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  • Anna F Jolliff, Counseling Intern

body love, part 1: loving movement

This is part 1 of a miniseries on body love - an area I'm truly passionate about. I'm so passionate about this, in fact, that I'll be facilitating a group at Abegglen Counseling & Consulting this summer. If that idea appeals to you, stay tuned for the opportunity to register -- and in the meantime, read on!

But first, a disclaimer on the title:

What do I mean by "loving movement?" First, I mean "loving" as a adjective. As in, movement that shows love. I don't don't DON'T mean it as a verb. Or technically, a present participle. (Yes, I had to google that.) I won't be teaching you how to love movement! (Or worse: love exercise!) Instead, I'll be talking about listening to your body in a way that communicates love.

Ugh. Body Love. I know the body positivity climate is bogus when I can't write a single disclaimer without thinking of yet another that needs stating. I don't mean, love yourself to lose weight! And I don't mean love yourself in the Instagramm-y, even-Kim-Kardashian-has-cellulite! way. I mean it quite differently. I mean that we can be far, far, far from Kim Kardashian, and losing weight can be the last thing on our minds, and we can still show love for our body.

I don't think we need to be infatuated by our every curve and roll and wrinkle. Rather, I think we ought to do our best to love our body like we'd love a child:

You are precious.

Let's hang out together.

What do you need from me?

The premise of the post is really this: How do I move my body in a way that communicates "You are precious"; "let's hang out"; and "your needs are important"?

My guess about evolution:

Yes, of the species. I mean evolution of the human species. I'm going to guess that we didn't evolve to hate movement. Or exercise. The reason your heart sinks when you look at an elliptical probably isn't that you innately hate exercise; it's that you hate the elliptical. And with reason. You live in a culture which has made the elliptical, of all things, the right answer. It has made exercise a moral imperative. You live in a culture that demonizes going home and sitting on the couch, but using the elliptical - that is, frantically shuffling back and forth in space for 30 minutes -- and then going home and lying on the couch -- well, that is positively revered. In short, you live in a culture that doesn't make a lot of sense.

And no, it's not really about the elliptical.

It's about all kinds of commercialized and less-commercialized movement. In fact, the elliptical may not even be the worst offender. Hiking! has been elevated to a spiritual status. Kickball! is neighborly. Hot Yoga! releases toxins, in a way that leaves the floor damp and the soul, apparently, cleansed?

I'm not dogging exercise. You might love the things I just listed. I love many types of movement, too. I'm guessing we humans evolved to need and enjoy a certain amount of movement day-to-day. I'd like to move is a message our body can and will send, once we stop conceptualizing exercise as a moral issue. Once we drop the image of "worthy" and "unworthy" movement. Once we lose the "shoulds." Once we stop conflating the moral value of "taking the stairs" with "feeding the children " They're different. One's better. (Hint: it's the children.)

Why I love exercise -- and, when I didn't.

I used to be a runner. High school and college cross country. Some people get high from running. I did too -- sometimes. Maybe about one in five times, I got the "high." The other times, though - I just loved the control.

Transitioning to high school is hard. Skipping dinner after a workout is easy. Making friends in college is hard. Making self-worth out of a fast mile is easy. Designing a satisfying life, amidst pressures to do or be something else, is really, really hard. And temporarily relieving your guilt by adding in a late-night gym session is -- for a while -- easy.

Until it isn't.

And thank God, it stops being so easy. Thank God it stops being easy to ignore what our bodies are telling us, simply to appease our anxious minds. I've tried many different types of movement -- running, crossfit, swimming, yoga, pilates, weight lifting, boxing, hiking, biking, walking, rock climbing, jumping on trampolines -- and some of them feel like I'm telling my body I love you! And others feel like they warrant an I'm sorry. (Lookin at you, crossfit.)

When I jump on a trampoline, I feel like a kid. I can't adult and jump at the same time, and that's a good thing. When I'm at the squat rack, I feel powerful. My body loves it, and I know that. I know that for a lot of reasons, but here's just one: I know for a fact that neither the trampoline nor the squat rack have any chance of flattening my stomach, and yet I go gleefully back. Like a kid. And that's a good thing.

When we grow up in a culture that creates rules around movement - when to do it, how much, what kind, why, and when you're aloud to stop - we lose track of this first and foremost truth: our bodies make the rules. And they will tell us. If we listen.

And we can get better at listening.


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