We’ve all heard the narrative by now: Exercise is good for our health and it’s a powerful stress-relieving practice. Most of us understand the importance, but it’s easy to get tripped up by our language. That’s because the word exercise has all sorts of unpleasant connotations. We think of pain, exertion, sweat and boredom; it just doesn’t sound like fun. We might even remember adverse treatment in childhood Phys-ed classes and who wants to relive that?
But what if we turned our language around and thought less about exercise and more about movement? Suddenly, everything changes. Just consider the history: Movement is an experience that’s common to all animals, all across the planet, over millions of years of history. It’s a fundamental part of being alive. We’re wired to explore the world, to move our bodies in habitat, to express ourselves and to move in response to threats. Exercise, in contrast, is a modern, often sterile invention. It’s no wonder that many of us avoid it.
This distinction is crucial because it draws us back into our bodies and puts us back into connection with our animal nature. When we emphasize movement, we enter into a world of engagement, participation and even intimacy. Exercise gives us sets, reps and mileage, but movement gives us powerful experiences that connects us to our roots.
We’d do well to think less about workouts and more about movement snacks. A workout is a dedicated session that usually requires a special facility, equipment, special clothes and most crucially, a considerable amount of time. In contrast, you can do a movement snack almost anywhere, almost any time. It’s easy, convenient and invigorating.
A movement snack session will improve your overall health and resilience, but just as importantly, it will make your brain run better. It will get the BDNF flowing. (This is Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, often described as “Miracle-Grow for the brain.”) A movement snack will sharpen your stress response, improving the health of your autonomic nervous system and in turn, revitalizing your cognition and your metabolism.
The beauty of the movement snack is that you can do it anywhere. You don’t need special clothes or a celebrity trainer. You won’t need any special gear or devices. You won’t need mirrors or high-intensity music. And you won’t need some exotic before-and-after food supplements to supercharge your metabolism. All you really need is the desire to blow off stress and feel better.
At this stage, details aren’t important. You can also forget about biomechanical perfection or getting your sets and reps just right. If you have an injury or special needs, get professional help, but otherwise, none of the details matter. The important thing is to get physical and do it often.
Start your session with an easy “rice paper run” in place. This is a gentle forefoot run, just as if you were barefoot. From there, branch out to whatever movements you like. It’s all good. If you want to expand your movement repertoire, use the shape guide to generate new ideas. There are thousands of possibilities here. Simply choose a shape and begin, then mix things up with different stances and steps. You can do these “open hand” or you can use a medicine ball. Be sure to move in all three planes: sagittal (forward-back), frontal (left-right), and transverse (rotational).
Do short micro sessions or long sweaty sessions as desired. But no matter your intensity, the emphasis should always be on whole body integration and coordination. Strength, power and injury-resistance come from orchestration and integration of the whole system, not isolation.
Emphasize these principles:
Deep solid stances. (“Bend your knees!”)
Emphasize extension through your spine, reversing the flexion of desk work.
Look for smooth movement, skill and athleticism.
Feel the breath, feel the animal.
Make it fun- you’ll be less resistant.
Make it social- team/family activity.
Consider adding music.
Exercise sensation and common sense. (“If something hurts, stop doing it.”)
And if at all possible, do your movement snack outdoors in natural light. Get your butt out of the chair, your eyes off the screen, and pump your tissue. Then, once you’ve got your breath and body re-engaged, get back to work. You’re going to feel a whole lot better.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frank Forencich earned his BA at Stanford University in human biology and neuroscience and has over thirty years of teaching experience in martial art and health education. He’s the author of several books about health and the human predicament including The Sapience Curriculum and Beware False Tigers.
The dictionary defines “content” as being in a state of peaceful happiness. The AIS magazine is called Contentment because we want all of our guests and members to find contentment in their lives by learning about stress management and finding what works best for each them. Stress is unavoidable, and comes in many shapes and sizes that makes being in a state of peaceful happiness seem like a very lofty goal. But happiness is easy to find once you are able to find ways to manage your stress and keep a healthy perspective when going though difficult times in life. You will always have stress, but stress does not always have you!
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