Last weekend I attended an all women’s MovNat certification workshop. I met a bunch of amazing women, and had a bunch of fascinating conversations. What’s on my mind today is the result of some of those conversations, with a special shout-out to Jen Sinkler, who is truly as smart and funny in real life as you would guess from social media.
What is the purpose of physical movement?
According to mainstream women’s fitness culture, the purpose of movement is basically toburn calories, burn fat, lose weight, fix your flaws, get smaller, be more attractive, take up less space, be deserving of love and belonging, and earn your worth.
Obviously, I’m not down with any of that. Like, at ALL.
That’s why I liked MovNat’s counter-culture philosophy. For them, the purpose of movement is to honor and strengthen the body you were born in, the way we were designed to. It’s a step in the right direction at least, since it rejects all the mainstream physique BS.
This weekend got me thinking about how there are so many different subsections of the fitness/movement industries, and how each one has a unique philosophy about why we should move that way. Each one assigns a unique purpose to physical movement.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Most of the fitness industry is designed to teach people how to manage and improve their weight, their health, and their aesthetics. Some will use terms like “elongate,” while others use terms like “shred,” but it’s more or less the same philosophy: Move your body to improve your weight, health, and physique.
Of course there are some niches who focus mainly on improving performance (strength, endurance, speed, mobility, or agility). These include crossfit, powerlifting, triathlon training, gymnastics, golf, and pretty much every other sport ever. The philosophy behind performance-focused training is something like: Move your body to perform, or Move your body to win.
In my coaching circles, movement is often designed to “empower” women, and make them feel confident. How this works and what this means is usually pretty vague and enigmatic though. I hear explanations ranging from being more confident because you look good (back to aesthetics), to being more confident because you’re strong enough to accomplish a certain task or protect yourself (performing/winning), to being more confident because you learned that with hard work, you can accomplish things you never would have imagined (promoting a growth mindset).
Either way, there is an undeniable thread of movement philosophy that says: Move your body to build confidence.
Some segments of the movement world focus on mobility and safety, from MovNat to Ido Portal to Kelly Starret. These are built around the idea that learning how to move properly can help you offset cultural movement deficits, age well, and optimize your life without getting hurt. My dear friends Hunter Cook and Kate Galliett of Fit For Real Life both populate this camp, and the boiled-down philosophy is something like: Move your body to stay safe and enjoy an active life.
Of course, some people include movement in their life purely for pleasure, joy, and play. Children, for example, tend to live by the philosophy: Move your body to have fun.
Now I want to talk about my own personal philosophy.
For me, the main purpose of physical movement is an overlooked and underused effect: embodiment.
Due to the culture we live in, most women have experienced feeling utterly disempowered in their bodies. Clueless, lost, broken, wrong.
I know I have. Growing up, I was actually considered the clumsiest, klutziest, least athletic person anyone knew. I ran into things, dropped things, and comically misestimated distances and directions. On top of that, I had experienced the dissociation effect of childhood trauma, so there were certain things I simply couldn’t feel in my body— sensations I was utterly numb to, both physically and emotionally.
As a teenager, I was totally out of touch with my body. Disconnected. Removed. It was almost as though my body had nothing to do with me.
When I started learning how to dance at 18 years old, I started to tune into muscles sensations in my body for the very first time. This simple mind-muscle connection was the beginning of my brain being able to “hear” and gather information from my body in a way that I had literally never been able to do before.
Later on, through lifting weights, I would improve and increase this skill, learning how to activate some very difficult-to-connect-to muscles like my deep core, glutes, and scapula muscles. I also learned how to feel where my body was in space, by connecting for the first time with proprioceptive feedback (the mechanism designed to inform you about your body’s relationship to space and your environment).
Looking back, I believe dance saved my life. I entered that dance program without even realizing I was in danger, flooded with darkness, anger, and shame. I felt paralyzed and numb; I was afraid all the time, but didn’t know what I was afraid of.
Moving my body, re-connecting to the sensations of my skin and muscles, and learning how to “hear” my body again, started me down the path of healing I needed.
The information I gained from my body would guide every single step of my healing. When I recognize that some areas of my body felt different than others (some felt frozen, and some felt alive, for example) I used this information to do deep work on the parts that needed care.
When I discovered that my emotions changed the sensations in my body, I learned how to differentiate between the nuances of sadness and anger, anger and fear, fear and disgust. This information was like finding my soul’s User Manual. While I haven’t been short on struggle since then, I’ve literally never doubted myself since. (PS if you’re interested in learning how to tap into your own personal user manual, I did create a 10 week digital course called Make Friends With Your Feelings to teach you how.)
The cool thing about movement for me, was that I learned to tune into my body, I began to trust myself and my environment. Being able to sense people, distinguish between my nuanced emotions, and access the sensations inside my own body that say YES and NO allowed me, for the very first time, to feel safe in my body and in the world.
This feeling of being fully in touch with your body is what I call embodiment, and it’s my philosophy on the purpose of movement: Move your body to feel your body, or:
Move your body to reclaim access to your body’s infinite wisdom.
All of these different purposes for movement are valid, and all of them are great. Most people probably draw upon several different reasons for moving their bodies, and subscribe to several of these philosophies, in different ratios. For example, right now I’m all about embodiment, but I still love to move for fun and pleasure, and someday I look forward to training for performance again.
What about you? What’s your philosophy? What drives you to move your body?