Why is it that moving our bodies has come so much synonymous with struggle? I look around and see friends pounding themselves into the treadmill or grunting their way through cross fit. It’s not that I am opposed to such things, believe me I love to get my sweat on. Really that should be obvious as for most of my career I was standing in heated studios while cueing my students to do chaturanga after chaturanga. I have written often about how my hard-core movement practices and preferences were really an extension of my disordered mindset towards my body. And while I could write and write about how making sure I got a good sweat was usually a compensation for what I ate the night before, or as a way to manipulate the shape of myself, there is a different observation I wish to make. A fear that I wish to express:
I am afraid that because movement has become so tied to struggle and feeling powerful, we have lost one of it’s most beautiful offerings, its ability to soothe us.
This morning I woke up with a jumbled brain. I sat and meditated. I read a chapter of my book. I sat and stared at the quiet darkness. Normally I relish these moments, creeping around not wanting to wake my daughter in hopes to get as much alone time as possible. This morning however, I found myself peeking into her room to see if perhaps she was already stirring, itching for the distraction. I knew that if I was going to get anything done today after drop-off, that I was going to need to move my body.
I thought about heading to the gym and lifting weights. I did that recently and walked around like the odd duck that I am in a gym, pretending to know what to do. I did enjoy the power that came from feeling my muscles burn, a clear sign that remnants of my old self are still there. Only this time, I didn’t hop on the treadmill and run six miles at warp speed and come back the next day to do it all over again. That is the part of me that has died, or rather healed. I find that I am no longer in search of that kind of power over myself, hard as I may try to find the enthusiasm for it from time to time. It’s as if my mind is asking my body “are you sure we are absolutely done with these harsher and more regimented ways of moving us around?” to which my body promptly responds, usually in the form of protest the next day, “YES, we’re done”. That then gets followed up by the old voice saying “yeah, but if you just did it more you’d feel differently about it”. Thus proceeds a couple of days where I think that I will make a plan and hop on board that train of promises and this time will be the time that I do what I say I will do. And that’s where I step in and remind myself that actually, that entire dialogue is disordered mindset still testing the waters. I take a deep breath, forgive myself and let it go. To me, the real measure of being recovered is not that we eradicate the thoughts and conversation that we have with ourselves, but really how we respond to it. I may have conversations with myself like this come and go all my life, but the major difference in this moment is how I guide myself through them.
I then thought I would do one of my favorite hip-hop dance videos. If you have followed me on Instagram, you will know I have an affinity for hip-hop dancing, specifically with the youtuber Mike Peele. He and his movement brings me joy. I say him because if you have ever taken a class from Mike Peele, you will know all about what he wonderfully refers to as “The Peele Effect”. And while he always beautifully explains that it really isn’t about him at all but how we all carry our feelings forward from our experience that is the real effect in action, he truly is a magic ingredient in the mixture. But the truth is my body wasn’t quite up for the dance today. Another measure of recovery is whether or not we actually listen to ourselves. It would have been quite easy in another time to talk myself into it, despite the clear signal I was already getting. There is an art to knowing yourself and knowing the difference between actual complacency and when something just isn’t right. I knew today, even with my love for him, that Mike Peele was’t my avenue.
I settled on a walk. The truth is that walking has become my movement of choice these days. Ever since the pandemic required us all to slow down and I moved from a city where walking was more of an obligation than a choice, I have found myself drawn to it in a new way. There is a little trail near my parents house where you can pretend you aren’t in the suburbs for a moment and end up in a gloriously wooded spot. This has become somewhat of a sacred practice to me, but I will admit that as of late, a bit habitualized. Today I knew I needed something different, a different scene mostly. It would seem funny to many who don’t live at the beach that I wouldn’t have thought right away about walking the beach. The thing is that after a while of living anywhere for a certain amount of time, the novelty wears off. I’ve become quite comfortable being one of those people who lives at the beach, but never goes. It makes me sad to even type it and yet I will say what I often say to my coaching clients which is that “sometimes you have to lose yourself (or something) in order to find it again”. I unknowingly let the fact that I live near the ocean be lost for a minute, I will now knowingly return.
