Steps going up into the forest

“Don’t force anything. Find what you love to do and stick with it.” – Shawn Johnson

Our bodies were designed to move.

That being said, how we move our bodies isn’t as important as our enjoyment of what we do to move our bodies. It doesn’t matter how you move your body, as long as you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy doing it, you’re either not going to keep doing it long term, thus losing the benefit, or you’re going to force yourself to do it, thus taking all of the fun out of it and staying at odds with yourself and your body.

It benefits us in so many ways to learn to listen to what our bodies are telling us. If you spend the entire time you’re running thinking “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this”, that is going to create a blockage in your body. You will be more tense while you’re running, risking injury and more muscle pain in general after your workout. You’ll be more likely to find excuses not to go for a run because deep down you really don’t want to anyway. This could apply to anything; running, weight lifting, yoga, kayaking, bicycling, etc.

When we don’t move, our bodies can lose their endurance pretty quickly. According to healthline.com, our cardio endurance can start to decrease after just a few days of sitting still. Our muscles will start to lose strength after 2-3 weeks. Along with this, we find ourselves with decreased energy, a brain that is less focused, and emotions that seem to run wild. Our self-confidence often plummets and we begin to separate ourselves from the things and the people that we love.

This is why it is so important to find ways throughout our day to add movement.

Doing any kind of movement, has the ability to help improve the symptoms of depression, anxiety, seasonal affected disorder (SAD), chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and a multitude of other diseases. It can help boost our immune system, making us much less likely to catch whatever bug is going around at the moment. It helps us feel better about ourselves and about the things we deal with day in and day out. It makes us more likely to be happier, healthier people in general.

I resist the urge at this point, to call movement exercise, mainly because, for some people, they have such a negative view of the word exercise.

They see exercise as doing something that punishes their bodies when they eat too much, or when they want to fit into certain clothing. They ride the roller coaster of eating too much, feeling bad about themselves, and then punishing their bodies at the gym. Some also believe that exercise has to be something that they don’t enjoy, or they aren’t doing it right.

Maybe their intentions started out as good ones, to get in better shape and to live a healthier lifestyle, but somewhere along the way they started beating themselves up for not following a stringent diet or for not doing the amount of exercise that they feel is appropriate.

Another reason that people tend to feel negatively about the word exercise is because, they see what others are doing and they go do it too, even though they secretly hate every minute of it.

What we forget, is that everyone is different. We are all built differently and we enjoy different things.

Man playing in the ocean waves
This may not look fun to some, but he loves it.

Find the movement that YOU enjoy. Try taking a Tai Chi or Qigong class, a dance class, Pilates, yoga, or whatever is interesting to you. If you’re not into group classes try finding a video on YouTube. Go for a jog or a run. Take your kayak or stand up paddle board (or rent one) and paddle around the water for a little while. Go swimming. Find a playground and play like you used to when you were a kid.

Man swinging on a swing set
Woman sliding down a slide

If you live near a light house, go climb the stairs and see the beautiful views. Anything that gets you up and moving.

Lighthouse steps

Make peace with the word exercise.

All of these things will not only benefit you physically and mentally, they will also help you to live in the present moment. When you’re moving your body, you can focus on what you’re doing and take your mind off of what needs to be done or what has been done. You live in the present moment or you fall over (in yoga), fall in (kayaking or on a SUP), or completely lose your place (in Tai Chi or dancing). In finding what you love to do, what feels good to you and your body, you will open up those creative channels. The more that you do what you love to do, the less stress you will feel.

The movement that you enjoy can change.

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” – Henry Bergson

One other thing that is worth noting here, you don’t have to do the same exercise, the same form of movement, every single day, or the same exercise forever.

Some people try to set a routine for themselves and then they force themselves to stick to it, even when they get tired of it. If having a routine, doing the same thing, works for you, great! Keep doing it. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with feeling the need to mix things up. Walk or jog one day, dance the next, play tennis, swim, do yoga, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, as long as you’re making the effort to do something. If you get bored doing the same thing over and over again, figure out what you want to do each day, and do that.

