Mitigating Pain and Staying Strong Through Gentle Movement

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As a younger adult, I approached exercise as anything but gentle. Gentle stretching exercises, light, joyful movement, and anything that did not produce excessive amounts of sweat had no place in my busy life. Then I had to change. 

Old Habits

In my early 20s, I lived in an apartment complex catered to grad students. It had a “clubhouse” with a gym, bar, pool, and social space. As part of the gym, there was a studio space with exercise classes. Access to the space, the gym, and the classes was included in our rent, and I felt like I was living the dream. I exercised most days of the week, sometimes for two hours. On Saturdays, I went to “bikini boot camp” and did burpees, sometimes until nearly passing out.

When I was in my late 20s, I had a baby. I lived near a community center, joined the gym, took classes in their studio space, and walked my big jogger stroller in the hills around my neighborhood. I won a 10-pack to a “baby boot camp” class where you bring your baby in your jogging stroller and exercise while your kid watches you from their throne, sometimes while you use them as a counterweight and run your post-partum butt up hills. I also tried to train for a 5k, developed a stress fracture, and dropped out. 

Time To Change

In my 30s, my therapist mentioned “gentle movement,” slower, more deliberate movement that incorporates the mind, as a form of exercise. I thought it sounded like something I wouldn’t be attempting for many years until I was older. She wanted me to start to think about exercise as something less than militant, and by that, she meant that I was not training for war or the Hunger Games; I was trying to live and be happy. She wanted me to look into intuitive eating, one of the principles of which was to honor your body and move accordingly. 

I was exhausted by the cycle of injuries. I had chronic pain in my hips, and when I saw a specialist, she advised me that I was headed toward surgical intervention if I kept trying to “be a runner.” I changed my entire fitness mentality. I walked instead of running. I went to Pilates instead of HIIT. 

Who Needs Gentle Movement?

Gentle movement, while often associated with eating disorder recovery, isn’t only for people with a history of disordered behavior. It’s also usually recommended for people with chronic pain

It’s for anyone who wants to be free of the cycle of feeling like pain is the only way to wellness. That does not make sense, and pain is the opposite of wellness, and moving through life should feel good and honoring the body you are trying so hard to care for and nurture. 

It’s sometimes difficult to change the long-held belief that weight loss should be the goal of fitness and that movement that doesn’t change the body in a way that makes it thinner, more ripped, and more able to survive a zombie apocalypse is worth doing, but it is. Gentle movement can be for anyone, for everyone.

How Do You Do It?

How to “do” gentle movement is more about listening to your body and what it wants to do and feels good doing than following some fitness guru or exercise regime. You don’t need to buy a bunch of classes, any equipment, or a subscription to the latest trend. You can exercise at home or in nature. 

Incorporating mindfulness techniques can increase gentle exercise’s healing and restful benefits. Honestly, it’s less about technique and skill than kickboxing or even yoga, though if you enjoy gentle yoga, go for it. Gentle movement is about doing what feels good in your body, today, right now, and not imposing judgment on what you should be doing or what you should be able to do today or right now.

It has been hard to transition from a “pain is weakness leaving the body” mindset. My friends still run, still think that they should hurt after exercising. To each their own, but, for my body, that’s not sustainable. My mind and body together feel best when I move daily, walk my dog around my hilly neighborhood, stretch and lift weights, and play with my kids. Being gentle with myself is a form of kindness I deserve after all those years and something I plan to continue for all the years of my life. 

Tags: exercise, healthy living, Self Care

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Written By

Laura Wheatman Hill

Laura Wheatman Hill lives in Oregon with her two children. She has been published by CNN, Real Simple, Parents, and others. See Full Bio

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