I’ve always loved to dance. My mom says that at age 3, I asked to take dance lessons. And at my first dance recital – performing at a nursing home – my skirt fell off in the middle of the performance, and I kept on dancing (the show must go on!). Dancing is something that has always brought me joy.
Lately, I’ve been reliving that joy through my daughter. Within the last year, everything has become a stage for her and there’s always a reason to dance. I enrolled her in dance class and when she’s on the dance floor, she blossoms like a flower. As I’ve been watching her, I’ve been thinking. She doesn’t dance so she gets in a few more steps toward her daily step goal. She doesn’t dance because she needs to get in some cardio for the week. She doesn’t dance so that the number on the scale decreases. She dances (and plays on the playground, swims in the pool, goes rock climbing, etc.) because it’s fun and brings her joy.
I’ve been asking myself, ‘When and why did exercise stop being so fun?’
For me, during that transition from high school/college to adulthood, opportunities to play in organized sports, take dance classes, etc., decreased. Something called a job started sucking up more time than I’d ever given to anything and it was easy to lose the connection to the activities I once loved. That teenage and young adulthood time period was also when the goal of movement changed from doing something enjoyable/fun to doing something to burn calories and stay fit. It was a time when I often read entertainment and “health” magazines that promoted X exercise to burn the most calories and fat, and X meal plan from this celebrity, and X class to have toned arms for summer tank tops, and blah blah blah. Soon, exercise felt like something I HAD to do for X minutes a day, X days a week at X intensity level. The motivation for exercise became fear.
Don’t get me wrong, there are elements of exercise I enjoy and I always feel better after exercising, BUT I’ve realized a lot of my motivation for exercise has been aesthetics – the way my body looks and/or fits into clothes – and because I feel like I should do certain workouts. The past few years, I’ve been trying to focus on the functional benefits of exercise rather than the aesthetic. One thing I try to say in my classes is that we are working our bodies so that we can go out and live the type of life we want to live. I want to be able to travel and explore the world until I’m an old, old lady, and I know I can’t do that if my body deteriorates. I want to be able to play with and pick up my grandchildren some day, and I know I can’t do that if I don’t take care of my body. I want my body to be as pain free as possible, and I know a lot of pain can be traced to not using certain muscles/joints and then other muscles/joints having to work overtime to compensate (and then those muscles start hurting). I want to live without anxiety and stress (as much as I can control) and I know exercise is a way to manage anxiety/stress. There is no doubt exercise is important and an amazing tool to improve our lives, but exercise doesn’t have to be penance for eating; it doesn’t have to be painful to “count”; it doesn’t have to be fueled by fear.
Focusing on the functional benefits of exercise has been a good first step, but honestly, it’s not enough for me. Around the same time Hadley started taking dance and I was admiring her love for it, my therapist plus another body love coach told me about Joyful Movement. It’s the idea of moving your body in a way that brings about joy. Meredith at Generousplan.com says, “Joyful movement is an approach to physical activity that emphasizes finding pleasure in the ways we move our bodies. It is in direct opposition to the philosophies that advise going to the gym to “earn” food or pay penance for “unhealthy” food we’ve already eaten. The joyful movement philosophy acknowledges that regular activity is known to be one of the primary contributors to good health and well-being, and it’s proponents believe that the best way to encourage people to move regularly is for them to find movement that is pleasurable and fun.” An article from Refinery29 says joyful movement is “a workout philosophy that focuses on physical activities and ways of moving your body that make you happy. Some researchers have defined joyful movement as activity that encourages a positive experience, body awareness, and challenges. Other body positive advocates and intuitive eating experts have simply labeled it the opposite of exercising for weight loss. But “joyful movement” means something different to everyone, because we all have different things that bring us joy.”
The first thing that pops into my head when I think about joyful movement is the thing I loved as a child: dance. As I’ve thought about joyful movement more, though, other activities have come to mind. I was in Hawaii earlier this year – shortly after I learned about joyful movement – and was spending time in the pool with my family. I was starting to feel this self pressure to swim laps. I felt like I SHOULD spend at least 30 minutes swimming laps in the pool to get a workout in for the day. But then I was pulled back to the concept of joyful movement, and I allowed myself to just play in the pool, swimming around like a mermaid. I was already moving, diving under water, bouncing around with my child, and it was fun. I could just enjoy that movement instead of forcing myself to do what I thought I “should.”
The beauty of joyful movement is there isn’t a right way to do it. Swimming laps may be joyful for some people and there are times I like swimming laps. But back in Hawaii, I didn’t WANT to swim laps. I just felt an obligation to do it. The key is asking yourself and your body what it wants to do and/or what it needs. It’s re-connecting with our bodies and listening to ourselves versus listening to what some magazine, fitness expert or training plan says you must do. It’s trusting in yourself.
As part of the Body Love Blueprint – a body love course I took – we explored what joyful movement could like for each of us. Our instructor gave us 50 types of movement – ranging from cycling to belly dancing to laser tag – and asked us which ones sparked a bit of joy. Going through that exercise made me EXCITED to move. I was really inspired to to make joyful movement a bigger part of my life.
Flash forward a few months to today, and I’m devoting the month of June to joyful movement.
Joyful Movement June
Because I teach group exercise, the majority of my workouts consist of teaching classes and/or making up the classes I’m going to teach. It’s not exercising for ME. I knew if I wanted to make joyful movement a priority, I needed to have time to really focus on it. So, for the month of June, I’m teaching fewer classes than normal to allow myself the time and mental space to pursue joyful movement. I’ve been brainstorming activities that sound fun. Things like hip hop classes, roller skating, hiking, going on a walk while listening to a podcast, rock climbing and kickboxing. I’m scheduling some of these activities in my calendar, but I’m also leaving myself the flexibility to decide on a whim what sounds good and fun at that particular moment. This is probably the most excited I’ve been to move in a long time. And THAT is something to be joyful about!
I invite you to join the joyful movement journey real time on Instagram (@belovedbody) and encourage you to think about what types of movement spark joy in your life. How can you pursue that movement? It might take a little more coordination (e.g., finding a place to do X activity, getting a babysitter so you can do X activity, etc.), but my guess is it will be worth it.
I’ll be back at the end of June to chat about how the month went. I’d love to hear about your joyful movements, too! Comment below or share on Instagram using #joyfulmovement and tag @belovedbody to join in the joyful movement journey.
Happy Joyful Movement June!