Improve Your Relationship With Exercise Through Mindful Movement

May 21, 2024

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Many of us have a complicated relationship with movement.

Diet culture has taught us that only certain kinds of movement are “okay” and that others are “not enough.” We’re told that we have to move a certain amount or in a specific way — either to be healthy, to lose weight, to manipulate our bodies toward a certain ideal, the list goes on.

But what if we told you that none of these thoughts about movement are right? What if we told you that you could move in a way that feels joyful — as often as you want to or don’t? What if you gave yourself permission to rest or take a break?

This is what mindful movement looks like — and it’s an incredible way to improve your relationship with your body.

How To Listen To Your Body in Mindful Movement

While we may feel pressure to fall into rules and routines surrounding movement, the truth is: Our bodies feel different on different days.

Sometimes, we feel super energized and ready to do some more intense movement. Other days, we may want to do something slower, like gentle stretches or a walk. Sometimes, we may not want to move at all!

Mindful movement is all about listening to your body and doing what feels good in that moment. Instead of pushing ourselves to do something we really don’t want to do, we give ourselves permission to rest and engage in what brings us joy!

It also encourages us to practice mindfulness in movement — and focus on how engaging our bodies in different ways makes us feel!

On some days and in some seasons, that may mean we don’t do much “exercise” — which is okay! It’s so much better for us to develop a healthy relationship with movement and our bodies to find activities we enjoy rather than pushing ourselves to be miserable and do something that makes us feel physically and mentally worse.

Mindful movement is popular in the world of eating disorder recovery, as it focuses on healing our relationship with exercise and focusing instead on how to move for our happiest selves. However, it’s an amazing practice for everyone to engage in!

Embrace HAES and Intuitive Eating Principles With Moving Our Bodies

Both Health at Every Size (HAES) and the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating encourage us to listen to our bodies when it comes to movement.

One of the 5 principles of HAES is “Life-Enhancing Movement,” which encourages “physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.”

Meanwhile, principle 9 of Intuitive Eating — ”Movement—Feel the Difference” tells us:

“Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm.”

Learn more about HAES and embracing the body you have here.

We can still choose to engage in movement for how it benefits our overall health and well-being — but that comes from a place of caring for our bodies rather than doing it out of guilt, obligation, or self-punishment.

Remove Thoughts of Guilt, Numbers, and Body Manipulation

When we engage in movement, we may have thoughts like:

  • “This shouldn’t be this hard.”
  • “I need to do X movement X times a week for X long, and then I’ll start to have the body I want.”
  • “I’m lazy for not exercising today.”
  • “I’ve let myself go because I haven’t been doing movement.”
  • “X movement isn’t enough. I should do X instead.”
  • “My fitness tracker says I only burned X calories, so today was a bad workout. I need to push myself harder tomorrow.”

The list can go on forever. However, one important aspect of mindful movement is shifting away from thoughts that focus on movement for how we can manipulate our bodies’ shape or size, change our weight, or how many calories we burn.

Instead, mindful movement focuses on how movement makes us feel — and specifically, what feels good in that moment! It also appreciates the benefits of exercise for our mind and body.

Some more neutral thoughts could include:

  • “I’m feeling a little tired today, so I’m going to do some more gentle movement, like go on a walk.”
  • “I choose to do movement for how it feels to connect with my mind and body.”
  • “I’m glad I took some time to take a break from movement so my body can rest and heal.”
  • “Today, I feel really energized. It would feel good to do some movement that would help me express that energy!”
  • “I deserve to give my body rest.”
  • “Doing movement helps my physical and mental health in so many amazing ways.”
  • “Instead of focusing on the numbers of my fitness tracker, I’m going to pat myself on the back for showing up and doing what felt good!”
  • “I acknowledge that some days, movement feels easier than others.”

Especially when we first shift this relationship with movement, the “noise” and those unhelpful thoughts may be loud in our minds. However, with time and repetition, these more neutral thoughts become natural when connecting with our bodies. 

Joyful Movement We Love

When thinking of exercise and movement, many of our minds jump to going to the gym or a workout class, getting super sweaty, and pushing ourselves as hard as we can. However, movement doesn’t always mean doing a HIIT session, sprinting on a bike, or lifting weights.

In fact, the amazing thing about mindful movement is that you give yourself permission to do what feels and sounds good.

If you’re not sure where to start and how to enjoy exercise, some of our favorite forms of mindful movement include:

  • Dancing — whether it’s out with friends or in the kitchen
  • Going on walks in nature
  • Riding a bike instead of driving the car
  • Playing outside with your pet
  • Watching a YouTube video from a mindful movement creator and doing guided stretches, pilates, or yoga
  • Running around with your friends and family
  • Rollerblading or roller skating
  • Playing a group sport or game
  • Trying a mindful movement meditation

One of the best ways to make exercise fun is to find what you enjoy! Don’t be afraid to try different things to see what feels good. And don’t force yourself to do exercise you truly don’t like.

Improve Your Relationship with Exercise and Find Joy in Movement

Improving your relationship with movement can take time, but it’s a journey that’s well worth it! Start by asking yourself what your ideal relationship with movement would look like if there were NO rules, assumptions, or thoughts of how it may look if it wasn’t dictated by diet culture.

Then, explore different activities that you might enjoy! And don’t forget to check in with your body each day to see what would feel best — whether it’s something energizing, more relaxed, or a day of rest!

If you struggle with having a positive relationship with exercise or your body, a dietitian can help you work through those challenges. Reach out to schedule an appointment and begin your journey to a more positive relationship with yourself today!

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