Friday, February 8, 2008

The Purpose of Movement

I'm glad I got my Friday fluff out of the way yesterday, because this subject came up and I wanted to get my thoughts together on it.

How awful is the assumption that the sole purpose of moving your body in new ways can only logically be to lose or prevent fat? Much like the medicinalizing of food, the "workout" mentality sucks the joy out of what should be joyful and creates punishment in what should be empowering.

The long and short is that I went hunting for a new Yoga DVD. I've been using a very basic beginner's training for a month now, but I'm ready to move beyond it. What I found was that it's difficult to find a Yoga DVD that doesn't advertise itself as promoting weight loss. I seriously found titles like Cardio-Yoga, Yoga Dance Fusion, or more directly, Fat-Burning Yoga Workout! (most of them had a lot of exclamation marks and chipper half naked people in leg-warmers on the covers.)

When I first chose to learn Yoga, it's appeal was the focus on physical power, energy, flexibility, and balance. It's supposed to be meditative. It's not supposed to promise ten minute abs. When did we turn so much play into work? What happened to taking a walk in order to enjoy the walk instead of just trying to get that heart rate elevated? How grim a world where we're so caught up in the aerobics of it that we no longer love to dance?

The only Yoga DVD on the shelf at Barnes and Nobles that wasn't about "visible toning" or "fat burning Yogercise" was called "Fluid Power" by Shiva Rea. It's Vinyasa Flow Yoga, and was labeled for experienced beginner to intermediate. Perfect, just challenging enough, and no mention of abs, fat, or tone. So while I could have gone to Amazon and found a lot of great options, I grabbed this one.

I'm a big believer in synchronicity, so it shouldn't have been a surprise to me when I opened the DVD and found that the first sentence of the booklet says "Infinite gratitude to Yemaya".

Those who don't know me need some background on this. Yemaya is the mother of waters in some Yoruban and their syncretic spiritual traditions. She's the Orisha who rules the oceans, and some of her gifts are healing, intuition, magic, feminine strength and mystery. She's also a power that I personally honor because her symbols or her name tends to appear unexpectedly when I particularly need to pay attention to something in my life, or to confirm that I'm doing something good for myself. Like now.

The method on the DVD is about tuning into your body's connection to water through intuitive free-form movement and asanas. The instructional portion talks about the concepts in terms of both vedic teachings and quantum physics, and there are different practices for different levels and purposes. There's even special prep work to get ready for the namaskars (sun salutations).

But this post isn't really about the DVD itself (as geeked about it as I am); It's about the purpose of movement. I do understand that everyone is wired differently. Some people get the same quieting of mind and purpose from free weight reps as I get from the warrior poses. That's great. After all, "some people juggle geese." It's the people who see either of those as some sort of trial to be endured for the greater good of skinny that bother me. If your body is an obstacle, or a recalcitrant prisoner to be beaten into submission, how can you ever learn to trust it? If it's an opponent to fight, how do you ever find harmony with it? If movement is work, as in workout, how do you ever find joy in it?

What ever happened to dancing?

There are great nights every summer when a circle of close friends all get together around a big bonfire. Sometimes we have enough drummers to get a good complex beat going; other times we have to rely on recorded music. But the best nights are when the energy is high and we kick of our shoes to dance. Yes, even us fat chicks. We're not working out or counting calories burned. We're not trying to impress anyone. We're not worried if we don't impress anyone. We just dance, and laugh, and sometimes spin fire. It's a celebration.

I can drag myself into a gym to use an elliptical machine for twenty minutes and barely be able to walk the next morning because I'm so sore. I hate it, and I hate gyms. They work for a lot of people who find their own form of meditation in circuit training, but I'm not one of them. On the other hand, I can dance (and we're talking raw tribal want to define aerobic?) for four hours or more to a constantly evolving drumbeat, and wake up without a single sore muscle. Some people have it the other way around. Maybe it's like intuitive eating, where your body will tell you what movement is most beneficial to you on a holistic level, even if that level or type of movement doesn't work for anyone else. All I know is that what I'm doing seems to be right for me.

