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Thursday
Jun282012

Exercise: A Holistic Empowerment Experience

Just as I seek to empower you with education and love-filled raw chocolate, exercise is a beautiful way to empower your health.  

We live in a society that fosters convenience and communication. Without our emphasis on these values, I wouldn’t be blogging these words to you right now!  

However, our society is less than stellar at nurturing the inherent need of our bodies for physical activity. Most jobs involve sitting for extended hours, and we have everything from groceries to clothing delivered right to our doorstep.  

You deserve all the benefits that come from honoring and nurturing your natural impulse for movement, so today’s blog is about exercise: all the wonderful benefits of it, how to make it a second-nature behavior, and the multitude of fun ways to do it.  

Why Exercise is So Great

The benefits of exercise according to Western Medicine are well documented across many popular magazines and health websites.  We hear very frequently about how increasing physical activity will help us to lose weight, build muscle, and gain energy.  
Those benefits are absolutely valid!  However, knowing about them doesn't seem to have done much in the way of changing our sedentary lifestyles.  For that reason, today I’m going to discuss the benefits of exercise according to several ancient healing modalities from around the world, as well as the less-discussed benefits that complement Gnosis’ mission of helping you to be a joyful, radiantly healthy person living in a high-integrity society.  

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, exercise serves to loosen the muscles and joints, which in turn enhances qi (life force) and blood circulation.  It is particularly valuable because it promotes deep breathing, which in turn helps to detoxify the body, aid in blood circulation, and decrease stress on the heart.  Exercise also serves to create a greater balance among the mind, body, and spirit. This is hugely important, as Traditional Chinese Medicine emphasizes the link between certain emotions and illness.

Ecuadorian Shamanic Medicine advocates consistent physical activity - it is thought that strengthening the muscles (especially those in the legs) will allow you to better connect with the energy of the Earth!

For exercise according to Ayurvedic Medicine, it is recommended that you focus deeply on the exercise itself (your enjoyment of it, the feeling of your breath deepening, and any other physical responses) and not anything else (such as music, television, or even goals of weight loss).  Exercise builds the efficiency of the digestive system, which leads to a more balanced appetite and metabolism.  It enhances self-esteem and respect for your body, as well as mental focus and the ability to concentrate.  

The mission of Gnosis Chocolate is to Empower a Greater Good - to show you that nourishing your body with healthful foods does not have to mean deprivation, to provide you with education around health and sustainability so you can make informed choices, and to give you a means with which you can express to the world that you want to live in a society that is full of intention and integrity.  

To that end, there are several benefits of exercise that align perfectly with Gnosis' intentions for the planet and everyone on it.  By moving towards a state of physical fitness, you give yourself a continual reminder of your ability to shape your mind, body, and spirit.  You feel more loved, because you are showing yourself every single day that YOU love you by investing time in caring for your body.   In doing regular exercise, you gain mental clarity, which leads to increased productivity.  Because of this productivity, you are empowered to enjoy your life, because you can spend more time doing what you love.

Building the Habit of Exercise

People often talk about how challenging it is to maintaining the motivation to exercise.  So many of us have had the experience of starting an exercise program with gusto, only to find ourselves back on the couch a few weeks later wondering what happened to all of that enthusiasm.  

Discipline and willpower are amazingly useful companions, but they are fleeting.  True empowerment of your physical fitness happens from building the habit of moving your body, and developing a pattern that remains steady regardless of the ebbs and flows of your motivation.  

When viewing exercise purely as a means to tone your body and look a certain way, it’s understandable why so many people want a quick fix (to look great for an event, for example).  However, when you look at exercise through the lens of empowering your health, it is much more important to figure out a way to maintain these habits long-term than come up with something that gives you immediate results but is unsustainable.

For that reason, I recommend the gentle and easy process of first getting in the habit of devoting the time in your day to exercise by taking an easy walk a few days per week.  As it becomes ingrained in you that movement is a part of your life, you can begin the process of figuring out what more vigorous activity you’d like to substitute for some of your walks.  

This disproves the rationalization of, “I just don’t have the time!” that might come up in the future, and also eliminates the possibility of losing the habit because you’ve tired yourself out so badly by doing too much too soon and need to rest.  

If you’re having trouble even picking up the walking habit, you can dial it back one step further and make sure to devote time a few days per week to self-care activities, like meditating or reading books you find inspirational.  When you’re ready, you can slowly shift to taking gentle walks, and then on to more challenging forms of exercise.  

Nothing is more empowering than understanding your own unique needs and creating your life around that.  When it comes to exercising, a little bit of knowing yourself goes a long way... by working out in a way that honors your special constitution rather than trying to make your body do what everyone else says it should do, you work WITH your body rather than against it, which is a giant energy boost in itself.

You’ll want to consider how your energy levels behave at different times throughout the day.   When do you feel the most energized?  That’s when you’ll be most likely to stick with a fitness routine and make it a habit.  Many fitness magazines and blogs encourage morning workouts, because you get them done before life has a chance to get in the way.  That is perfect, but not if you’re a night owl!    

Not every body was meant to run long distances or lift heavy weights.  It’s important to think about what forms of exercise feel good for your body.  Use your intuition here - if you’re disliking a physical activity, are you experiencing some healthy resistance or a strong sign that this is not the right form of exercise for you?  

Fun Ways to Make it Happen

Do you remember begging your parents, “PLEASE, just let me play outside for five more minutes?”  You were having such a great time playing tag or frisbee that you hated to stop!  That joy of movement is still within you, and you can unlock it and make regular exercise a breeze by finding physical activities that you enjoy.  If treadmills and spinning aren’t for you, no problem! There are infinite unconventional fitness opportunities for you to explore - here are a couple to begin your quest!

Nia, or Neuromuscular Integrative Action, is a sensory-based movement practice that draws from Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, jazz dance, modern dance, yoga, Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method.  Nia is done barefoot to energizing music, and every aspect of the practice was designed to be emotionally therapeutic, fun, and to use the body’s natural design to improve function. Nia also contains a mastery element, like the martial arts, where you can work your way from a white belt to a black belt.  

What infuses exercise with the spirit of play more than going back to childhood activities?   Hula Hooping is aerobic exercise that will tone your abdominals, increase cardiovascular stamina and strengthen core muscles.  It is said that 8 minutes of hula hooping burns the same amount of calories as running an 8 minute mile!

No need to stop there! Playing frisbee, hiking, walking on the beach, swimming, skating, horseback riding - with a little bit of research and an attitude of curiosity, there is no limit to the number of fun ways to get the level of exercise that you and your body deserve.

I hope this post has helped you to make the mental shift from exercise as “work” to exercise as a way to take exquisite care of your body and express your capacity to be the powerful, resplendent being that you are.  As Carol Welch said so eloquently, “Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional, and mental states.”

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