*This is an article from the Summer 2022 issue of Contentment Magazine.
By Ashley DePaulis, MPH, Founder of Embodied Success
“The more stress you have, the more your body needs to move to keep your brain running smoothly.” –John J. Ratey,MD, author of SPARK The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.1
When life is full, busy, and noisy, it can seem challenging to prioritize movement. Yet prioritizing our health and wellbeing is what moves us through challenging times with greater ease.
You’ve already heard the strategic advice for getting movement in, like waking up earlier, shortening your workouts to 30-minutes, or hiring a personal trainer for accountability and prioritizing activity. These are valuable strategies…if you choose to employ them.
A less conventional approach aims to weave movement practices into your busy day. It also aims to expand your thinking about movement beyond just traditional exercise, so that you no longer view taking care of yourself as another item to check off on your already overflowing to-do list.
One impression I would like to leave you with is that, once you break free from a “rule mindset” when it comes to movement, you will expend much less effort trying to fit exercise into a hectic schedule. Believing there’s a certain way, or only one way to get movement in can be very limiting. Limitations can come in the form of thinking that you “have to” do yoga, that you must run to be in good shape, or do high intensity interval training for your time spent moving to be “worth it.” There are so many ways to move and what’s most important is finding something that fits your preferences and needs.
The second idea I’d like to share is how to tap into the power of your intrinsic motivation. Explore what motivates and excites you, and keeps you engaged! Also, allow what motivates and excites you to change over time. This does not mean you’re not devoted to a practice, or that you don’t have discipline within a practice, it simply means that your accountability is to movement itself, not its form.
I have found intrinsic motivation to be key when it comes to being consistent with movement and choosing the type of movement that will be most beneficial on any given day. Intrinsic motivation, or leading with your inner compass, will expand your experience with movement and the benefit of moving in many different ways, more often, and in more environments.
Intrinsic motivation has been defined by Psychology Today as a drive that comes from within that is not driven by external rewards or an anticipated outcome.2 It assists in sustaining habit formation and builds resilience. You can think of it as choosing to move from a place of joy with freedom to explore and play.
When it comes to movement and exercise, society has conditioned us to focus on external motivation, or the outcome we want to achieve from following a particular path, like achieving a better body. This approach alone, without considering intrinsic motivation is what often leads to the on again, off again relationship we can develop with our health and fitness. I’ve seen it lead to managing the body as a project, something that needs to be fixed or controlled, and I’ve seen it lead to treating an injury or health challenge like a life sentence.
Both circumstances create a lot of frustration and keep you from experiencing the self-love and compassion needed for growth and healing. Modern life is both stressful and sedentary. Movement and socializing are both great antidotes for life’s stress, even better when they are combined, which leads to the third impression.
Recess to De-Stress on Demand
The foundation for better nutrition and fitness originates from sleep, recovery, and stress management practices. When we’re busy, overly stressed, and not getting enough sleep, we’re less likely to make time for physical activity, and we find making healthy food and self-care choices more challenging.
By building recess breaks into our day and by giving ourselves permission to rest and be deliberately unproductive, we can interrupt patterns that lead to emotional overwhelm and mental fatigue. Patterns that have us distracted by the social media scroll, binging tv, and numbing with overworking, comfort foods and alcohol.
Our brain and body need multiple breaks to de-stress and de-focus. In fact, neuroscience shows that taking small breaks, as short as 60-seconds, allows us to release stress and increase productivity because it prevents us from losing focus and concentration throughout the day.3 Recess can help break the habit of reaching for more work, and it will infuse your brain and body with energy.
Activities that get our bodies moving, like dancing, shaking, getting outside for a walk and sun gazing, or restoring with active breathing are all beneficial. Get creative! Allowing ourselves to take a recess to de-stress lets our brains and bodies relax, rest, and recharge to minimize burnout. Take 5-10 minutes for every hour of work, set an alarm to prompt a recess break.
Busy or Productive?
There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Being busy is often influenced by perfectionism, whereas being productive is influenced by purpose. A busy person will often power through and not allow themselves to take breaks. Being unproductive and taking the time to slow down enough to relax can cause feelings of guilt, anxiety, and worry.
If this is familiar territory for you, use these self-reminders to anchor safety within your mind and body:
“It is safe for me to relax.”
“I’m learning to slow down.”
