Part II: Mindful Movement
If you would have talked to me about mindful movement a few years ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes. Mindful movement? Really? Just sounded like an excuse to take it easy at the gym. This was also time where my workouts largely involved punching bags, burpees and sweating until literally I almost slid out of my car’s leather seats. I mean, if you weren’t throwing tires was it really a workout? I was also actively running and had for the first time in my life experienced the elusive runner’s high-the unicorn-often talked about but never actually seen.
Then one day, my neck broke-not really-but it felt like it. Turns out after years of wear and tear of club soccer (and I’m sure those burpees didn’t do me any favors) a bone spur had formed in one of my cervical vertebrae. The spur had decided to poke itself directly in a nerve root so every time I moved, I felt excruciating pain. Thank God for modern medicine, and after getting treatment, the pain subsided greatly and I was able to get my life back. However, movement HAD to be part of my life. While the pain had improved, movement was necessary to keep optimal range of motion.
Needless to say, throwing myself on the ground, punching a bag, running…all these things were now out of the question. Enter yoga. I had never entertained the idea of yoga, sure it looked cool, but there was no way I could get the workout I wanted from it, right? Fortunately, at the time, there was little else I could do so yoga became a staple in my life. Not only did it help my neck, I found I could get an amazing workout. I loved a good vinyasa flow where my heart would be pumping, my breath short and I would lay in corpse pose exhausted and satisfied. Sure the breathing was ok, the meditation piece was alright, but again, I was looking for that same exhaustion I experienced after my high intensity exercises. I loved the feeling I got after I nailed an arm-balance or killed it in crow pose, but I was still not really leaning into the mindful piece of it.
In my mid thirties, two events happened in pretty quick succession. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and within 6 months I was pregnant. However, when it happened, it didn’t phase me one bit. In fact, I was going to be that cool pregnant yogi doing sun salutations on the beach. People were going to envy my pregnancy glow and I would attribute it all to my zen-ness. Actually, the opposite happened…I went down and I went down hard. My autoimmune disease flared up and mixed with other complications my last yoga session happened at 20 weeks. While I had a perfectly healthy baby and got through it in one piece, it all left me pretty exhausted and drained. Even post-partum I was still struggling to get back to a “normal” state.
When I first started moving again, I was actually pretty disappointed. I couldn’t get in sync with my body. I joined a gym and did all the things the trainer told me. I got on the elliptical and kicked it into high gear, I lifted free weights while blaring dance music. I was going to get strong again! But I wasn’t. I actually found after a few weeks, I was dreading the gym. My body was more achey than strong, I was more fatigued than energized-I was not zen, I was tired all the way down to my bones.
Then one day, I listened to my body. I wandered into the gym and rather than heading towards the elliptical, I just went to the treadmill and I walked. Not a brisk walk, not a “I’ve got to make a mile in x minutes” walk. It was a leisurely walk where I just breathed. When I finished, I grabbed a yoga mat and just stretched and meditated. The next time, when I grabbed the mat, I actually felt like I had energy so I walked and flowed a little faster. I noticed I felt differently when I left the gym, I felt revitalized and connected, grounded even.
This is when it all clicked. This was mindful movement!! After years of working out, I finally figured it out and now there is no looking back. I no longer set expectations or a checklist of what I have to get done. Some days when I get on the treadmill or the yoga mat, I take it easy and some days I don’t. Some days I know, I’m going to focus on my physical health, and there are some days where I’m going to focus on my breathing and mental health. I now know there is no right or wrong-there is just mindful. If my body wants to move fast then I do it and if it wants to take it easy, I do that too. Some days I walk, some days I do yoga, some days I swim, and some days I just sneak into the sauna (free child-care, say what?) And that’s what l’ve learned mindful movement is all about, connecting with your body and listening to what it needs in that moment.
In retrospect, I may have been mindfully moving all along. In those phases of my life I was doing what felt good for my body. But now I know, that can change and if we don’t stay mindful we can miss those cues and end up doing our body a disservice. I’m sure one day I’ll get back into a yoga studio and flow with the best of them, but for now, I’ll just hang tight and listen to my body.