What is 'healthy'?
So I've been thinking, what is 'health'? And I mean physical biomedical health; we could talk forever about mental health, financial health, relationship health. Those are topics for upcoming blogs, as well as the topic of flexibility vs. mobility...
I am finding I am in a paradox of sorts. I grew up and went to school learning that exercise was what made our bodies healthy. That idea of exercise, at the time, was one of 'no pain, no gain'. I now know that that is not healthy, though I still find myself on my bike, pushing hard, riding longer and further to reach what? I talk to people about the classes I run, the rides I go on with my bike; I am finding that almost everyone has the same idea of exercise, not surprising really if you grew up while Jane Fonda was making aerobics videos... On top of that physical therapies, that are supposed to help us get healthy, are often full of boring exercises filled with counting reps and sets added in with a limiting language of 'stabilize your core' and my biggest pet peeve: 'protect your back'. Ok, I could continue down this path, but I'll save that one for another blog post.
I was on my bike the other night thinking about what I've been reading in Katy Bowman's book: 'Move Your DNA'. Now I haven't read even 1/3 of it yet but it has me thinking and re-assessing what the idea of me being healthy actually would mean. She talks about how movement is the key to health, not having to go to the gym and lift weights, not having to go to boot camp trainings and push until we want to puke... I think about these ideas and recall the last 30 years that I've been in the gym, practicing Ashtanga yoga, and training to compete in Skeleton. Where have my injuries, my pain, come from? What would my back be like if I truly gave up my competitive idea of exercise and just moved, each day, throughout the day. Not to a level of pushing past the 'edge', but to a level of building stability, allowing for mobility. Not pushing to 'get my foot behind my head' in a yoga class, but just moving, flowing through my day, playing with my kids, maybe cleaning the house, crawling up and down the stairs instead of walking, squatting to get the laundry from the dryer; the ideas are endless.
So here is my conundrum: I love skiing the steeps, I love going fast on my bike. Mentally I still see that person riding in front of me as a rabbit I have to chase down. I know, immature. I'll admit, I have a little competitive side. I also love the feeling of knowing I am getting stronger, though as I write that I think about how I use Strava on my bike and I look at those results and sections that I can work harder, go faster... I am thinking I need to cancel that app.
Now... I've traveled to Amsterdam a few times for Critical Alignment Yoga Therapy and of course riding an Amsterdam bike everywhere I couldn't help but get up to a good cadence, pass people, and fly through the streets; but I was sweating everywhere! All day! If I lived there, I'd need a shower 3x a day. So after a few days I consciously tried to take it slow, it wasn't easy, but I did it. There was one morning that my 20 min ride turned into 2 hours because of getting lost, an easy thing to do in Amsterdam when you no longer have your phone (it died). That is a long ride on an Amsterdam bike... but you know what... after that, no back pain for about a week. So now, do I buy an Amsterdam bike and once a week head out for a meandering 2 hour ride? Or maybe, just maybe, start taking things a little easier in terms of my competitive side. Enjoy the slower bike rides with friends... hit up the cruiser runs at the ski hills (though I don't know if I'm ready for that much of a change yet). That is a tough one, those are the things that I live for. So currently I'm looking at balance, how many, and what, activities can I enjoy to build a level of stability and mobility that allows me to enjoy, safely, the intensity of my favorite outdoor pursuits. I think I'm getting better at it.
Another aspect of out perception of exercise & health comes from the language we use. With regards to 'no pain, no gain'... I talk to quite a few people who say they can't workout. I've always said/thought 'bullshit' (pardon my language... sometimes I swear) because there are so many ways that you can workout. At the same time, they likely have the same idea of exercise that I've had. The pushing, the sweating, the mental anguish of starting a fitness program and half way through thinking 'what am I doing here?'. That along with all of the social media videos of amazing people who have worked hard at being able to do what they do, it can make the idea of starting an exercise program insurmountable. Now this isn't to say these videos shouldn't be posted, they can also inspire and can help people with chronic pain issues (more on that one in another blog as well). I have a few videos up on YouTube... you'll see in one of them that I'm working on rolling to the side. This is a video that looks easy... I mean we likely roll over in bed numerous times a night. At the same time, can you breakdown the movement itself and try to keep your lower body relaxed and just use your upper body to initiate and finish the roll? Now can you do it by just using your legs? Sure, it seems like a dull movement, but if you try it you'll see just how juicy the move makes your body feel and, realistically, if you break it down and move slowly you'll start to recognize the connections through the body that help you build stability & mobility. Back to my point... we need to change our language, our perception of the demand of 'exercise'. I think, for the majority of people, if we can change the focus to movement, play, exploration, and setting goals for activities that we enjoy, we'll all start to live healthier lives... physically and mentally.
So here is the new paradigm I'd like to help create.
Exercise needs a change of language. Something that Gert van Leeuwen
has emphasized for years in Critical Alignment Yoga Therapy Training. Can we tone things down to a healthy mental talk, certainly no more 'no pain, no gain'. What movements and activities do we need to do for us to life pain free, Dr. free, pill free, injection free...? Something realistic that we can fit into our day, something we enjoy. If that means you crawl up the stairs in your house, work on your squats to get the laundry done, maybe even put a log in your kitchen so you have to step up, over and off while you make dinner (seriously I have a friend who had that brilliant idea). This is a small effort, many times a day, or as MovNat calls it: 'Movement Snacks'. Todd Hargrove lists three tips for creating a balanced fitness plan in his awesome book (another blog topic), 'Playing with Movement':
1. Move around a lot at a slow easy pace.
2. Frequently move with some urgency or pick up something heavy.
3. Every once in a while, move like your life depends on it.
Remember, everyone is different. Things I love doing are likely not the same things that you love doing. My body moves differently than yours in some ways. What would exercise look like for you if this is how you thought about health? What activities would you do tomorrow if your body felt amazingly healthy? What goals would you set if you had someone holding you accountable? While you think about it... I'm going to cancel my Strava account. Maybe...
Now what? Have a few minutes before you have to leave the house, do some hand-foot crawling. Want to do a warm up or cool down? Would you like to move your body before getting to a chore? While you brush your teeth, do some squats... let me know how you feel after a week. Maybe take a walk around the block in your barefeet. Sit on the floor and do some work or fold laundry. All these little movements add up through the day. Need a little help re-learning these movement skills? Look for a Natural Movement class.
And if you'd like to talk more about movement, health, how to work with your injuries or persistent pain, message me. Let's work on a plan.