Does Exercise Stress You Out? Try an Intuitive Movement Practice
We all know exercise is good for us. It helps prevent health problems like cancer, diabetes, and heart conditions. It boosts mood and immunity, improves skin, and it’s probably the number-one way to extend our lifespans.
Part of the reason exercise is so beneficial is because it helps release stress. But what if exercise itself is stressful?
Exercise can cause stress when there’s pressure around it. For example, when we show up to fitness classes to lose weight or strengthen or change the way our bodies work in some way, we can get frustrated when we don’t see results quickly. What if we have chronic pain conditions or mobility issues that make it hard to access exercise? What if we just…really hate exercising?
Enter Intuitive Movement
One possible solution could be an intuitive movement practice. This is more a meditation than an “exercise” and explores motion in ways that are gentle and deeply intuitive.
Think about how babies engage in physical movement. Babies don’t need to go to the gym. They get plenty of exercise by playing and exploring their bodies and their environment. They just move. When we do an intuitive movement practice, we can bring ourselves into the mindset of a baby. We’re simply getting to know what our bodies can do, how we can move them, and what they want to do.
Intuitive movement really has no goal, except for allowing the body to take over for a little while. It can mean stillness, slow movement, or fast movement. It can be done to music or in silence. We don’t know what it’s going to look like until we start doing it.
How to Start an Intuitive Movement Practice
The practice is simple enough. I like to start lying on my back on a soft, wide surface, such as a large area rug or carpeted floor. Then I tap into my breath, the inhale an expansion and the exhale a contraction. That can look like anything: it can look like lying still and breathing, curling in and out of a ball, or wiggling the fingers. There’s really no right or wrong way to do it.
Most importantly, we ask the body what it wants to do. The body can express emotions, it can shake, it can shift in and out of stillness. Our bodies often know exactly what they need. They know how to complete the stress cycle, expel stress hormones, and shift back into the parasympathetic nervous system state, where we rest and digest, balance our hormones, repair wounds, and support our nervous system. This is the state of health that exercise is supposed to help us access.
We often think exercising for our health means going for runs every single day. But there are plenty of reasons we might not want to do that. Of course, any exercise we can do is helpful and healthy, and letting go of the pressure to do it a certain way can go a long way toward not hating it so much. Importantly, intuitive movement is about trusting our bodies, listening to our emotional and physical selves, and attuning more deeply to what we need and feel moment to moment.
- by Julie Peters