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Joyful Movement VS Exercise - What's the Difference?

Movement is an essential component to a healthy life. The human body is designed to move in lots of dynamic ways, evidenced by the fact that movement does all sorts of good stuff for your body—lowers blood pressure and resting heart rate, improves mental function, releases endorphins, improves immune system function, and improves mobility and joint health (among many other things).

More than that though, movement is an essential part to our human experience. Think about children. When they play, they have no restriction or hesitation. They run, they jump, they climb, they explore. They’re experiencing their world through physical contact. They don’t move because they think it’s good for them. They move because it’s playtime!

As we age, we seem to forget how to engage in playful movement. We become responsible and cautious adults. Playgrounds are replaced with gym equipment. We exercise because we know we "should" and because "it's good for us." Many people exercise out of obligation, not by choice or desire to.

I used to be one of those people. I forced myself to go to the gym, despite thoroughly disliking my experience there. I have never found weight lifting fun or entertaining. In fact, I have never found gyms to be fun or entertaining, period.

I did it though, for years. It always felt like a chore, like something else I had to cross off on my to-do list for the day. I thought I had to work-out to “maintain my figure.” I approached fitness from a more superficial perspective. As I did my crunches, I would think, “This will make me have abs." As I did my kettle bell squats, I thought, "This will make my booty big.” Never once do I remember thinking, "Wow it's so fun to move my body like this!" Working out was a form of penance. I did it because I disliked my body the way it was. And, I did it because everyone else did it, and I thought that's just what responsible adults do.

I think many people have this experience. They work out because they think they have to, or to change their outward appearance, or to repent for bad eating habits. Which is unfortunate, because movement really can be an amazing exploration of your body and mind, but not if you come at it from this point of view. Yes, our bodies need to move. And yes, exercise can be really good for you. But if you’re doing it from a place of guilt, shame, or obligation, chances are you’re not getting the most out of your movement, and you're certainly not getting the most out of being human.

I no longer go to the gym. I don’t like it and I never have, and I’m perfectly fine with admitting that. I now practice joyful movement. I move my body in ways that make me feel happy, fulfilled, energized, and powerful. I practice yoga, I hike, and I dance (see picture to the right). Occasionally I like climbing on rocks or trying to climb a tree, just because it’s fun, and totally not a responsible adult thing to do.

I have stuck with these things because I enjoy them. I no longer think about how they make me look on the outside, I just focus on how they make me feel on the inside. I will tell you from personal experience, if you don’t enjoy your movement practice, you won’t stay with it. And if you’re coming from the guilt/shame/obligation mindset, this mindset in and of itself is not healthy because it comes from a place of self-dislike, or even self hatred.

Joyful movement is a form of self-love, and part of our experience being human. I believe movement should be more like play and less like work. And when practiced in this manner, it can be a truly beautiful experience. So by all means, if you love the gym and lifting weights, then stick with it! But if you’ve never felt joy at the gym, maybe it’s time to explore other ways to move.

Honestly now, I want to do my best to avoid being a boring, responsible adult in any way I can. I want to retain child-like play and exploration until my last breath. Practicing joyful movement is one way to do that.

So ask yourself, what if your movement was based in more play and exploration? What if movement came from a place of feeling good, not from a place of looking good? What if your movement practices brought you joy and happiness? How could that change things for you?

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