A productive person will often focus on the most important tasks and not overcommit themselves. To become productive, prioritize yourself on your to-do list, and get real about the support you need, and what does, and doesn’t need your attention for the day. Life becomes as full as we allow it to be. Set realistic expectations and intentionally choose what gets subtracted or delegated.
When you find yourself distracted, and numbing out, try engaging the body with centering. Centering is a body-mind technique that allows you to self-regulate so that you can access choices that move you towards finding balance within.4 Centering isn’t just about relaxing, or down-regulating from being stressed-out, it can also be about energizing, or up-regulating from being spaced out or burned out. It helps you find a relaxing tone of energy within the body and among these states.
For example, when sitting for long periods, purposely get up and move around. You can also notice your posture and bring balance to it. If you find yourself in a sunken posture, you can shift to grow taller and sit upright. If in a forward posture, come back on the sit bones; or if you are leaning back, bring yourself more forward.
Balance can also refer to the movement of breath throughout the body–too often we’re holding it or it’s shallow—a normal response to tension. Notice and breathe slowly and deeply to a soft belly. Centering when nervous can include shaking your hands at your side, sighing, or placing the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth behind your two front teeth.
Bringing awareness to the body-mind connection allows you to open to movements and sensations that guide improvements in your physical health.
Movement as an Attitude
A study from the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health & Activity Research and Policy Center examined the demoralizing and unhealthy cycle that keeps women from sticking with a health and fitness program.5 When a woman–though this can be universal–feels pressure to follow certain rules, she gets frustrated, feels badly about becoming frustrated, and wants to quit. This leads her to lose interest in the program altogether.
She may also feel badly about losing interest in a program she didn’t enjoy– bringing us back to the need to include intrinsic motivation as a factor in any movement practice.
When looking at low active participants and high active participants the difference between the two groups was seen in their ability to break free from a “rule mindset.” Low actives feel stuck “sticking to the rules” whereas high actives have the ability and find freedom to transcend the “rules.” High active attitudes choose what they want to do and count all movement as exercise.
The commonalities between the low and high active participants are that they want to connect with others, they don’t want to experience pressure, and both groups are interested in achieving goals big and small. The low actives just haven’t been able to translate these desires to being active and seeing physical activity as having an incredible link to positivity in their lives.
From Full to Fulfilled
When life is busy or packed too full to make way for greater fulfillment, it’s the time to remain flexible about maintaining or fitting movement in. The rigidity of a “rule mindset” is outdated. Basing your movement, training or exercise plans upon external motivation only will only lead to frustration and self-sabotage.
Finding what lights you up and brings joy to movement through intrinsic motivation and recess will help you de-stress, improve your mood, and access sustainable health. Know too, that when change is needed, or when life feels stagnant, move yourself, or move objects within your environment to support a shift in energy. Just as the mind affects the body, the body affects the mind, the environment informs both.
Movement is a key to altering your mental state, so break the rules and become more playful in your pursuit of it!
- Ratey, J.J., MD, Hagerman, E., SPARK The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little Brown and Company, 2008.
- Straw, E., What Is Intrinsic Motivation? Better Humans, 2021, December. https://betterhumans.pub/what-is-intrinsic-motivation-17865bf6dd3b
- Research Proves Your Brain Needs Breaks. WTI Pulse Report, 2021, April 20. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/brain-research
- Walsh, M., Centering, Why Mindfulness Alone Isn’t Enough. British Library, 2017. https://embodiedfacilitator.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Centring-Mark-Walsh-ebook-v2.pdf
- Research reveals what keeps some women from exercising. Michigan Radio Stateside Staff. 2017, June 12. University of Michigan’s Sport, Health & Activity Research and Policy Center, funded by the National Cancer Institute.https://www.michiganradio.org/health/2017-06-12/research-reveals-what-keeps-some-women-from-exercising
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley DePaulis is an embodiment coach and consultant whose unique brilliance is in understanding the mind-body-spirit relationship and bringing that into the workplace for the improvement of the business. She helps large organizations better care for their people to avoid burnout, turnover, and health crises. And she can zero in on what individual leaders need. Ashley is navigating the new frontier that needs to be addressed – caring for people first – so they and their employers thrive.
Join Ashley’s free playground, Recess In The Club, to explore brain and body recess breaks to help you work smarter and de-stress on demand, or follow her on YouTube for optimal health and longevity tips.
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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