This is a showdown between…
But, I won’t pretend to be impartial. I am an unabashed movement lover.
If you disagree and are a fan of exercise, don’t sulk or turn away. I dare you to comment and tell me why at the bottom.
If you think this comparison is unnecessary, I might agree.
If you get the value of both, power to you.
Here’s the rub for me.
It’s totally personal.
One, I hate exercise.
Two, I hate what it does to the vast majority of friends and family, being told they need to do it for their health and wellbeing.
The results are predictable and almost always painful to watch.
They either should on themselves while growing increasing guilty and paralyzed, unable to get started. To cope with the shame, they sink into their couch inhaling their favorite comfort food.
Bringing up the topic creates agony on their face and a desire to avoid discussing it or outright lying.
They put on a brave smile and push themselves to the gym, slavishly obeying “good advice”. They feel pumped for a few weeks and lose a few pounds, but, as night follows day, they run out of money for personal trainers and out of steam to keep up the momentum.
Gradually and quietly they shake off any regimes.
So, this is why I contrast these two ways of engaging our bodies side by side.
Maybe I have a weak will or am just lazy, but movement is inspiring to me. It is seductive and enticing.
When I first walked into a martial arts school to study movement, the promise of self-defence itself was the allure. Once I learned some basics to coordinate and to assert my space, I started to feel confident, spacious and more relaxed in my skin and around others.
Other powerful inspiration bubbled up, like curiosity (How else can I move?) and sense of progress and growth (I want to learn that move I never imagined I could do before!).
There are hundreds of popular excercize systems and thousands of variations.
Often the gurus swear by a particular way of moving.
Twist your ankle in more.
No, your hips have to be tucked in like that!
Excercise and repetitive “Katas” (forms in martial art) are designed to help us learn something in context but too often they train us in obedience and mindless conditioning, to be sheep, following our teacher and their system.
Meanwhile, learning to move skillfully through space is relevant to me in nearly every context.
Knowing how to weave in between people in a dense and fast-moving crowd…
… or whether it’s knowing how to maintain balance when on a moving train and you can’t hold onto a railing. I have no pic of that, but this guy below sure knows how to move with skill in confined spaces:
And hell, why limit ourselves to daily motion? Why not learn something more risky but liable to come in handy one day, such as ways to leap over and then land safely across a distance…
When I attempt to exercise, I compare. I know it doesn’t help, but I glance aside to see how the person on the other machine is doing. I fluctuate between feelings of envy and inadequacy or those of superiority and pride — depending on how my mind measures my performance up.
When I move, I do so out of personal satisfaction and with the world. I inhabit my own space, following my own rhythms yet the act of moving in space invites others to witness and join me.
I prefer to move with others. Our joy and learning is magnified.
I’ve already mentioned my hang up with patterns. Here’s another issue I have with canned exercise: though it can be re-assuring to fit into a mold, it also makes me feel like a robot, a cog in a machine.
When I move — even when it begins with a choreographed piece — I find variations and my own expression.
Movement itself is a language. It is a starting point from which I explore to find myself.
Excercise can give me a high — endorphins and the satisfaction of pushing myself, sweating and the relief of being done — tired in a good way. But, at the end of the day, it is something that we do to get a result.
But movement itself — in the beginning, middle and end — can be a source of joy.
In the words of Ido Portal, the world famous non-expert and proponent of movement as a way of life,
“I move because I can!”
No doubt, there is something satisfying from growing muscle and building yourself up. I’ve gained a lot of coordination and precision of movement from isolating and growing strength in different areas of my body.
But the benefits have natural limits.
This could not be any more obvious as when I injure myself or discover the emergence of chronic pain.
When faced with wrist and neck pain which started to get in the way of my enjoyment and functioning, I tried many different exercises recommended by physiotherapists, chiropractors and even a medical doctor who had some physical training.
None of them helped me to address the cause of the injuries. Some alleviated the symptoms enough to function. Others made the pain increase!
