Exercise can feel like drudgery when you frame it as something you “have to do” rather than something you “get to do.”
As a movement educator and motivator, I’m always searching for ways to infuse joy into the classes I teach. Why? Because it makes it fun. If movement isn’t fun, why do it? It should feel good and help change your outlook in some way.
The way I teach is informed by science and research. I’m particularly influenced by the research findings of Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and author of “The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage.”
Across cultures and ages, there are specific movements that both express and elicit joy. Think about hitting a goal, winning a race, or accomplishing something important to you. The universal physical sign for joy is arms thrown overhead in the air. This is seen with young and old, internationally, and even with blind people who’ve never visually seen that movement. It’s a universal physical manifestation of an emotion.
If we listen to music in a group, we might notice people swaying their arms overhead, often in unison, expressing joy and connection.
The feelings you derive from a class can have lasting positive effects. For instance, if you felt strong and capable during certain exercises when you encounter a challenge later in the day, you are already armed with the sense that you are strong enough to handle it. You’ve altered your outlook even outside of class. That’s a powerful way to use movement to foster a positive mental state.
Celebrate what you CAN Do!
Sometimes we become so focused on our limitations that we forget to celebrate what we CAN do! Maybe it’s just moving to your favorite music in a way that makes you smile. That’s an absolutely legitimate form of exercise, and you should incorporate whatever kind of movement brings you joy. Movement in any form should be viewed as a gift to celebrate.
Try these Incentives
Use one of these three ideas to feel good during movement: music, nature, and/or people.
Add some motivating music. According to McGonigal, music is a “powerful evoker of joy” and can help release endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins and dopamine are both chemicals in your body that make you happy, but they function in different ways. Endorphins relieve pain naturally. When they attach to your brain’s reward centers (opiate receptors), dopamine (a mood-boosting neurotransmitter) is then released. For example, endorphins will naturally help soothe a runner’s achy muscles.
“Green Exercise”, working out in nature has an immediate effect on mood and can help people feel calmer and happier, improving mental health.
As Barbara Streisand so eloquently sang, “People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.” As a former professional dancer, I felt firsthand the power I experienced dancing, moving, and even breathing as one in a group. The sensations and emotions you experience, whether they be strength, joy, or discovery, are amplified tenfold in a group setting.
I’ll never forget my first time back teaching in-person group classes toward the end of the pandemic. One of the participants came up to me with tears in her eyes after class. She shared how deeply moved she was by being able to exercise in connection with others again, breathing, laughing, and moving together. This revelation both surprised and touched her.
Track Progress In a Novel Way
Give your trackers a break for a bit. Maybe be a little less data-driven; find a word that best describes how you feel after a workout. Track that instead to support a mindset of joy.
During one of my recent Signature BoneSmart Pilates® Standing Strong classes that I teach, I asked the participants to note how they felt before class with just one word. Some of their words included: “discombobulated, vulnerable, stiff, tired, flustered, and exhausted.”
After an hour of moving together with beautiful music and supportive cues, they each shared a word describing how they felt. These descriptions included solid, confident, invigorated, hopeful, and free. The evolution that occurred with each individual is a testament to the transformative power of movement to elicit joy and optimism.
The process of moving (even over Zoom) with a joyful mindset and perhaps some motivating music can be transformative and set you up to have a fantastic day!