Build a Healthy Movement Practice

A movement practice is different from a typical exercise or fitness routine. Success with a movement practice comes from an understanding of the basic principles. Much of the messaging thrown at us by the fitness industry is a detriment to our health in many ways. Our mission is to change the thought patterns around movement to encourage a sense of body awareness and promote body positivity.

We recommend some level of movement practice for everyone, but realize that this might not be for everyone at the time they are first introduced to it. By being mindful, learning how to study yourself, and avoiding perfection you set yourself up for success. It is important to start to understand and apply these concepts while learning to explore body alignment and corrective exercise. As we will discuss, many of these concepts overlap and build on each other.

Mindfulness

The first a most important principle of movement is mindfulness. Much of the mindfulness has left our modern view of movement. We tend to think “no pain, no gain” but the opposite is true of a movement practice.

Nothing is meant to be forced and the idea is NOT to strain your body into certain positions. This is where mindfulness comes in. For example, you might be focused on stretching your calf, but are you straining your neck or holding your breath to achieve a better stretch? Focusing so much on one area of the body that we lose the sense of what is going on elsewhere defeats the purpose of corrective exercise. This is an art that times time, patience, and awareness.

Self Study and Learning

We encourage using mindfulness as a method of self-study. Learning how to observe and study your movement is one of the most valuable skills you can have in learning to proactive about your health. Studying yourself involves a certain level of awareness, as discussed above.

When we encourage people to study their movement, the goal is not perfection. Movement and alignment are highly variable between individuals, not so easily defined as “right” and “wrong” movement. The goal is to have an understanding that your body adapts to how it is used and that if you are wanting to create change, start observing your typical movement and work toward adding more variety. This process starts with mindfulness.

We highly recommend using a mirror, particularly as you start learning, for visual feedback. Over time however, we do not encourage dependence on the mirror because this is not practical in real life. You cannot travel with a mirror in front of you everywhere you go in order to constantly check your alignment. Instead, the mirror is a tool meant to be used to help you develop a sense of body awareness and over time decreasing dependence on visual feedback. We also recommend taking notes on what you are learning or what you are noticing with your own body. Keeping written documentation supplements the learning process.

Add Alignment in Layers

Alignment points and how they relate to movement can be quite complex. You can turn one exercise into 50 different exercises by adding layers of multiple alignment points. For example, you can focus on your foot, knee, hip, or torso alignment during a calf stretch. Or you can focus on just one of those points. Tweaking a little bit of each will change the stretch entirely. Our approach is to start by focusing on just one point and add others in later, which is where mindfulness becomes essential. The movement becomes complicated quickly if you try to adjust all of the alignment points at the same time.

Goal is Not Perfection

As stated above, we use alignment points as a reference system. NOT to encourage perfection at all times. The goal of a movement practice is to utilize body awareness to improve your quality life. Mistakes are an unavoidable part of the process and also provide the most valuable learning.

Many of us shy away from activities we don’t get right within the first few tries. The art of a movement practice is to identify those areas in which you are having difficulty and spend more time with them. In this way we foster a growth mindset when it comes to our health. When you find an exercise that is difficult, it is an indicator to you that those muscles are not moving well due to weakness or tightness. In all of life, most of us want to spend time on activities we are already good at because it makes us feel good. However, there is so much more potential for learning and improvement by spending time with activities we do not feel confident with.

Fitness Mindset

One of the most difficult aspects of our work is to undo the typical fitness mindset the exercise industry promotes. You gain so much more from a mindful practice than by blindly jumping on an Eliptical for 30 minutes while watching television. But the exercise industry tells us we need to get our cardio in and how this is accomplished really does not matter. This leads to people walking into our office feeling broken and confused because they thought they were doing the “right” things when it comes to exercise.

We have been told if we are not straining ourselves or “feeling the burn” then we aren’t doing fitness right. This is not the mindset of a healthy movement practice. If you find you are grunting, making faces, or holding your breath to achieve a certain body position, this is the time to back off. We spend more time trying to undo this thought process than anything else. A movement practice involves being kind and patient with your body.

However, this is not to say a movement practice is easy. Simple exercises done mindfully are meant to be challenging.

Consistency is Key

Consistency of a movement practice is essential. Your body adapts to how you move most frequently, so the more time you spend with your movement practice the greater the benefits. The idea is to use the corrective exercises to incorporate them into larger movements. By using your new found strength and mobility throughout the day, you eliminate the need for the corrective exercises.

The way to do this is to practice with consistency. Consistency will look different for everyone. Some may be able to devote an hour per day and others may have 10 minutes. Any amount of time you can fit in will benefit you, and the more time the better.

We frequently make recommendations on how to incorporate corrective exercise or different movement patterns into your day the way it is already structured, thereby avoiding the need for setting aside massive amounts of time devoted strictly to exercise. Corrective exercise and more movement are easy to incorporate into your work, time spent on house chores, and time spent with your family. However, we avoid giving a specific prescription for amount of time to spend on your practice. That is entirely up to you.

It takes time and patience to start to change the mindset around movement, exercise, and fitness habits but that above principles will help you get so much more out of your practice. The most important principle to remember however is just start moving! How can you get started today?

 

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