This article is written by fellow Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine Graduate and Physical Therapy student, Kai Leathers, Asheville, NC.
In my freshman philosophy class, I remember learning that I must always define my terms. So what do I mean by a “sustainable movement practice”?
Sustainable is a word that is thrown around a lot lately, but what does it actually mean? It doesn’t just mean happy chickens and ethically-sourced ingredients. Sustainable is simply the quality of something that will last, something that can be maintained for a long time.
Movement is just what it sounds like, deliberately moving your whole body. Why did I not say exercise? While exercise is certainly important, I am talking about something more fundamental than exercise. A sustainable movement practice will be the foundation for whatever you do, whether it is formal exercise or just the way you move through the world in your job or at home.
Preferably this is something you will do habitually, and that is where the practice part comes in. This practice involves being mindful of how your body feels, really paying attention, and continually refining the movements.
So what we are talking about here is a way to develop a better relationship with our bodies, and a lifestyle based around movement. Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to mindfulness meditation as a way of “tuning your instrument before taking it out on the road” - that instrument being your mind. This movement practice is the same thing, except that instead of tuning your mind, you are tuning your body. You are tuning and adjusting your body to maintain its use. If you want to continue doing the things you love for as long as possible, I believe it is imperative to have a sustainable movement practice.
I have come up with three principles to follow in order to develop such a practice:
1) move often
2) move through a full range of motion
3) pick an achievable amount of time.
1. MOVE OFTEN
Our bodies are made to move, and when they don’t, things go wrong. Many of our chronic diseases can be caused or exacerbated by too little movement - a sedentary lifestyle. Therefore, these diseases can be prevented or mediated by adopting a more active lifestyle. When most people think of exercise or an “active lifestyle” they may think they have to pick up jogging, or start lifting weights. While those would be great additions to your daily routine, that is not what I mean when I say be more active. It would even be too simple to say, “Sit less”, because it is not THAT we sit, but HOW we sit that causes so much dysfunction.
Too often, people tend to focus on their formal exercise practice - their time spent in the gym or in yoga class - but then they neglect all their other waking hours. What is more important is the cumulative amount of time that you engage in low level activity - how you sit, stand, and what you do for work, and how you spend your free time.
This is one of the most important concepts to remember: Our bodies get used to whatever position we put them in most often.
Think about how often you bend forward to pick something up or how often your head hangs down and forward to look at your phone or computer. The more often you repeat a movement pattern, the more efficient your nervous system and muscles get at carrying out that movement.
Now, think about all the different ways you can move your body right now, in whatever situation you find yourself in. Look up, look down. Look over your shoulder. Reach overhead. Bend backward. Twist. Stand on one leg. March in place. Roll on the floor.
When we move our bodies, rotate and twist our limbs and breathe, blood is channeled to the places where it normally flows less efficiently. Your joints (where a bone meets another bone) inherently get very poor circulation, but when we move, we lubricate those joints and feed them nutrients. Movement nourishes your joints and the lymphatic fluid gets circulated and helps with your immune system and when you breathe you pump fluid in and out of the discs in between your spinal column. So the more often you move, the better.
2. THROUGH A FULL RANGE OF MOTION
Each one of your joints, such as your elbow or your shoulder, has a certain range of motion that it is designed for. As babies and kids, our range of motion is at its fullest capacity. As we get older, our muscles become short and tight or long and weak, as they adapt to the environmental stresses we most frequently expose them to. This length-tension relationship between muscle groups has a huge effect on the way your joints function.
Everyone has heard the phrase, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is absolutely true of your joint range of motion. Very few adults can drop into a deep squat with their butt close to their heels and still keep their heels on the floor. This is because they stopped doing this motion. We were all capable of doing it as a child, but years of sitting in chairs and couches caused us to lose this ability. The same holds true for other joints and movements. Fortunately you can regain much of your range of motion and maintain what range you already have.
3. PICK A TIME
So much about behavior change is developing good habits. In order to develop a new habit, you need consistency. I find that setting a ten minute timer is a good way to start. Ten minutes a day may not seem like much, but once you develop a daily practice, you will probably notice that your body starts to feel better. Oftentimes, ten minutes turns into twenty minutes, because moving feels good! You will be surprised at how quickly ten minutes goes by.
It is easy to overlook the seemingly small things that we do each day and believe that they are unimportant. Many people often have this mindset about their formal exercise practice. They think, “If I can’t do my 45- minute workout today then I might as well not exercise at all.” From my hours spent around patients in physical therapy and seeing my father recover from a spinal injury over the course of three years, I have learned that every minute and every activity adds up to something bigger.
4. TRY THIS
Set a 10 minute timer and just move your body through a full range of motion. Be creative with it, and don’t worry too much about that voice in your head saying, “Am I doing this right?” Emphasize moving your body in all directions and different planes of motion. Twist. Reach. Roll. Slow down. Notice the miracle of how you can move any part of your body just by your brain telling it to. Nobody taught you how to walk, your body just knew how to do it. We take it for granted every day. See your body for the work of art that it is. Explore the movements with curiosity.
Check out the video below for a few ideas of what I include in my practice and post questions in the comment section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eileen Schaeffer & Amy Wright
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