“Nothing is more revealing than movement. All that is important in this one moment is movement. Make the moment important, vital and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused. Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It’s a miracle and the dance is a celebration of that miracle.”Martha Graham
This beautiful quote by Martha Graham, a world-renowned dance choreographer, so eloquently encapsulates the power, beauty and, most importantly, the necessity of movement. For it is movement and exercise that gives life its vitality. It is physical activity and feeling ourselves thrive as we grow stronger, fitter and more flexible that is a celebration of the marvel that our bodies are. Whether sprinting across a football field after a ball, sweating through a half-marathon or finding our inner peace in a Yoga class and engaging our core in a pilates session – movement of any type is critical to our wellbeing in every single sense of the word. Here I mean physical, mental, emotional and physiological, as well as our unseen energetic / auric body, all of which respond positively to movement.
It cannot be emphasised enough quite how important movement is for the body. We all know that exercise keeps the body strong, flexible, supple and healthy. Blood flows more easily, strength is maintained and the skin glows from the oxygen pumped through the veins courtesy of strong lungs and a powerful heart muscle. Generally, our body functions more optimally as the digestive system works more efficiently due to exercise stimulating digestion, increasing our metabolism and keeping the unwanted calories off.
Posture is maintained as we fight gravity constantly and a strong back and open flexible shoulders ensure our lungs have room for deep breaths. Sadly, our sitting-obsessed culture has done us no favours and created a posture of locked necks, hunched and rounded shoulders and general back pain. Try taking in a deep breath with your shoulders drawn forward – not too easy is it? Now do a few shoulder circles, some chest stretches and take that deep breath in again. Massive difference! Shallow breathing from a tight chest triggers our stress response, weakens our immune system, lowers oxygen levels in our body and is linked to anxiety and panic attacks.
Good posture is equated with confidence. Studies have shown that when posture is good and open, testosterone levels are higher. (Google Amy Cuddy and check out her Ted talk on power posture.) This hormone is involved with our confidence, regulates our libido, stimulates red blood cell production as well as skin collagen. Poor posture with hunched shoulders, a forward pulled head and tight neck has shown increased levels of cortisol – our stress hormone. Cortisol contributes to a long list of health problems: Weak immune health, heart disease, weight gain, hormone imbalances, Alzheimer’s, muscle and bone loss, fatigue… to name but a few.
Not only are exercise and movement necessary for our health on a postural, physical, mental and emotional level but movement opens up our unseen energy body. Meridians, the energy channels that acupuncturists work with and that run through our body, have been found to correlate with our fascia, which is the connective tissue that holds us together. The meridians also correlate to the body’s organs. Therefore, if a muscle related to a particular meridian is painful or tight, this will have a bearing on that particular meridian and its associated organ. For example the gallbladder meridian runs along the sides of the body from the fourth toe, all the way to the head and behind the ear. The gallbladder and liver also govern muscle and tendon health according to Chinese meds. Any muscles such, as the hip flexors in the groin, that this meridian passes through could be tight or painful or prone to injury if there is an imbalance in the gallbladder. And vice versa – an imbalance in the gallbladder or liver could create discomfort in these or other muscles along the meridian. Hence, movements such as those done in Yoga or Tai chi are aimed at opening these channels. The same can be said for the chakras – the energy wheels that spin unseen in our energy field and that correspond with major endocrine glands. The throat chakra is located over the thyroid gland. Keeping our neck flexible and in the correct position helps in maintaining an open throat chakra by way of example. The thyroid is important in regulating and producing adrenaline and dopamine, both of which are involved in not only our emotional responses such as fear and excitement but also many physical reactions as well. The thyroid cannot function without the pituitary gland (our Third Eye chakra), our master hormone gland which governs all hormone production as well as many critical functions in the body from growth to blood pressure to reproduction.
For me, as a pilates instructor, there is nothing more satisfying than when a client does an exercise or engages a muscle correctly and actually feels it activate, feels their posture change, feels the improvement in their daily activities and feels the reduction in pain and discomfort, not to mention the change in response to stress. When that happens I know I have done my job. If every person can just feel the marvel and amazingness of how their body works… and LOVES their body, I really believe the world will be a better place.
What I hope you take away from this article is that movement and exercise are not only about aesthetics. Structure governs function and function governs structure. When one part of your body is out of alignment, without doubt another part will not be functioning optimally. The resulting outcome of strength, improved mood, vitality and tone should be considered a bonus on top of the balancing and opening of chakras, keeping the meridians flowing, as well as the phenomenon of how our muscles work antagonistically and synchronistically to ensure our balanced movement and health… remember that foot and the celebration of the miracle of our bodies…
I close with another favourite quote of mine:
“If you don’t look after your body, where will you live?”Anonymous
A good question to ponder next time the urge to be sedentary strikes.