Body Positive Movement

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Listen to your body.
Listen to your body.
Listen to your body.

Go to a yoga class, and it’s almost guaranteed that you will hear this phrase repeated many times over. Teachers will say it while guiding you into a pose, when giving options for rest, or when they see someone grunting, turning beet red, and forcing themselves into a pose. When I first began yoga, I was that grunting, beet red person.

My first yoga class was the first time anyone had ever told me to “listen to my body.” Coming from a background of competitive athletics, any type of fitness meant pushing my body to the limit. I actually attended that first class because as a college athlete, we were given a choice – three lifting sessions a week, or two lifting sessions plus one yoga class. Of course I chose the yoga class, thinking it would be all breath work and stretching.

However, I quickly learned that many of the yoga asanas (postures) were quite challenging. And to me, a challenge meant pushing myself to the limit. I silently competed with all of the other yogis in the room. Thus, the grunting and beet red face. When the teacher said “Listen to your body,” my brain simply overruled my body. There was no chance for my body to even chime in with a simple “Can we please get some water?” The pressure I put on myself was too loud. Instead of backing off, I just nodded from a sweaty, uncomfortable position. “Yes, yes,” I thought, “I am definitely listening to my body.”

But here is the deal. When I first started practicing yoga, I had to understand that my body’s wisdom and my brain’s cognitions were separate. My brain wanted to jump right into handstand, but my body was begging for child’s pose.

Yoga means “yoke” or “union.” Part of this union is a union between the mind and body. Yoga is a practice of listening to your body and moving in a way that serves her. Isn’t this a delicious thought? A wonderful idea to fantasize about? Mind and body working in perfect unison. Our body gives us a message, and we easily respond.

For many of us, this idea seems like a blur. “Does my body even have a voice?” you may wonder. Yes, she does. But in order to first hear this voice, we must understand the body and mind separately. All of those crazy voices of force and worth are simply your brain’s cognitions of fear. That is not your body talking. Your body does not put any value on one pose over the other. She moves in celebration and joy. She moves because it feels good. Sometimes it feels good to go for a run. Sometimes it feels good to take rest.

When we first begin the practice of body positive movement, we must first learn to slow down and listen. We must first understand that our body has a message to give us. This takes practice and patience. It means that we must reframe the way that we look at exercise, from actions that change our bodies to actions that celebrate our bodies. After years of being abandoned and forced, our body might be slow to speak up. Those first messages will be mere whispers. So, how do we begin to hear those whispers?

1. Slow down. Choose movement that is slow and careful. Move with the intention of listening to your body through the entire class. Often times, this means that even if you’ve been doing an exercise for years, you go to the beginner class rather than the advanced class. Gentle yoga and pilates are great places to start.

2. Practice trial and error. Listening to our bodies takes time. So perhaps you feel that your body wants a break, and as you take the break, you realize it was in fact your mind that was restless and antsy. You check in with your body and find that she is energized and ready to go! Simply rejoin the movement and breathe. Every decision is a learning opportunity.

3. Choose movement that you enjoy doing. This is probably the single most important part of body positive movement.  Ask yourself, “If exercise did nothing to change my body, what would I enjoy doing?” If you’ve been exercising for weight control for many years, this question may feel daunting. And it’s alright if nothing comes to mind. This might mean that for a week or two, you abandon exercise. That is ok. Eventually, your body will crave the other benefits of exercise: stress relief, better sleep quality, more energy (just to name a few). Choose movements that support your body for those reasons rather than weight loss. For me, this meant taking a break from running. When I began listening to my body, I learned that I actually hated running. Instead, I found that I loved walking outside and listening to a podcast. Eventually, my body began to crave a bit of running. Now, when I feel more energized on my walks, I introduce some running intervals.

4. Understand that your movement needs will change. Some weeks, you will feel lower energy and need gentle exercise. Other weeks, you may be filled with energy and enjoy going to a spin or dance class. Respect your body’s needs as they ebb and flow. Place no worth on the type of exercise that you choose.

5. Find an exercise studio that supports body positive movement. This can be challenging. There are so many teachers and studios out there that encourage you to “Get bikini ready!” or “Push yourself so you can eat that cupcake!” I’ve got news for you – you are bikini ready right now. Go put on a bikini, you are ready. Also, you can enjoy a cupcake whenever the hell you want to, extra set of crunches or not. Try out different studios to find a teacher that makes you feel safe and respected.

Like intuitive eating, intuitive movement takes practice.

Listen to you body.
Listen to your body.
Listen to your body.

Because when we start listening and respecting our body’s messages, a union of body, mind, and soul begins. This is the essence of healing.

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If you are ready to dive into intuitive movement and feel that you need some support, check out my coaching page! I would love to walk along side you on this journey.

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