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Joyful Movement Through Yoga

Joyful Movement- What is It and How Do We Do It?

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What Is Joyful Movement?

Joyful movement is the idea that we focus on moving our bodies for pleasure rather than engaging in exercise to shrink the body or lose weight. 

So often I hear people say: “I hate exercise.”

This makes me want to cry a little tear every time I hear it!  Then I recognize that the reason people despise exercise so much is that they’ve likely attached it to a picture of a dark, cold and dreary gym. (ahh!).  

Or some grumpy old high school gym coach that’s screaming “get that mile done in 10 minutes or you fail (okay so i’m legit still pissed about this one 20 years later).

You might hate exercise because someone promised you if you slave away at 60 minutes of cardio the numbers on your waistline will shrink.  No wonder movement gets a bad reputation!

Joyful movement looks like this:  

  • When playing tag as a kid was the bees knees
  • When you dominated at red rover
  • The first time you ACTUALLY held that stupid flipping tree pose for a minute in yoga and how much of a badass you felt like
  • How you’re a dancing queen in your living room when your favorite jam comes on (and no-you don’t care how awful you actually look. You’re a rock star in your head!)
  • Can someone say Cobra Kai? Okay- that’s a joke. But seriously- how much fun would it be to take a karate class!

What if we made ourselves a promise to ditch the diet attached to exercise and reclaimed the joy in it? What if we take the waistline out of the equation? What if we promised not to make how much we love it about how good we are at the particular exercise?

What if we stop counting calories and using exercise to punish ourselves for food put into our bodies?

I get it,  exercising without subtle tones of “no pain no gain” attached probably sounds a little like something out of a fantasy land on an episode of my little pony. But we’re going to discuss ways in which exercise can actually be ENJOYABLE. Something we gear up and get excited for throughout the day. 

Collection of rolled yoga matts in assorted colors

Health Benefits of Joyful Movement:

I think we spend so much time attaching the idea of physical movement to shrinking our body, that we completely overshadow the vast health benefits of activity! 

There are tons of benefits of moving that don’t have anything to do with weight loss! Here are some health benefits of joyful movement:

The emphasis here is on “joyful movement.” The exercise you choose should not feel like a chore, which can actually increase stress and anxiety. 

A routine designed to overshadow these awesome benefits with weight reduction, or exercise we hate will be one that ends abruptly and with resentment. 

Woman with arm reached out under the sun

How Do You Exercise Intuitively?

It’s sometimes difficult to transition our mindset from “cosmetic exercise,” or exercise that has a primary goal of changing the body. weight/shape/size to a routine of movement we are doing with and for our body’s benefit. 

As children, we naturally get joy from movement. However,  this is interrupted at a young age.  

To bring back the simple joy in movement, try some of these activities

  • Sports
  • Dancing 
  • Walking (take the dog or a friend)
  • Yardwork
  • Organizing
  • Hula Hooping
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics Games
  • Tag
Woman In Yoga Pose

How Do I Make Joyful Movement A Routine?

The idea of a mindful movement routine can actually be a really tricky thing. 

It’s important we don’t allow our ambition for movement to fall into the desire for weight loss trap-which often involves unwavering rigidity in a movement routine. 

Here are some things that might help you get started: 

  • Make movement a non-negotiable (set it in the schedule like an appointment). This DOESN’T mean we fail if we’ve missed a day.  We’re simply trying to establish a habit. 
  • Remember that every bit of movement counts- 10 minutes or 60 all have value!
  • Make it the easiest thing in the world. After all, our bodies weren’t designed to exist stagnant. Have workout gear/shoes on hand.  Clean off your exercise gear (clothes piled on the treadmill folks? I see you!).  Keep your favorite workout videos handy. 
  • Keep a list of exercises you enjoy. 
  • Keep an active music playlist
person holding softball mitt in field

How Does Exercise Find Joy?

When it comes to exercise, it’s important to remember we can honor a routine without being rigid and ritualistic with exercise. 

However, we shouldn’t confuse training our body to do a new skill (such as dancing or weights) with exercise we don’t enjoy. Here’s some things to remember when determining if we truly find certain movement joyful:

  • When our body is trying something new, it’s important to give that activity some time (usually 1-2 weeks) before discrediting it as an activity we despise. 
  • Untrained muscles may feel resistant to exercises we may otherwise enjoy if they were done with repetition. This does NOT mean we aren’t honoring our bodies! 

A great example of the necessity to train before the movement becomes joyful is dancing.  When we first begin to learn a new dance style, our bodies will feel awkward and maybe even a bit sore as we work a new set of muscles. 

We may feel embarrassed as we fumble through new dance moves. However, with practice, we can feel a great sense of reward and connection as we master the steps of our new dance routine!

