Try sitting up straight right now. How long can you hold that for? Get tired after a while?
By now it should go without being said that movement or exercise are important to overall health. But exercise is more than about just getting your heart rate up. It’s about your relationship with your body.
My relationship with exercise
As a long distance runner, it took me awhile to figure out a healthy relationship with my body, sometimes ignoring what my body was telling me. In fact, it cost me in running the Boston Marathon one year, as I was about 80% improved from an overuse injury, when at mile 21 or so, my left leg and knee (Iliotibial [IT] band) locked up, forcing me to hobble the last miles to the finish line and take an extended recovery period.
This can be said of other endeavors I’ve partaken in. Whether it be hiking, biking, surfing, tennis, snow skiing, etc., my mental perseverance has pushed the edge of the body’s ability to respond, leading me to learn from injuries. To name some, this has included achilles tendonitis, multiple lower/upper back pain and neck issues, shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist and finger problems, leg, foot and ankle conditions, trunk issues (strained oblique and intercostal muscles) and so on. In only two major bicycle accidents within 30 years of riding on my racing bike, I sustained a punctured lung, a hip fracture, broken ribs and multiple contusions and scrapes.
Now, I concertedly pay more attention to my body and am careful not to overextend myself. While I can’t prevent freak accidents or incidents hard to control, I’ve learned to:
- Listen to my body
- Be more aware of my surroundings and capabilities (especially as these change over time)
- Exercise and stretch prudently
- Take time to recover
- Eat well for my lifestyle/health
- Seek out holistic advice or treatment, as needed
This approach to more mindful movement and living has enabled me to heal well and continue in the most meaningful aspects of my active life with a greater sense of enjoyment and accomplishment. This also flows into a more positive attitude in all aspects of my life.
Your relationship with movement
You don’t have to be athletic to enjoy the benefits of mindful movement, I started out as a novice to all my activities and worked way up to desired levels. You can choose whatever healthy level you desire and, any way you cut the mustard, you’ll be glad of the outcomes if you stick with it.
Now, let’s talk some more about relationships with each of our bodies, so you don’t repeat my mistakes and best benefit by applied mindful movement.
And what makes for a good relationship? At least two things:
- Listening and communication
Respect your body
Yes, exercising or moving is a good way to respect your body. But rest days can be equally important and respectful. Learn about some signs that you might need a rest day. Remember, rest doesn’t have to mean “doing nothing.” You can take the rest day to stretch your muscles.
The image above shows how we use foam rollers to provide relief to tight muscles and the connective tissue between muscles.
Listen and communicate with your body
What was your body telling you when you sat up straight? Did your neck hurt? Were your shoulders tight? Was it easy? This posture exercise is a great example of how you can get the conversation started with your body.
Mindful movement—like yoga and tai chi—originated as ways to meditate with movement. And meditation’s focus on the mind-body connection is important in holistic medicine. The slow, physically taxing static postures of these practices allow time to listen to the sensations happening in the muscles and communicate by adjusting the posture as needed.
But you don’t need to take it “slow” to have a good relationship. Apply the same principles when lifting or running—with each lift or each stride, focus on feeling which muscles are being used and what the sensation feels like. Keep going if it feels good, and change if it doesn’t. Not only will this help you get in better touch with your body, but it’s a great way to avoid injury or overuse.
Check in with your body, heal your pain
Finally, while mindful movement starts and ends with you, guidance and focused attention along the way can make all the difference. If you haven’t checked in with certain parts of your body in a long time, need treatment, or would like some healthy tips, acupuncture and related complementary therapies can be a great way to bring attention to a particular area in a gentle way that (unlike the gym) won’t leave you sore the next day.