When I discovered The Feldenkrais Method, I was worried I would be disappointed. Though I teach Mindfulness and movement, the simplicity of this “movement exploration” applied towards physical injury made me skeptical.
I spent 10 minutes a day slowly rotating my injured wrist in natural ways. It was an awkward meditation practice, as my hand would shake and I felt out of control with it. But I was desperate and with nothing but time and hope left to lose.
To my surprise, I saw gradual fluidity and pain decrease day to day. After two weeks, I was able to do something I did not imagine — catching a ball rapidly thrown at me. If you knew me growing up, I sucked at ball sports. My hand-eye coordination was always clumsy (slow and inaccurate).
This minor miracle encouraged me years later to approach a re-occurring neck kink which chiropractors, massage therapists, and osteopaths failed to alleviate.
Slow and Mindful movements with contact and a bit or gentle resistance (not robotic motion) have eliminated all of the pain I had in my neck. But, again, I gained an extra benefit: an improvement in my posture.
I know that before and after pics are subjectively skewed, so below I show the difference between the body memory of how I used to hold myself and the posture that is becoming more natural for me these days.
My own experiments mirror the emerging science about posture coming out these days, especially on how it affects our mood and self-confidence.
When exercising, we primarily engage with the concrete world — metal weights, gravity, sweat, shower… rinse and repeat.
Movement has the potential to be transformative.
Bear with me.
It does sound a bit far fetched.
I don’t mean to go so far as the characters of the show The OA — where 5 movements help them escape captivity and enter alternate dimensions.
Though that does sound awesome in potential, I am talking about the real potency and power of movement as a process to transform the self.
Yes, Dance/Movement therapy is a real field backed by research and sound theory. It’s a field with much depth and versatility. My own experience involved looking at my existing movement patterns and limitations (particularly tightness in my shoulders and limited range in my hips).
Working within the safety of a group for a year, I was able to explore and practice new ways of moving to expand my repertoire of movement and how I related to the world.
Returning to my martial arts practice, I was able to get more power in my hips to throw partners and push with more strength. I was also better able to relax and blend with attacks.
But the way that my movements evolved made changes in my everyday life also.
I developed a more confident and authentic presence on stage — feeling more courageous to be myself in front of crowds.
Yet, the most profound shift came in gradually becoming less guarded around my chest area, less controlling and more able and willing to express love in intimate relationships.
That explains why my elder friend Carlynn Reed (74) is having so much fun being lifted off the ground (pic below)…
There is more and more widespread research on aging and movement. Yet, especially interesting to me is that studying people who live well past the average death (into their 90’s and 100’s) and who tend to die of natural causes. The places where such happy and healthy seniors live are called “Blue Zones”. Out of all of the factors associated with their longevity and good health, one key is staying engaged in a meaningful activity — not gym memberships, but doing something they love — daily.
Ok, so I’m hitting 43 in a few weeks. I don’t feel the need to worry — just yet — about dementia (though I forget more than I would like) or major physical deterioration.
But I look around and see aging hitting my cohort and I, already. When I move with other forty-year-olds, they often complain of a lot of injuries and pains. I’ve had my share but I notice more freedom and joy in my body. That’s not how I was when I was in my twenties — in and out of doctor’s offices, clumsy as a mule and full of worry in my frow.
Yes, there are ways to train to condition our bodies and learn to move freely. The folks at GMB taught me to blend intentional practice (which I refuse to call exercise — may just be psychological for me) and movement exploration.
Here is an example of how they tackle overcoming clumsiness through movement practice:
I hope you had as much fun reading this, as I did making it for you.
May you feel inspired to get up from your desk.
Here I am typing away the last few words.
Notice my frows of concentration.
Meanwhile, it’s sunny and beautiful outside. Birds are chirping a few feet away.
My body aches from sitting too long, yearning to move.
Here I go moving in a way my body just asked me to…
I hope you join me in moving in ways that bring you more pleasure and joy!
PS — If you felt I poo-pooed your passion for exercise, I hope you share why you might love that kind of movement below. You may not convince me, but I can respect your views!