Most of us have discovered the benefits of physical movement by now. Regular, sustained, physical activity of every variety energizes us, and more energy for living our daily lives helps us to feel joy. Loving relationships, conscious connection with the natural world, meditation, prayer, and gratitude also bring us joy, but without some activity that requires the full in-breath/out-breath that is the hallmark of an active life for humans on Planet Earth, joy is often an elusive visitor.
Joy, at least in its less ephemeral aspects, might be described as the resilience and optimism to see us through whatever comes. Troubled family members, unhappy work situations, cultural and global shocks, and personal setbacks are a few of the challenges joy’s buoyancy navigates with grace. Without joy’s supportive arms around us, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by our hyper-speeding, technology driven, perfectionist culture.
Despite evidence linking regular physical movement to a greater sense of joyful wellness, many of us resist beginning or sticking with physical activities. Frequently, we blame a lack of time for avoiding a movement practice. We have no time, we say, to walk to increase our sense of well being, and yet we have no shortage of time to worry about our health and the challenges of health care should disaster strike.
It is true that the demands on our time are numerous. However, by shifting our attention to a broader view of what we are doing when we establish a movement practice, we often find it much easier to make room for our chosen activities. For example, the road I live on is beautiful in every season and in all the kinds of weather we’re experiencing these days. Only four houses dot its hilly eight-tenths of a mile meander through a mixed hardwood forest of hemlock, birch, maple, tamarack, cedars, and ash. As well as its few human inhabitants, this forest shelters turkeys, deer, coyotes, moose, bear, and, on rare occasions, elusive lynx and the legendary Vermont mountain lion, the Catamount. Raccoons, squirrels, skunks, possums, and jack rabbits make their homes in forest trees and understory, and woodpeckers, mourning doves, cedar wax wings, owls, finches, jays, and robins enchant us with their songs at various times of the day and night. Because of its teeming life, it is not so much a road I walk or run on as a magnificent Being I travel with. It is my home and breathing its air as I acknowledge its beauty and mystery is one of the reasons why I feel good most of the time.
Paying attention to the teeming diversity of this environment is restorative whether I walk, run, or stand beneath a tree, my mouth agape in wonder. Over time, I have learned to trust myself to know what I need on any particular day and as I age, my sense of trust in discerning my physical needs deepens. Whether I feel frisky and decide to increase my aerobic capacity with a few sprints of crazy fast (for me) running, or whether I feel the need to simply breathe in and out with the harmonies all around me as I saunter along, going out every day does my body and my soul such good I can’t imagine not having time to do it.
Since I’ve begun paying attention to all the relationships I enjoy when I go out for my morning movement practice, I have come to understand the natural world as my exercise companion, my spiritual teacher, my emotional comfort, and my resting place from thinking. Whatever my day brings, my time in and with this environment increases my ability to address whatever comes with a greater sense of competence. This time outside also brings me indescribable joy.
With gym advertisements featuring the most sculpted men and women and latest equipment, it’s easy to see a movement practice as some kind of package deal that doesn’t count unless we have Spandex to flash and an hour and a half to work our abs to perfection. Gyms can be great, but they can also lead to disasters when we replace our intuitive, body-centric guidance with an intellectual fitness goal. Mirrors abound in gyms, and during each visit we are forced to scrutinize our bodies and compare them to those of professional fitness models. In such an environment, it is easy to ignore our intuitions regarding our personal needs and push ourselves to the point of injury.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we live in a climate of unattainable fitness and its evil twin, winning at all costs. When we get caught up in this profit-driven ad campaign, it is easy to abandon self trust and discernment and treat the body as if it were a machine. Self trust is our essential protection against the constant bombardment of messages that cast aging as a disease to be cured, often at the corporate gym. Advertising efforts to make us fear the natural process that turns an acorn into an oak might be laughable were it not for their incredible success at encouraging us to strive to achieve the impossible: permanent youth.
We cannot make this contemporary objectification of our physical reality go away, but we can learn to trust our ability to discover our own unique versions of wellness, whatever they may be. We can also discover beauty and harmony to move with, whether we live in urban, suburban, or rural environments. The discovery of this enveloping beauty and harmony adds to our joy.
Whatever we do to embrace our physicality, doing it with an awareness of the complexities of our environment helps us to become more faithful to a movement practice. If that environment is the gym because the smell of sweat and the sheen of muscle feed our reservoirs of joy, then the corporate advertisers haven’t robbed us of our authentic connection to ourselves. Still, we shouldn’t allow a gym membership to cancel out our membership within our natural and cityscape environments. The best gym is the one outside our doors, and the basic equipment for true fitness is ever-present – in our senses, our hearts, our minds, and our spirits. We have only to trust our inner guidance to know what we need to move – and live – with joy.
If you have an experience of deepening trust and increasing joy in relation to your movement practice, please share it on the Winter Blooms blog. We all need to be reminded of these little miracles. They are the heart of inspirational aging.
Until next week when I’ll write about how EFT can add to the joy of a movement practice