For that, for the new-found respect for my body inherent in FA, and for the joy of movement... my "infinite gratitude to Yemaya."


caseyatthebat said...

This. Exactly, perfectly THIS.

And I SO love your comments policy! :)

Becky said...

What I found was that it's difficult to find a Yoga DVD that doesn't advertise itself as promoting weight loss. I seriously found titles like Cardio-Yoga, Yoga Dance Fusion, or more directly, Fat-Burning Yoga Workout! (most of them had a lot of exclamation marks and chipper half naked people in leg-warmers on the covers.)

Oh, I know! I've found the same with belly dance and with dance in general. I want a dance tape because I love to dance and I think it's fun. I do not want an aerobics tape dressed up as dance so that I can "burn fat"! I don't like aerobics and I'm not trying to burn fat. I just want to dance!

Maria said...

oh me too, with the bellydance! I bought a book labelled 'bellydance for fitness' but inside it had 'bellydance is good for fitness but you'll love it for SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT' and hardly even touches in the weight loss aspect. all of the movements in it are pure dance, doesnt tell you which ones will help you burn more fat or anything. just those that strengthen muscles needed for bellydancing!

so much is lost when people only focus on the weight loss aspect of excercise. sigh.

madwench said...

Wonderfully, beautifully written.

As someone who used to exercise obsessively for the sole purpose of gaining Activity Points, and who is just now wrapping her mind around the idea of exercising for the pure joy of movement, thank you!

By the way if you like Shiva Rea, yoga, and dance, her Yoga Trance Dance DVD is fantastic. Great music, sections of free-form yoga and free-form dance, and it's all about the joy of dancing with never a mention of how many calories you're burning or how buff you'll be.

TropicalChrome said...

I think that so many people were traumatized by gym class and "having" to exercise that they've lost sight of the fact that movement can be an end in and of itself. And a joy. It's such a gift to rediscover that!

Anonymous said...

Just this morning, on the point of despair, it dawned on me that there might be a community of all fat people. The thought of living a healthy life, free to be fat in peace, made my heart leap with hope. I am on the verge of giving up everything I have worked so hard for because I just can't stand the idea of going out and being judged by the fat phobic world. The rage I feel is getting uncontrollable. I think the only way to let it go and live in peace is to live around like-minded and like-bodied others. After seeing all kinds of goofy things with my google search I found your post. I too love gardening and plants and the pulse of nature. I feel like I am living in exile as I do not even want to go into my yard and tend my flowers. I am so frustrated with this culture and myself. My 16 year old son is driving me crazy. He recently lost 45 pounds and "thinks he looks fat in his new pants". His doctor jumped for joy and the subject of his smoking got lost somehow. I melted down at his age too. It's called puberty. Big wooppee doo dah. I just want to dance and enjoy my big fat butt. Very little belly fat and my "core" is on fire. I am 54 and just want to enjoy these years instead of living with all the ads and absolute craziness. I cannot find a TV channel without the weightloss ads. If there is a filter for weightloss ads I would pay a LOT of money for it. Help!

JoGeek said...

Anonymous: There is, it's called "Fat Acceptance". Online it's also known as the "Fatosphere" :-) I'm going to be pretty inactive through the summer, but I do highly recomment the NAAFA booklist at
and the primary fatosphere communities at and I think you'll find many like-minded folks there, and at the blogs they connect with! I do still post occasionally, and will be more active this fall when all my projects wind up. When I do post, it will show up on the "Notes from the Fatosphere" link on either of those sites, along with many other fat acceptance blogs! I'm very glad that you decided to go out and look for people like you, instead of just trying to force yourself into being like the people around you. That takes guts to do. I'm very happy that you found my blog in the process! :-)