At the beginning of 2016, I resolved that for the year I would only move my body in ways that pleased me, felt worthwhile, encouraging, life-giving. That I wouldn’t force my body to do anything it didn’t want to do.
Now, this is a really good thing to resolve if you’re into self-care, and a really bad thing to resolve if you want to be a person who exercises regularly (the exact sort of person I really truly hoped and thought I was, as I’m sure all type-a people hope and think). As in, I’m feeling simultaneously very comfortable/relieved in my newfound release from self-inflicted exercise-bondage and very anxious/frustrated in my lack of exercise.
Because I haven’t been exercising lately. Like not at all. And it’s all my fault for thinking up that dream of a resolution, that self-care fantasy that ruined my resolve, my habit of forcing myself to run on the stupid treadmill, do stupid ab exercises, jog stupid miles, and hate every minute of it. Now I’m lazy and happy, no longer dreading the dragging myself out of bed and into my running tights in the morning, no longer willing the minutes of a 20-minute pilates video to go faster, faster.
It’s complicated. I can’t decide whether I feel liberated or afflicted, and, what’s worse is that I can’t imagine going back, strapping on my shoes and hitting the pavement, forcing myself to move my body because I think I need to. I’m happier, that’s clear to me, but it’s also clear that I have a new string of worries, a cloud over my head when looking in the mirror, a nagging fear that I’m not doing enough to be healthy, to keep my pants fitting perfectly like they always have, to feel like I’m doing well in the world, to maintain my homeostasis. I don’t want to be a person who needs to feel fit to feel beautiful, but that’s where I am right now. Nothing adverse has happened yet, I look the same, but the worries are there, the accusing voices telling me I should have run, I’d be better if I’d exercised, I’m not doing enough, not doing enough. A cloud of worry that goes away when I force myself to do these things, when I convince myself that I’ve done enough. A safety blanket of a checklist, a hope for things to not change. Maybe all that these feelings indicate is that my life could use some experimentation, a little risk, a little more at stake, even if it happens to be my waistline up for grabs. But it’s a little more complicated than even an inner battle or self-esteem.
I’m a dancer, or at least I’m supposed to be. I’m a mover, a choreographer for theater, creating movement for non-dancers. I could get into the particulars of how it came to be that way, that this is a thing I am or do, but that is definitely a story for another time, a pathway that confuses even me, with veins of terrible imposter syndrome and lots of hoping for the best.
The paradox comes at the realization that in order to do my job I need to move my body. I need to be capable, creative. I need to be strong, sure, able. I’m not sure I’m helping myself with all my blissful inactivity, my disdain for the treadmill, my weights gathering dust in the corner. I can’t tell if I’m serving or hurting myself, giving myself a break or setting myself up for disaster, healing or breaking. Is this me making myself a better mover or standing idly by while the core of me, literally and figuratively, turns to mush? I can’t yet be sure.
So, I have a new strategy, and it’s a thing that I’m sharing with you, writing down so it feels real. A commitment, a resolution. My movement commitment for 2016, here it is, all its glory and confusion and pain. Because I need a plan. I need a commitment. I need something.
Every weekday morning, I will sit in the middle of the living room on my yoga mat, play music, and see what happens.
That’s it. That’s my resolution. That is what I feel capable of holding myself to. That, even that, feels like a challenge, like enough to make me feel like I’ve done something, worked somehow, made a choice.
Here’s how it works (I’ve done this a few times since thinking it up as my new strategy for self-care movement):
- Roll out of bed.
- Put on clothes to move in.
- Roll open yoga mat. Turn on spotify playlist.
- Sit cross-legged very still for as long as necessary.
The list can stop there. That is enough, really, to fulfill my personal requirements. All I need to do, I tell myself, is show up. That’s it. And it isn’t too hard. What is encouraging is that when I show up I often move. I often do things rather than just sit like a lump. My fingers itch to stretch and flex. My body longs to follow the music, stretch, contract, move. It feels good, very good, to move in unrestricted ways, a thing I can only do if I show up. In the process, on a good day, my muscles are worked and engaged, stretched and kneaded, made to connect with the rest of my body. And, on a bad day, I sit, which isn’t bad at all. I pray my movements, wordless shapes, the stretch of my neck, my feet flexed, a downward dog into a long, long child’s pose.
5. Move. However, for however long, only in ways that feel good, real, strong.
If you are having trouble moving, trouble like I’m having, I encourage you to try showing up for yourself. Getting your body to a certain place and letting it decide what to do with itself. Intuitively. Even just for a week or so, give your body space. It’s what I’m trying, failing, trying to do. Honoring my body by showing up rather than giving up.
Here is a list of the songs I often move to. They can also be found on Spotify here in a playlist called “To Move With“. I like to put it on shuffle and see what happens. It’s a lot of variety, a lot of different sounds to react to, move with, try. Sometimes I just sit and listen. I’d encourage you to collect your own playlist of songs to move with, things that inspire you to move your body. Some days, play the same song over and over, over and over. Sometimes those are my favorite days. Try things, show up. It’s good.
- “End of the Affair” by Ben Howard
- “Small Me” by Nils Frahm
- “Redford (for Yia-Yia and Pappou)” by Sufjan Stevens
- “Poland” by Olafur Arnalds
- “Threnody” by Goldmund
- “Dream 13 (minus even)” by Max Richter
- “Shaker Hymns” by Dry the River
- “Know Me Well” by Roo Panes
- “Small Things” by Ben Howard
- “I Watch You Sleep” by Shirley Horn
- “Earthly Bodies” by J. Tillman
- “Manhattan” by Sara Bareilles
- “I Have Nothing” by Noah and the Whale
- “Everything” by Ben Howard
- “Living Without You” by George Winson
- “Departure (Reflection)” by Max Richter
Also, if you want to check out the sort of thing that inspires me to move, check out Emma Portner’s brilliant choreography. It’s the aesthetic that gets me moving, compels me to keep trying again and again to move my body in useful ways, somehow. Not just in dance, although dance is a thing I care about, but in the world. Emma Portner’s dancing goes beyond just dancing for the stage, it’s movement for the sake of the body. Very special. Here, here, here and here are some favorites that I go back to again and again.