I always thought I hated the gym because something was wrong with me. I was broken, lazy, not athletic. As I’ve grown to learn more about the body and what we need to feel inside ourselves, I now understand my aversion (other than the obvious body shame and diet culture that happens there).
When we exercise to check a box, to complete a certain amount of time, to “do what we have to do”, we check out. The image I’m thinking is younger me, on a machine, watching TV and trying to pretend I wasn’t working out.
When our connection to movement isn’t about being inside of ourselves, completing that stress response cycle, and even having fun (yes it’s possible) we leave. Movement is a gift. For some people it very well may be running or lifting at the gym and if that’s you that’s wonderful IF YOU’RE INSIDE YOURSELF. Not necessarily for every single moment, but at least sometimes.
When we push through because we “should” we don’t get to connect with our bodies. We ignore our bodies signals of “stop this is boring” or even sometimes “stop this place is triggering”.
80 percent of our experience is processed through the body.
The things we read in books about healing, our sessions with healers/therapists, changes we are making in our lives, can be physically integrated through a practice of connecting with our bodies in a loving, mindful, and intentional way.
This can literally be breathing. Or self massage. Or stretching. It doesn’t have to be the biggest thing. But when we care for our physical selves, when we inhabit our bodies, when we gain mastery over something (a new skill, a new breath pattern, a new pose) or feel something click into place inside of us, or connect more deeply with ourselves, we heal.
Some ideas for trauma informed, body positive or neutral, and healing movement:
1. Do something with a friend! Activate that ventral vagal nerve that lights up when we are engaging with someone! Compliment each other. Ask beforehand what kind of compliments each of you wants, do they need to be only about skill or about a particular part of the body? Invite each other to connect with your bodies, together, i.e. “stay with that breath”, “we are here to have fun”, “you are so strong”.
2. Take a body positive or at least body neutral class! Still ventral vagal activation through having a teacher and classmates. Here, there are no phones, no screens, but plenty of connection! Call a studio ahead of time and ask about the language they use and the purpose of the class, i.e “Hello! Is this class going to use any language about weight loss?”, “Are there hands on adjustments in this class?”, “if this teacher body positive, neutral, trauma informed?”. When we advocate for our needs we also heal. If the class isn’t for you and is triggering, walk out. That in itself is deeply healing.
3.Get outside! Take a walk/run/hike. Breathe in fresh air. Connect with the earth which also lights up that ventral vagal!
4. Stay at home if it’s your safe place and check out someone like Yoga with Adriene whose on YouTube FOR FREE and very warm & positive.
5. Work with a body/queer/trauma informed trainer. There are so many wonderful folks out there who want to help you get strong, connect with yourself, and who won’t resort to body negative language to motivate you. People like Q GRIT Fitness & Decolonizing Fitness
6. Breathwork! Breathing is movement. When we breathe, we healing. When we breathe through discomfort, we build lung capacity and muscle in places that can help us re-pattern our body to breathe more deeply on a regular basis. Check out Jennifer Patternson’s new book The Power of Breathwork or a breathwork class near you.
7. Pick up Thomas Hanna’s book Somatics. It is full of low impact movement exercises to help you connect with your body and undo the every day physical trauma of living in this world. In no way is it about exercise or losing weight.
And again, whatever that practice is needs to be affirming for your body, as it is, today. Having any other frame can release stress hormones and totally defeat the purpose of this important practice. You deserve to be inside your body in a way that is healing and exciting, not stress producing or shaming.