-Rediscovering the Joy of Movement
The joy of spontaneous play, jumping, running, hopscotching, tree climbing and puddle splashing shouldn’t be relegated only to the domain of childhood.
In this fourth and last module, we’ll be talking about movement and how it relates to our mental health and well-being. So far, we have discussed the nature of chronic stress, PTS and the nervous system (module one), how sleep works and why sleep matters (module two), and the ways nutrition and eating habits support your journey toward self-improvement (module three). Now, in module four, we are turning our attention toward movement and exercise and exploring how physical activity can be both a catalyst and a vehicle for healing and transformation.
As a species, humans are designed to move. Historically, our survival hinged on our ability to move and make accurate predictions. Our brains scan our surroundings and make predictions about the future, calculating what to do next. As babies we go from learning to hold our heads up and grasp things, to crawling, standing, and eventually learning to walk and run as toddlers. Movement becomes even more important as we live out our elderly years. One research study cited how walking speed correlates with longevity for those 65 years and over (1). Movement, then, is intrinsically embedded into our human experience (2).
Here’s a rundown of what to expect to learn more about from this module:
In the second lesson, we will focus on exercise and mental health and how movement can act as a powerful “drug” for depression. We’ll talk about a natural, biological compound called “myokines” and why they’re nicknamed “hope molecules.” We will read about retired Navy SEAL David Goggins, and dive into his story of overcoming obstacles and how movement played a key role in his transformation. We finish by exploring how being hopeful has a powerful effect in helping us to keep going toward challenging goals.
In lesson three, Anya will review various types of exercise and how they may relate to chronic stress and PTS. She’ll explore questions such as: Should I sprint? Lift weights? Do cardio? What’s chronic cardio? She’ll inform us on the components of a good exercise program, what types of movements are best, and how long to exercise and why.
In lesson four, we’ll talk about slowing down our otherwise hectic schedules and how to engage with movement (and ourselves!) more mindfully, and why that’s a good idea. We’ll also talk about stress as a barrier to change, and how sometimes a good, scientifically validated solution to feeling overwhelmed is to just go outside and spend time in nature.
In lesson five, we zoom out and take a panoramic view. We talk about the destructiveness of loneliness, and how it’s worse for our health than smoking and being obese. We talk about movement and how to use exercising with others as a way to deepen our connections and foster community. And we finish with some touching stories about coming together.
Finally, in lesson six, we’ll talk about movement as a daily dose of preventative medicine. We’ll cover easy strategies to get in more movement throughout the day and how to use research on behavior change to form this new habit. We’ll also cover tools to overcome barriers that get in the way of our best intentions to follow through on our goals. And lastly, how it may be a matter of getting your home environment set up the right way.
As we begin this journey together, exploring how movement and exercise affect our wellbeing, I invite you to do the following four-step experiment with me for today’s assignment:
Think back to when you were a kid and bring to mind a happy memory of you playing outside, or a time when you were enjoying being active. Describe the scene to yourself; what were you doing? Where? With whom? What emotions or feelings were present? How did you feel about yourself and your body?
As you explore these questions, see if you can embody what it was like to be that kid who enjoyed moving and playing. Notice, as you recall the experience, how your body reacts in the present moment, in real-time, right now. Do you find yourself smiling? Do your muscles feel more energized? There is no right or wrong way of doing this, take as much time as you need to explore this. The more you can do this, the better.
Now that you’ve gotten a feel for how this works, let’s dig a little deeper.
Bring to mind a time when you had to overcome a physical challenge or a time when you reached a physical or athletic goal. Get into the nitty-gritty detail of it. What was the process like? Were you by yourself or with others? How did your body feel? What sounds, images, smells, and tastes were present? When did you know you would reach your goal? What was it like when you weren’t sure you were going to make it? What helped you persevere? What obstacles did you have to overcome? Heat? Pain? Dehydration? How did you feel about yourself and your body when you overcame that challenge or reached your goal? How did you celebrate your win – both with yourself and with others?
Take your time. Get into the details as much as you can – the sights, the smells, tastes, sounds, feelings, and sensations. Immerse yourself in the experience and allow yourself to feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally reached your goal or overcame that challenge.
Now we’re going to focus on the present self.
Take a few moments to look at yourself and where you’re at today, in this very moment. If you were looking at yourself in the mirror, what would you see? How would you describe the image staring back at you? Are you where you want to be in life? Is this the person you aspired to become? What’s missing? If you could change something about yourself and your life, what would that be? Would it be more or less of something? Would you change anything about yourself or your current life?
Take whatever time you need to sit with and reflect on the answers that surface. Remember, there is no right or wrong here, you are being accountable to yourself. When you’re ready, hold on to those answers you’re getting and we’ll use them in the next step.
Recall either, 1) imagining yourself overcoming a physical challenge or reaching a goal or, 2) going back to that happy childhood memory of you being active and playing. Take a few moments to bring forward those happy feelings and that sense of accomplishment and strength that you had and felt. Reflect on the kind of person you were back then.
Holding onto this recollection, take another look at yourself in the mirror. In step three, you took a look at yourself in the present time. What if you were to repeat this step from the viewpoint of that person who was enjoying playing or that person who was achieving something? How would you look at yourself differently? What kind of things would you believe you were capable of doing, of having, of achieving? How would your future look different? If you were more of that person that could accomplish things and do things, how would you act, think, behave differently? How would others see you?
Take as much time as you need. When you’re done, you may want to journal about your experience or take some time to reflect back on this exercise.
By bringing forward those feelings of playfulness when we were younger and that sense of accomplishment about what we are capable of doing, we can reshape our relationship to our present and future selves. We may discover new passions or rediscover old ones. We may venture down new paths with more confidence, knowing we can rely on our bodies to carry us forward and that we can reach out for support from those around us.
Movement is a way to engage with ourselves and the world around us. Exercise and movement offer us the opportunity to create community and can give us the courage to explore new frontiers.
So give it a try. Keep exploring different types of movements and notice what you learn about yourself and the world you thought you knew.
Let’s do this!
Go play! What outdoor games did you enjoy when you were young? How can you recreate that enjoyment today?
Buy some frisbees for disc golf. Try Slammo, pickleball, racketball, or just a casual game of catch with your kids (if applicable).
Play is important. If you don’t have any equipment to go play, start brainstorming. Having unstructured fun in your life should not be optional.