When we work to strengthen our emotional health, we engage with our internal experience through therapy and mindfulness. We also want to engage with our physical bodies. Movement can provide physical and emotional relief, as well as help us feel more grounded within ourselves.
Our minds and bodies are undoubtedly connected. When we feel sad, we may feel sluggish or achy. Stressed? Some common physical symptoms are muscle tension, constricted breathing, or a racing heart. If we carry around a painful history, we may feel exhausted, tense, and have a tendency toward panic attacks.
Because our bodies can become a painful representation of our internal distress, we may feel the need to push them away. We may ignore how we feel and what we can intuitively sense we need. This is a natural response to feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to move forward.
My goal with this post is not to overwhelm, lecture, or push you into exercising. Instead, I'd like us to simply reflect on ways that connecting with your body in a new, healthy way may simply feel good to you.
We all know that exercise is good for us. We are aware of the health benefits and have likely already heard about the endorphins that are released in response to exercise.
We also know that it is much easier said than done to get moving. Establishing a new routine is never easy. And, if we are struggling with depression, anxiety, or a traumatic history, it may be particularly difficult. If we're depressed, finding the energy to get started may seem impossible. When we're anxious the focus may be on all of the details involved in getting started, which may quickly snowball into a single insurmountable task. If we have a history of trauma, our relationships with our bodies may be complicated and engaging with it in a new way may feel overwhelming.
Feeling emotionally overwhelmed can also lead to us questioning, "What's the point?" We feel crappy now, we have in the past, and we expect that we will again in the future.
The point is that even if we feel terrible, even if we feel helpless and hopeless, we still exist. We are our thoughts and we are our bodies. Moving is a way of connecting with ourselves. We are saying that we care enough about ourselves to try.
So, let's start by thinking on a small scale. Would a walk around the block feel manageable? If so, let's start right there. Take a walk around the block and try to notice the sensations in your body as you engage your leg muscles, as your feet touch the ground, as your arms swing by your side. What does your breath feel like? What do you see, hear, or smell in your environment?
If that is the level of activity that currently feels right for you, then that is exactly what you should do. Try to take a walk each day. No pressure to do more than that. Simply do what feels good for you right now.
Interested in moving further? Consider a gentle yoga practice that draws your attention to your breath and the sensations in your muscles as you move into and hold various poses. The thought of a public class overwhelm you? YouTube is full of yoga channels that you can stream. I often recommend the Yoga with Adriene channel. She has many videos to choose from, including ones specifically for anxiety and depression that vary in length from 6 to 45+ minutes.
Feeling like you could use something more intense? Again, consider turning to YouTube for aerobic videos. I sometimes recommend Pop Sugar because their videos range from just a few minutes to a full hour workout. They also usually have a countdown clock so you know exactly how much longer you have to go. Warning: these folks have a lot of pep.
If issues around trauma and dissociation are more of a concern, consider working with a trauma focused yoga instructor. These classes are quite different from a traditional yoga class. The focus is on noticing sensations, connecting to your breath, and finding freedom and connection within your body. Your instructor is aware of issues that may come up as a result of having a trauma history and is right there with you if you need them. There are a number of trauma focused practitioners in LA.
The bottom line is there is no one right way to bring movement into your life. For some people a sports team is a great way to socialize and connect. For others closing your eyes, breathing deeply and stretching mindfully can feel meaningful.
You should, of course, check in with your doctor about starting a new exercise plan, especially if you have a history of physical injuries.
Reach out if you'd like to talk more about movement or other ways of feeling connected to yourself.