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The Balance of Movement

 

Sarah Stapleton

After nearly two years of intermittent lockdowns and movement restrictions, physical activity is increasingly recognized as essential to wellbeing. Those who remained active throughout the pandemic reported more positive mental health and fewer psychological problems.1 It is, however, always possible to have too much of a good thing. If performed without listening to one’s body, physical activity can become counterproductive to wellbeing.2  Striking a balance between movement and rest, activity and nourishment, and work and play are crucial for maintaining a balanced mental state. Each person will cultivate their own balance based upon their physical needs and unique personal circumstances; however, the following steps may serve as steppingstones towards finding your own movement balance.

Find Your Starting Point

Like any new activity, each person will begin at a unique starting point based upon their history, experiences, and context. If you have always had a strong relationship with your body and movement, your first steps towards balance may be different than someone brand new to listening to their body. Consider your history with mental and physical wellness. Have you experienced injuries that may impact your ability to perform certain movements safely? What is your inner dialogue like when you engage in movement, and is it more of an inner critic than a true open dialogue? How has your relationship with food been throughout your life? What activities have brought you joy throughout your life, and what activities have brought you anxiety? These are just a few of the initial questions that may support you in your self-discovery journey. 

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The Shame Society

From the time we enter kindergarten, society and structures dictate how and when we are allowed to move, nourish, and care for our bodies.3  Throughout fourteen years of school, we are assigned specific periods in which we can nap, eat, use the bathroom, and move our bodies. We are disciplined when we do not sit still enough. We are called distracting if we move our bodies outside of a pre-determined recess period, which may or may not align with the times at which our bodies feel the need to move. This creates a culture of ignoring our bodily signals and experiencing shame when we do listen to our bodies. These ideals are perpetuated in the workplace, where productivity is frequently valued above all else and workers are often expected to ignore their physical needs in service of a company. In other words, if you struggle to have a healthy relationship with your body, it is not your fault; almost everyone has been conditioned to ignore their physical needs from age four! Luckily, there are things that can be done to rekindle that relationship with yourself, and it all starts with listening. 

Listen to Your Body

The antidote to societally fostered shame is tuning back in with ourselves to discover what we and our bodies truly need. No matter what stage of the movement journey you are at, listening to your body is always critical. If this practice is new to you, start small and simple. Check in with your body at regular intervals to see if you feel tired, thirsty, hungry, restless, or have any other physical cues that need addressing. Once you recognize a need that your body has, listen. Have a snack, take a break, or engage in some movement if your body is craving it. Teaching your body that you will listen when it sends you a signal is a great way to start building a stronger relationship and healthier communication between you and your body. As you continue to develop this relationship, your body will gradually send you more nuanced signals, and your relationship can continue to grow. You might realize that you need more of a particular food group to feel satisfied one day or notice that your mind is busy and a fifteen-minute meditation session would do you some good. Your body has inherent wisdom, and it can be an incredible partner on your wellness journey if you allow it to do so. 

Movement Versus Exercise

Throughout this article, the term “movement” is often used in place of the more conventional word for physical activity, “exercise.” When cultivating a healthier relationship with activity, it is important to recognize that not all forms of movement need to be exercise, particularly for those who have experienced stigma, judgment, or other harmful associations with the concept of exercise. Recalling the value of simple movement can be life-changing for those who feel limited by the idea of exercise and is no less valuable for the body. Changing positions, such as standing from sitting, engages different parts of the body. Cleaning the house or dancing to your favourite songs are not often viewed as workouts, but they are acts that require stamina, exertion, and muscular engagement to perform. From boosting physical fitness to releasing endorphins, these everyday activities can be a wonderful compliment to wellbeing at any stage of fitness and are a great way to become re-acquainted with the things your body can do! As you listen to your body, become curious about which movements bring you joy. This could be anything from swimming to weightlifting to dancing in the kitchen. As you learn which movements support your wellbeing, take the time to engage in them. 

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Unlearning unhealthy feelings and practices around movement may take time, patience, and enormous self-compassion to overcome. These things, too, are opportunities to foster gentleness and self-compassion as your body learns that it is safe to express its needs. As you take the next steps on your wellness journey, don’t forget to include all your body’s needs, from movement to nourishment to rest. As a whole and multi-dimensional person, these are the keys to find your truly balanced wellbeing. 

Edited by Jeffrey Lynham & Curtis D'Hollander

References

 1. Kaur, H., Singh, T., Arya, Y. K., & Mittal, S. (2020). Physical Fitness and exercise during the covid-19 pandemic: A qualitative enquiry. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.590172 

2. Segura-García, C., Ammendolia, A., Procopio, L., Papaianni, M. C., Sinopoli, F., Bianco, C., De Fazio, P., & Capranica, L. (2010). Body uneasiness, eating disorders, and muscle dysmorphia in individuals who overexercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(11), 3098–3104. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181d0a575 

3. Satter, E. (2008). Nutrition education in the schools - Ellyn Satter Institute. Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Secrets-Appendix-H-School-Nutr-Ed.pdf