Here are some important things to remember as our bodies are training to find the joy in exercise:

  • Look for little wins along the way such as nailing timing, intricate spins or learning to connect with our dance partner. 
  • If you need to take a day off- do it! 
  • If a routine becomes mundane try a different activity or sport for a while. We can always return to one we’ve already practiced. 
  • Pull in a friend for the activity. 
  • Be comfortable
person holding phone with tracked steps and looking at pedometer

How Counting Your Steps Can Ruin Joyful Movement

Pedometers- AHHH YES the apidamy of stealing joy from exercise! Regidity, obsession with numbers, and competition will pretty much bring no one joy in movement!

Yet we convince ourselves a pedometer is a good idea. Why? It serves as a false idol, much like the scale, which can tell us whether or not we’re okay in the world. ICK!

Here’s how pedometers crush joyful movement

  • No Steps Are Enough
  • You may discontinue activities we enjoy like biking and swimming because it doesn’t translate into “step language”
  • You can become obsessed with steps! Seriously- walking in circles in the living room is not joyful. FOR ANYONE!
  • Downloading the app triggers advertisement for other toxic diet culture adds which will help you to feel even worse
  • It can create an obsession with burning a certain amount of calories and influence our food intake
  • It can make movement feel never ending- we might be fixated on “exercising for 8 hours” when any legitimate workout should never take that long!
  • You can park the car as close to the damn grocery as you want. Especially if its cold!

For me and my history with an eating disorder, my eating disorder voice stepped in and quickly reassured me that the pedometer was ecessary in order to remind my already active self to get up from my desk every two hours.    

My virtual world became a toxic mess of weigh centric garbage.  All because of a portable little step tracker I would never fully satisfy no matter how many steps I fed it. 

It took me 4 years to remove this snake from my movement routine.  If you currently use a pedometer,  It may be worth examining your true relationship with it. 

Is your pedometer helping or distracting you from truly moving your body in a joyful way?

Person Swimming

You Have No Moral Obligation To Exercise!

The most important thing to remember when it comes to joyful movement is this:

  • Whether we choose to move our bodies or not, it adds zero value to who we are as a human being
  • Discipline through exercise does not increase your self worth
  • We are not heroes because we’ve mastered our own movement journey! Glorifyling your routine will take you away from joyful movement
  • We don’t know the movement needs or restrictions of other bodies. Stick to your own journey unless someone reaches out to you for support.
  • What works for one person in connecting with movement will not work for everyone.

This isn’t to say if you’re very skilled at a movement technique such as dancing or yoga you cannot share your passion for others through structured courses or other teaching styles. It simply means- don’t push it! Let others come to you if you’re putting something you are skilled at out to the world.

Two women walking in sports gear

Reclaim Your Relationship With Movement

What are some ways that you love to move but maybe haven’t engaged in for a while? 

Were you a hula hooping champion as a kid? Did you love to play games like laser tag? Were you a freestyle dancer (even if it was only in front of your mirror?)

Starting with some of these activities can be an easy way to decide how you truly love to move your body and what you’ve been doing to serve the diet world. 

If you’re not sure how you like to move- take a break! Relax for a few weeks or a few months and don’t move again until you’re feeling a true motivation again!

A clever patient once told me “Don’t ever go to the gym when you’re not up for it.  Otherwise moving your body gets the same enthusiasm as taking a trip to the dentist’s office.” I totally get her vibe- and when the movement starts feeling like that for you, it’s probably a good idea to take a break! 

Sometimes we can land in an identity crisis if we find activities we thought we enjoyed really just served our desire to shrink our bodies. If this is you- it’s time to put exercise on pause for a bit.  

What are some of the most exciting ways you’ve found to move your body? 

Joyful Movement FAQ

What Is Joyful Movement?

Joyful movement is the idea that we focus on moving our bodies for pleasure rather than engaging in exercise to shrink the body or lose weight. 

What Are Some Examples Of Joyful Movement

Sports, Dancing, Walking (take the dog or a friend), Yardwork, Organizing, Sports, Tag

How Do I Set Up A Routine For Joyful Movement?

Make movement a non-negotiable (set it in the schedule like an appointment). This DOESN’T mean we fail if we’ve missed a day.  We’re simply trying to establish a habit. 
Remember that every bit of movement counts- 10 minutes or 60 all have value!
Keep a list of exercises you enjoy. 
Keep an active music playlist

How Do I Know If I’m Not Practicing Joyful Movement?

If the #1 or #2 reason you are doing physical activity is to change the body weight, shape or size you are not practicing joyful movement. Discontinue the exercise and revisit it at a later time.

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!

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