Fitness Redefined: Moving Beyond Your Workout With Dr. Christiane Northrup

We’re continuing our theme of ‘slowing down’ this month with this little piece of insight from our November guest editor, Dr. Christiane Northrup.  

Working out is a no-brainer when it comes to vital health – but where’s your heart on the matter? Exercise can drive all of us into extremes – from seasons of over-work to seasons of total and complete neglect. Dr. Christiane is opening up our hearts and minds on the topic, redefining our whole view of what it means to be fit.

Read this essay beginning to end – it’s packed with insights and research from the doctor’s book we’d never encountered before. Take a moment and stop to reflect about daily patterns and how to get back the child-like attitude Dr. Christiane promotes…

I dislike the word exercise. It has become synonymous with all movement. We get injured because we’ve been taught “no pain, no gain,” “push yourself,” and “pain is weakness leaving the body.” Injuries can plague us for the rest of our lives if we don’t know how to change the connective tissue in our bodies—the fascia that connects everything to everything else, which I describe in my book. The energetic impact of physical injuries is usually stored in this connective tissue, but what’s stored can be released, as you’ll learn. Bringing a sense of dread and obligation to moving your body is simply unsustainable. Over time, you will find that you can’t force yourself to do something you really don’t want to do.

Can you remember the first time you did a somersault? Rode a bike? Jumped rope? We’re designed to move.

When you were a young child, no one had to push you to exercise. In fact, it was just the opposite. You moved joyously in your body and had energy to burn. If you’ve forgotten what that was like, make a point of watching some kids under age five. There are plenty of videos online of adorable children who can’t stop moving. Watch what they do when they’re supposed to be sitting or standing still or following the careful choreography of their tap dancing teacher. When they’re excited, they’re like whirling dervishes, those Sufi mystics who spin with the sheer delight of being connected to Spirit while in their bodies. Like every child, you were taught to stop squirming and sit still to fit in at school or church, or in a car seat. And now, of course, the authority figures are telling you to stop sitting still and start moving!

If you do exercise, be aware that it’s not enough to simply sit all day and exercise before or after that long stretch spent in a chair. New research shows that if you have a sedentary job, even if you work out for an hour, all that nonstop sitting increases your risk of cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease – and increases your risk of dying in the next three years by 40 percent. You have some options, however. You can sit on an exercise ball with or without a holder supporting it (I’m doing that right now!), or set a timer and stand up every 15 minutes to stretch and move (even standing up and sitting right back down can be very effective). You can also use an adjustable desk that lets you go back and forth between standing and sitting. In the future, we’ll probably have holographic computer “screens” that we can interact with using our bodies, hands and voices. There are already devices that allow you to do this to some degree. Until then, if you’re sitting for long hours every day, you need to find ways to get up and move regularly while you’re working—as if you were a squirmy child!

For a long time, moving my body to get exercise wasn’t very joyful for me. I associated exercise with trying to fit into a family where everyone, including my mother, played competitive sports. Whether we were hiking, skiing or playing tennis, movement always seemed to be about winning a game, keeping score or conquering a steep hill. I went along with everyone else, and I enjoyed zipping down a mountain or hitting a tennis ball occasionally. But overall, none of these activities was satisfying to me. I’m very glad that I grew up in a family in which fitness was an important part of daily life. However, like many women, I found it took me many years to discover the physical activities that are truly satisfying for my particular body, mind and spirit. Too many women spend decades feeling guilty that they aren’t “exercising” and unaware that there are forms of movement that feel natural to them – forms they’ve forgotten about, in many cases. By returning to the movement that simply makes them feel good, they can get the “exercise” they need to be healthy.

To maintain a healthy, flexible body for life, you need a joyous expression of your life force that gets your heart pumping and your bodily fluids and chi circulating. You don’t have to join a gym and work out on a stair machine while staring at a 24-hour news channel, or join a competitive sports team – you only need to do that if that’s what your heart is telling you to do. There are many options for movement. What you need is a sustainable form of it. It has to be fun and it has to work for your body given your physical state. If you’re not moving your body regularly, you need to start identifying ways to do so that get your juices flowing. If you’re moving your body regularly but experiencing pain or finding it hard to motivate yourself, then your form of movement has to change.

Editor’s note: We love this essay from Dr. Christiane and we want to hear from you. What has been your process? How have you found joy in movement and useful habits for staying active? 

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