Ask Alina is a weekly video series on the Brain Gardening instagram discussing Alina’s experience and insights after recovering from chronic illness through a brain retraining practice. Questions are gathered on Tuesdays from that account’s IG Stories. Episodes are filmed on Wednesdays and posted as soon as possible. To increase availability and accessibility of these materials, they are being archived on the Brain Gardening™ YouTube channel, which includes the option for closed captioning. The videos are provided for information purposes only and should not be used to replace or supplement the advice of a physician or other health care provider. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions prior to using any information or resources contained on or through this video. Brain Gardening™ is not affiliated with any other neural retraining programs.

A transcript of the questions and responses contained in this episode is available below. 

What is joyful movement?

Joyful movement is a reframe for the concept exercise or fitness, as that language can bring up previous associations that can create resistance or feelings that may be a mental barrier to the benefits of the activities. Joyful movement focuses on supportive ways to move your body in a way that works with it and not against it. I like thinking of it simply as a way to move that feels good for me. 

Can it be done at any level of capability and how do you build upon it?

Yes, when you break out of the concept of exercise and fitness modalities as the only or ideal means of movement, you open space for so many other ways to move your body. Movement is helpful because of the chemical benefits—posture and shifts in poses or movement produces endorphins and dopamine which can be restorative to the body and reduce or repair the effects of stress. An incremental approach to movement works best so that it doesn’t feel like something forced but more gradual.  When I was learning yoga, I started with chair yoga. It’s a mostly seated form of yoga where you are using a chair as a supportive tool to help with balance and strength training. If you have a lifestyle where you are bedbound and not yet upright, yoga nidra or restorative yoga may be a way to ease into a movement practice as those poses are reclined and very gentle. I think it’s helpful to break out of perfectionist ideals and meet yourself and your body wherever it is so that you can do a practice that is still comfortable and not something that creates resistance or pressure.

How to shift to experimenting with joyful movement and thinking of it that why when you’re in eating disorder recovery & always associated exercise with guilt/body shame?

Reframing language has been so helpful for me. Our choice of words have a lot of power. So words like exercise or fitness brought up many unpleasant associations from my past where I was pressuring myself. Just the word would connect again to that pressure, so I wouldn’t want to do the activity because it felt like punishment.

In shifting to think about joyful movement, I started to think of things I was actually motivated to do. Sometimes it was a project like gardening in my yard or reorganizing my closet. There was a reward attached to activity because I would have something at the end of the task, like flowers to admire or a closet that was easier to find things in. Activities like that were helpful for abandoning past associations and empowering myself to use my body to do or create something.  Another thing that has been helpful for me was the idea of play. I bought myself a hula hoop because there was a joyful association with it for me from childhood. That was a way I could move my body, have a few laughs, and just have a lighthearted experience.

I had a lot of resistance to exercise before I was ready to do more traditional ways, such as a yoga class. I’d put it on my vision board to keep it as a forward facing goal for myself, but there was still resistance coming from a place of not wanting to embarrass myself or do it wrong or draw attention to myself because I didn’t have a yoga body. First, every body can be a yoga body so that was just my own insecurity coming up. What I ended up doing to break through that was goat yoga. It was not serious at all and more focused on the animals being everywhere than getting the poses right. So that was a way for me to bring more humor or lightheartedness into the experience to break through the pressure. If you can find fun or joyful ways to move, especially if it’s involving a hobby or interest you already have, that can be supportive.

Also dance modalities, like JourneyDance have been immensely powerful for me personally in building more confidence in my body and more compassion or self love. I highly recommend it if you have any interest in dance. It’s not choreographed but intuitive movement that can help release emotions and just be really transformative and healing I’ve found.

When to “move” to not get into deeper depression vs. discipline to build myself back up?

So we all known that movement has health benefits. Chemicals like dopamine and endorphins get released in our brain when we move. Posture and poses are also ways to create those neurochemical shifts. So if movement seems like too much, I think it’s important to remember that there are ways to meet yourself wherever you are. Holding a certain pose can prompt that chemical release and it requires little movement. I think it’s also important to recognize that sometimes those thoughts or feelings that are resisting movement may be coming from a place in the brain, the limbic system, that is simply wanting to preserve comfort or familiarity. But that part of the brain is more emotionally-based and not really able to assess things that our higher brain, the intellectual part of our thinking, can qualify. It’s like having a toddler make our decisions for us. Sometimes a way to reel that side of the brain in and have the higher brain leading is to make the experience still comfortable and rooted in what feels good. So you’re creating a big of a compromise, where you’re still comfortable but also doing movement, if your goal truly is that and you know it would be beneficial for you. Little steps can lead to bigger steps. That’s why I really encourage incremental approaches because it helps grow in a way that is more supportive and sustainable for long-term change.

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