So I dropped my daughter off at school and I headed to the beach. The moment I stepped onto the sand and saw the sun still low in the sky, I felt my entire body ease. Then there was the walking. One step in front of the other is not as simple on sand. The ground is unlevel and there are tiny valleys and mountains on the earth. I decided to find the firmest sand, which was down by the water. At first the water washed over my feet and I felt rebellious for getting the bottoms of my yoga pants wet. I walked on and on like that, feeling the juxtaposition of the rough sand and the slippery water. I would pass by people with dogs and people fishing, though there were few of us out there. As I walked on, the very question that prompted this post rang through my mind. Have we so tied movement to struggle that we are missing out on one of its greatest gifts? Here I was simply walking. My body was in motion, no less so than when I dance really, just differently. But walking, one foot in front of the other, one of the very first things we work on as humans, is so gentle in nature and yet so profound in its offering. As I walked on, I saw fish jump and dolphins swim. I noticed the sun sparkling on the water and felt the shift in the time of day as it rose a little higher.
I thought about how our theme this month in eMOTION is gentleness and how this moment was the very epitome of how movement can be gentle and yet gentle does not mean any less powerful. We often misuse that word power, in my opinion, when it comes to movement. We think it means the only kind of power that most of us are used to, which is power over ourselves and our bodies. We completely miss out on the other three kinds which are power with, to and within ourselves. We mistake successfully powering over ourselves for some kind of inner power, when usually in order to get our bodies to even be willing participants, we have to shut down the power within. It is one of the greatest tragedies of the yoga world, watching it gravitate towards the more patriarchal well-known power, when it offered such a beautiful alternative once upon a time. I am just now at almost 40 coming to deeply appreciate the yoga of the women who came before me, who I used to know of their presence but think it just wasn’t for me. It was always for me, I just didn’t know it yet.
But I do now. At least as I walk the beach, I think that I do. I am grateful for this call to invite more gentle movement into my life and to create the opportunity for others to do the same. I am even getting so bold as to dramatically shift my entire business towards it. Just yesterday I spent the day emailing therapists who work with people in ED recovery and promoted myself as a safe movement option. It only feels bold in contrast to the years of promoting myself as a powerful and much more athletic yogi, before finding this side of movement for myself. And so I share this fear with you all, not to sound an alarm, but to hopefully create a bit of a stir. To prompt you to ask the question, how am I using my movement? Am I using it to punish myself? To fortify the mindset that where there is no pain there is no gain? I won’t be so brazen as to say that it is completely disordered, that’s not my place, but I will say that it simply is not always true. Do you use the lack of movement to punish yourself in a way that is riddled with guilt and shame? Because to go for a simple walk isn’t enough or like the days when you would go from pilates to running a half marathon? That you “should” be able to do more?
I baptized the day by walking into the water. My body breathed even more relief at the sensation of its coolness. My nervous system was soothed by the gentle rocking of the waves. I lay back and let myself be cradled. Fish jumped all around me and as I floated in this earthly womb I thought about how gentleness is really our birthright. Yes we have to move through the trauma of being born, go out into the world and often have our asses handed to us by life. But at the end of it all, we still come to an ultimate stillness no matter how hard we pushed and how much grit we had.
All I am saying is, why wait until death to be gentle with ourselves? Why does the movement we impart on our bodies have to be as harsh as the rest of the world is around us? Couldn’t we perhaps consider that we are meant to, while we consciously can, do everything in our power to create and recreate a kind of pleasurable calm through movement?
These walks are my new rebellion. This is where I defy the mindset that in order to find peace we first must suffer the consequences of self inflicted abuse. As I went to walk back to shore, I found myself turning around one last time to remind myself of this. I let my hands dance through the dark green water and I breathed. It doesn’t have to be any more than this. This is enough.
If you like what you read, would you do me a favor and share it with just one other person?
is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.