If you have been doing one type of exercise for awhile and you’re bored with it now, or you’re just not feeling it anymore, change it up.

For several years I tried to do yoga. I searched for a good teacher that taught actual beginner classes. A lot of people say beginner, but they go straight from step one to step five with no stops in between. I finally found Yoga with Adriene and I loved her videos. I really got to where I enjoyed doing yoga and I did it as often as I could. Recently though, I’m just not feeling it. Nothing against yoga as a practice. I still think it is a great form of meditation, exercise, and all of the other benefits that go along with it. I still highly recommend it for those who are drawn to it. But for some reason my body no longer enjoys doing yoga. It’s not just the exercise it’s the movements.

For a while I kept trying to force myself to do yoga. I kept telling myself that I was just being lazy; or that I was just in a funk. In the process of all of this I hurt my elbow and couldn’t do any of the poses that involved putting pressure on my arms (which is most of them).

As a result of this I began doing more Tai Chi and Qigong, and I discovered that I really enjoy it. As I explored what was going on within my body, I started to realize that Yoga just isn’t for me anymore. That’s not to say that I will never do it again, I might. Right now, my body just doesn’t enjoy that type of movement. So, I’m making every effort to respect what my body tells me and to move in ways that I actually enjoy.  

The other side to this coin is that we need to make time to move off and on throughout the day, not just when we’re exercising.

Stepping away from the grind of the day, even for 5 minutes, will serve to give your thinking mind a break. When we’ve been working really hard on a task for a long time, we get absorbed in our own little worlds. Taking a walk, standing up and stretching, or doing some shoulder rolls, snaps us out of that little world.

Sometimes changing our body position is enough to get our thoughts flowing again. If you’ve been sitting for a while, trying to work on something, and you’re feeling stuck, get up and move around a little. Changing your perspective on what you’re doing can help as well. If you have the ability, changing your location all together is a benefit. If you’ve been sitting in one chair, typing for a while, move. Move to a different desk, one with a higher or lower chair. The difference in where we sit, changes how we sit, and helps us not to get stuck in one position both physically and mentally.

I try to get up and move around at least once an hour when I’m working on something that requires me to sit for long periods of time. I do arm circles, march in place, do a few Qigong or Tai Chi movements, walk around, or do something that I call the washing machine.

I learned it from the Yoga with Adriene video, “15 Minute Yoga for When You’re Stuck” at about minute 8:40. She calls it “Knocking on Heavens Door”. My husband and I both do this movement a lot. The more you relax, the better it feels. You can swing as little or as much as you want to. This is a great stress reliever, stretch for your back and digestive system, and a good way to clear out stagnant thoughts and energy.

Similar to this movement is Shelton Qigong’s “Tossing the Stone”. This one has all of the same benefits as the above move, it’s just done a little differently.

One of these movements may resonate with you a little more strongly, or you can switch it up and do whichever one feels good in the moment.

They may feel silly at first, but once you relax into the movement you will find yourself doing it more and more. (It’s also helpful to feel silly occasionally; it moves us out of our comfort zone just a little.)

Set a timer if you need to, or an alarm on your phone.

If you’re like me you can get engrossed in what you’re doing to the point that you don’t realize how much time has passed. This is actually not a bad thing. It means that you’re “in the flow”. The not so good part is that, if you’re not careful, you can go hours without moving around. When you finally do get up, you are stiff and things may be hurting. It takes a little while to get your joints loosened up again. It’s like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz right after he gets oiled up.

To combat this, set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour. When the alarm sounds, get up and move for a few minutes. Get the blood flowing again, and then you can get back to it feeling refreshed.

Give your body what it is craving and find movement that you enjoy.

Try doing some form of movement for at least 5-10 minutes a day. Once you find what you enjoy you can add more time to that and get the recommended daily value of exercise. You can try something different every day, or, if you already know what you love, make time to do it.  

In whatever way you choose, find movement. Even if it’s just dancing around your kitchen for 5 minutes while your dinner cooks in the microwave.