Movement is Medicine

Tessa Burns MartinYoga Therapy

I have pondered the question “What does movement mean to me?” many times in my life and my answer to that has changed a lot.  I often thought that moving meant I had to be pushed to my maximum.  I was sweaty and hot in a group class with someone else giving me intense directions.  Then I shifted to the opposite where movement was slower paced, in a quiet room with dim lights and soft music practicing on my own or with a gentle instructor. These two ends of the spectrum were not satisfying long term.  I knew I needed to do something but it was hard to find a balance and trust myself in a world that kept flipping from saying I had to do more to be better or that I needed to slow down and do less.

I spent a lot of time learning and discovering the best way to keep moving, build resiliency and decrease my body aches and pain.  When we work with the intention to be active, build resiliency, and decrease pain, movement does become medicine. Moving our bodies in ease and connecting that movement to our breath allows our brain to settle, the nervous system to relax, our bodies to heal and to change the intensity of our day-to-day life experience.

Movement works for our health and healing when it incorporates ease.  If we move forcefully or in a rigid way we actually build layer upon layer of tension instead of strength.   For many of us, myself included, the first step is slowing down, feeling what is happening in the body and building the internal awareness of movement.  It is important to understand where we are forcing and compensating so we can gradually build in to more complex movement patterns and still connect to ease and good form.

Understanding how our breath moves through the body is important as we try to drop in to ease.  Take one minute, sit quietly, and notice the breath.  Don’t change anything about it but notice; does it feel smooth or rigid, shallow or deep, forced or soft? Have you ever paid attention to how often you hold your breath, especially while exuding force?  In order to calm and center, release muscle tension, slow our heart rate and reduce anger and frustration we need to soften and connect with our breath through an easy inhale that fills to the diaphragm and an easy, complete exhale.  Basically we need to breath longer, smoother and softer.

In order to create a sense of freedom in your body, your thoughts, your awareness you need to connect to the present moment without reacting to it.  We build that ability through awareness practices like mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness meditation has many benefits and is more accessible than ever.  Meditation teaches our brains to pay attention and works to decrease the length of our emotional reactions so they don’t follow us around all day, week, or month long.  With a consistent meditation practice we can reduce our anxiety, reduce distractions and increase our ability to pay attention.

As we figure out how to calm our mind, move our bodies and our breathe with ease we can expand the focus to flexibility and stability.  Many individuals have an imbalance of one or the other.  We often focus intently on only one aspect of movement and disregard another.  When this happens we lack balance and resiliency.  We ask our bodies to do a multitude of things throughout our day and in order to do them well we need to include flexibility and strength into our movement practices. To do this I recommend yoga practices combined with separate resistant training work. Neither of these need to be complicated but this particular approach covers the whole body, including breath, in an easy way.

All yoga is not the same and knowing what you need is important.  It may be helpful to begin in a one on one setting.  This helps build a solid foundation with connection to components of body, breath and mind before you dive in to a group class.   It is valuable to know where you should start and find something that works for you. Myself, and the other practitioners at Serenity Now Wellness can provide some assistance if you are not sure where to begin.

There is not one size fits all for movement especially when we consider it as medicine.   Every body is different.  This doesn’t mean we can’t participate in activities with communities that we love to be a part of.  It does mean we should have a fine tuned awareness of how our body, breath and mind will respond to whatever activity we choose.

Lori Shackleton