I was chatting with a colleague recently, who asked me why I choose to associate myself with the word “movement.” It’s all over my website—I identify as a movement practitioner and educator, I provide education for movement professionals, and if one were to ask what type of physical practice I have I would say movement.
Not everyone likes the term, of course, and I’m not even sure the vagueness of the word movement does justice to a profession—it’s kind of like the word teacher. We are all teachers to someone. Unless there is an adjective describing the type of teaching one does, it doesn’t really identify a specific niche or classification of work.
However, the other descriptions often used to connote an individual who instructs someone else on physical skills in a one on one setting on never resonated with me. The fitness world is filled with set and reps, hypertrophy and power, and is very linear. The yoga world never made sense to me, even when I was practicing 2-3 days a week—I always felt being confined to a mat reinforced my tendency to be very box oriented. Additionally, while yoga taught me to slow down and breathe, it was not an effective way to improve my overall flexibility, so I never found myself using yoga with clients.
Which brings me back to movement, a word whose definitions include, “the act or process of moving: especially: change of place or position or posture,” “a series of organized activities working toward an objective,” and “the moving parts of a mechanism that transmit a definite motion.” Contrast this with the definition of fitness, which means “the quality or state of being fit,” with fit meaning “of a suitable quality or type to meet the required purpose” or “in good health, especially because of regular physical exercise.” One can be fit and not exercise, and one can exercise and not be fit. Additionally, mainstream fitness, too, always felt very one dimensional to me (but, in all fairness, I don’t excel at conforming to mainstream anything, so perhaps my thoughts on the subject are sort of like a sardine swimming the wrong way in its school—well intentioned, but not in sync with everyone else.)
Another reason I always struggled with the idea of fitness is fitness feels like something you do, not something you learn. I would like to think I give my clients more than just rote programs involving the basic functional patterns. I include that, too, but I try to create an environment for something more.
If I am to be perfectly honest, the final reason I have struggled with the fitness industry is I have never felt like I actually fit in with fitness professionals. I can’t hold my own in a conversation about the perfect set/rep scheme for hypertrophy, periodization doesn’t mean anything to most of my clients (I have one who occasionally does running races. He cares about periodization.) I don’t have athletic accomplishments anywhere on my resume because I don’t have any, and I can’t muster any enthusiasm to write articles about the perfect deadlift or how to reach your bikini body. The three fitness conferences I have attended over the course of my career left me feeling dirty, with the emphasis on sales, supplements, and gadgets. Basically, for all intents and purposes, I am in the wrong profession.
So, I did what anyone who works for herself, by herself does when she feels like she has something valuable to offer: I stopped reading fitness articles, hunkered down with textbooks and research articles, went to workshops with people I respected, and tinkered to see a) what worked and b) how the science could be applied to a one on one training session when the noise of what I should be doing was stripped away.
What I was left with were three foundational principles: awareness, mobility, and strength. Along the way, I discovered creating context for skills by using the environment is important for learning. So is encouraging inquisitiveness and open communication around a person’s experience.
To be aware means to have knowledge or perception about something. When you look at the act of moving, regardless of how you are moving, if you are unable to feel the parts of yourself that connect to the ground or the parts of yourself that propel you forward, you won’t have the ability to change and perform a skill any other way.
Let’s pretend you shift to the right every time you stand up. When you are instructed to press evenly through the ground with your feet to stand up, you think you are and, because you don’t have a good connection with how is feels when your feet press into the floor, you don’t realize you could do it differently.
If instead of pressing through your feet, you were instructed to land as lightly and as evenly as possible on a box behind you and then stand back up, you might feel your tendency to land with your right sitting bone first. If the person instructing you asked you what you felt, you might do one or two more reps slowly, paying attention to what you felt before answering. In this situation, the instructor created an opportunity for you to learn something about how you do something, which makes it easier to do the same thing a different way.
This type of self inquiry can extend past just movement skills and by increasing awareness in one area of your life, there is a chance you will become a more active observer in other areas of your life. It’s really just a form of meditation, observation without judgement. Thinking this way invites curiosity and removes the stigma of right and wrong from specific exercises. Instead, it asks the participant how do you usually do the skill? Can you perform it another way?
So maybe awareness is simply another term for mindfulness, which would imply in my basic formula for training, step one is improving observational skills about your body and learning to feel yourself, all of the parts of you.
Mobility is generally defined as the ability to actively move your joints through their range of motion. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. You can make circles, use points of contact with the floor to create movement, and use isometric positions. I often address mobility through points of contact with either the floor, wall, or a chair because this also improves awareness. There is a reference point, something in the environment you can feel, which creates context; the more you can feel something, the more tangible the action becomes, creating a sense of embodiment.
Embodiment simply means “a tangible or visible for of an idea, quality, or feeling.” Feeling embodied, then, means to be able to physically express what you feel. If you feel like expressing joy through movement and you do so through a series of cartwheels and somersaults, you are embodied. To be embodied creates a sense of security because when you can move in a full, expressive way you and your movements become a more complete representation of your self. This occurs when your joints have the ability to move in a coordinated way. You, in turn, feel more capable; capability creates confidence.
Of course, on a less psychological level, mobility improves proprioception, which increases awareness, so one informs the other.
Strength is the ability to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. It’s the ability to withstand outside force and not deviate from your path. It allows you to feel confident that you can lift the case of water, move the furniture, and jump across the log without high risk of injury. Strength improves coordination and creates an internal image, a schema that is capable.
Feeling strong is something everyone deserves. If you are prone to negative self talk, physical strength can be one step to changing the narrative. It’s hard to feel like less than when you know you can lift your body weight or pull yourself up over obstacles. The work that it takes to become strong is a wonderful reminder that being uncomfortable once in a while is okay. Creating strength with awareness and mobility creates a connection between the mind and the body that is magical to witness.
And so it is that I choose to associate myself and what I do with the word movement because I think those of us who work with people in a one on one setting have the ability to create something more than the external markers associated with fitness. Even if it’s a subtle shift of perception, I think spending time with a physical practice is different than killing yourself in the gym for the sake of a bikini body. Or maybe it’s all the same and your experience is determined by your perception.
Beautifully written Jen! I love the way you’ve unpacked all of these concepts and attributes of movement experiences.
Thank you, Jeannie. It’s such an interesting exercise to put it into words (you do it quite well).
Thank you for taking time to write this, Jenn. I relate so much to not fitting in with the yoga world and fitness world, also. You expressed so gracefully some of the “whys”. I loved the three words you choose to describe what you do and their definitions. My goodness, the definitions are fantastic! It’s truly awesome and inspirational how you have made your mark and how much you have to teach. Thank you for writing and doing so much that I relate to and am inspired by!!