As women, we are regularly told by society to “stay in shape,” or “watch our weight.” “Exercise, it’ll make you feel better,” they say — which is not always as true as we might wish it was. I am writing today, inspired by my most recent movement: yoga. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.
So much of exercise is focused on physicality or a potential “improvement” we want to make to our bodies. As someone who loves to move, this is a construct I am trying to fight and change. I firmly believe in movement for the mind, because at the end of the day, it is just a physical release of pent-up energy — and the release of that energy is so vital to keeping our minds healthy.
A lot of the times when society hears the word “exercise,” we believe it has to be some long sweaty workout that follows this cookie-cutter pattern. Women, please do not conform to this mold. It was not made for everyone; we all appreciate movement differently.
There are endless ways to move. The more rigorous ones are typically thought of as weight training, cardio, and sports. The more looked down upon movements are yoga, pilates, and my personal favorite: walking! I’ve named a couple of ways to exercise but there are so many wonderful ways to move so long as they make you feel confident, strong, and free. The question is how to find such methods that make us feel this way.
The first way I make movement a more positive experience for myself is by reminding myself that I am choosing to exercise. I am making the conscious choice to move my body and aid my mind. The idea of having to do something every day or on a fixed schedule can be very damaging because it creates this idea that your movement is forced and required, instead of something to look forward to.
My second suggestion for you is trial and error, which can be strenuous and tiring, but also very exciting and important to diversify our movement and open ourselves up to new things. I have joined Chaarg, a women’s fitness club on campus that rotates between different weekly workouts. Last week I took a boxing class with Back Bay Boxing, which was probably the most fun I’ve had moving since being home and dancing. I know that for my exercise to be fulfilling, I like to release a lot of energy. Through this workout, similar to dance which I do a lot back home, I was able to channel my emotions into my movement which I know is very healthy for me.
Today, I tried yoga for the first time, which circles back to my inspiration for this article. As I mentioned, when I exercise, I typically enjoy more intense and fast-paced workouts. This time, I wanted to go into yoga with an open mind.
The session began and I was hopeful; I always stretched for dance so I thought this might be somewhat similar. I was correct; we did do some stretching, but a lot of it was breathing work. By the end of the workout, the instructor had us lying either face up looking at the sky or face down on our stomachs and we were told to just be still. The objective was to think about the relationship between mind and body through breathing exercises and focusing on this stillness. She kept repeating this phrase “bright light diamond…” and would finish it off with a part of the body so we would connect this purpose to a specific body part. At first, I would hear, “right light diamond to left big toe” and was perplexed as to what this woman was saying. Inevitably, I figured it out, but I still couldn’t quite connect. It felt like one of those things where you wonder if everyone else is also just faking it too or if they truly felt this deep connection and purpose within themselves. I couldn’t help but smile to myself and had to contain my laughter as she repeated “bright light diamond” — three thoughtless words to me, as I stared at the dark Boston sky, freezing my ass off on the basketball court of the Fens.
Clearly, yoga is not for me. I have tested that movement and needless to say, I have now learned that I’m just not ready for yoga yet. Maybe one day. But for now, I will stick with my stretching and walking to calm me down, because perhaps I just haven’t matured enough for yoga, or perhaps it’ll never be for me — and that’s quite alright. I don’t need to be a yogi just like you don’t need to be a gym rat because our movement should not be forced nor limited. I opt for movement that makes you smile and makes you feel grateful for your body and your life.
There are also a lot of underrated movements that get a bad reputation, or are not even considered exercise. One of my favorite forms of movement is walking because it is not linear. Walking is a movement that can quite literally take you anywhere — and along the way, there are so many things you can discover, both about yourself and the world around you. It can clear your head; it can be social; walking to me is limitless, and I love that it knows no bounds.
With this article, I encourage you to practice movement that makes you feel boundless and free, listen to your mind and body’s cues, trust yourself while exercising, and let go of society’s expectations for movement.