push ourselves too hard and forget to rest, we can end up injuring ourselves. If we don't eat enough to support our exercise, we can reduce muscle mass rather than increase it. If we consistently push ourselves to do exercise that we hate, we will eventually stop doing it. We need to start considering the long game. By approaching movement from a place of joy and pleasure, we are more likely to engage in consistent and sustainable physical activity, leading to long-term health improvements well into old age.
Joyful movement has a profound impact on our emotional well-being. When we engage in activities that bring us joy, our bodies release endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine—neurochemicals that uplift our mood, reduce stress, and increase feelings of happiness. Additionally, joyful movement promotes body acceptance, self-compassion, and a positive body image, fostering a healthier relationship with ourselves and our bodies. When was the last time that you celebrated what your body could do? When was the last time that you gave your body some gratitude for allowing you to move through the world? If the answer is never, maybe it's time to start. Joyful movement doesn't have to mean yoga and walking, it can be goal-oriented, it can be challenging, but it should also be a celebration of what your body can accomplish.
By embracing joyful movement, we reclaim our autonomy and empower ourselves to move in ways that align with our true selves. It becomes a form of self-expression, enabling us to connect with our innermost desires, break free from societal expectations, and cultivate a sense of authenticity. Joyful movement allows us to do what we want to do because we want to do it, not because someone told us that we should. It becomes a celebration of our unique bodies and will shift and change in order to honor our personal journey. Movement that felt good to you a year ago may no longer feel good now, and that's ok. We're allowed to change over time.
The better question here is what doesn't joyful movement look like? Joyful movement can be anything you want it to be provided that you enjoy it and that it allows you enough flexibility to also enjoy the rest of your life. We weren't put on this earth just to exercise. I often encourage clients to move their bodies in ways that they have never tried before. Experimenting may allow you to find unexpected joy in movement. Some examples of ways that you could move your body include:
Anything goes as long as you are enjoying it. Always remember that doing something that's fun is more likely to encourage you to keep doing compared to pushing yourself to do something that you hate.
A few other tips to get you going on your joyful movement journey:
If movement keeps getting pushed down the priority list every day, ask yourself why? Do you need to take a break for a bit and come back to it later? Do you need to experiment some more and find something else that brings you joy? Don't be afraid to pause and reflect.
But what if movement doesn't feel joyful? What if you're not excited to move your body every day? Is there something wrong?
Absolutely not! Joyful movement is maybe a bit misleading as a term. We want there to be joy but that doesn't mean that it will always feel easy or that you'll always be really excited to move your body every day. Sometimes the joy comes afterwards. You may not be excited to move at first, but you know that you'll feel really good and have a real sense of accomplishment from moving your body once it's over.
Thinking about how you'll feel at the end may be enough of a boost to get you started even when the getting started doesn't feel joyful. If you're still not feeling anything at the end, maybe that's a sign that you need to switch things up. Don't be afraid to experiment and find something that does spark some joy or a sense of accomplishment.
The association between exercise and the expectation of weight loss is strong in our society. If you're wondering how to start moving joyfully without focusing on weight loss or shrinking your body, keep reading.
When we start working towards leaving diet culture behind, some people need to take a long break from exercise in order to break that association. While it seems scary to take a break from exercise (especially since we're always told that we "should" be moving), it's perfectly fine to take a break. Life is long and in the grand scheme of things, a break from exercise won't matter that much. Some people may also benefit from radically changing and expanding their definition of exercise. Ask yourself: can you move beyond the gym? What feels fun to you? Are there things you've always wanted to do but diet culture told you it didn't "count"?
It's important to remember all the benefits of moving that we already discussed above and really consider your "why". Why do you want to move your body? What are your goals? Is there room for flexibility and rest? Are there different types of movement that will allow you to reach your goals without feeling stuck with only one "right" way?
While ideally body changes should not be the main driver of the behaviour, give yourself some compassion if the desire to change your body is still present. We don't live in a diet-culture-free vacuum. One really important question to ask yourself: Is this something that I would do even if it meant my body would not change whatsoever?
If the answer is yes, go for it.
Joyful movement is a paradigm shift in how we approach physical activity. By prioritizing pleasure, self-expression, flexibility and intuition, it offers a refreshing alternative to rigid exercise routines. Embracing joyful movement allows us to cultivate a positive relationship with our bodies, nurture our well-being, and experience movement as a joyful and fulfilling journey. It's time to leave rigid exercise in the past and embark on a path of self-discovery, embracing movement that brings joy, and celebrate what your body can accomplish.
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