Movement Habits for a Healthier You

As some of you may know, I’ve been taking some time off from public teaching recently to study and explore different forms of movement. Lately, my focus has been on biomechanics, kinesiology and anatomy. All complex topics that are deeply satisfying for the body nerd in me! However, at the same time, as I’ve studied and read and practised, there have been several moments where I’ve thought: this is so simple, anyone can do it! So I decided to make a short list of basic ideas I’ve learned that you could apply in your life for a happier, healthier body. Each of the posts in this series will present you with a movement idea, some of the theory behind it, and ways you can implement it practically in your life. Here goes:

  1. Diversify your movement, aka. cross-train

Most athletes know this already, but somehow this understanding hasn’t made it into the yoga world. So this is for all the yogis out there who think yoga is all you need! I had this belief myself for a few years, but the truth is, while yoga is a very complex and comprehensive form of movement, it still can’t give you everything you need. If you move in only one way (or one set of ways as in a set flow of postures), your body will become used to this range. Not only do you risk repetitive-use injuries, you also lose the chance to grow and learn something new. Your muscles, joints and even your brain all receive nourishment from variety.

For a healthy, well-functioning body, you need to develop different types of movement skills that work on the different layers of your body. Muscles are not the only thing that matter, nor the only thing you can influence by your movement. You can use also movement to work with your bones, fascia, connective tissue, joints, and organs. Some examples for this last idea:

  1. Your fascia, joints and connective tissue are all helped by a regular yin or deep tissue release practice to complement more active, muscle-building strength conditioning.
  2. Your organs are helped by somatic practices, therapeutic bodywork, massage and qigong.
  3. Your brain is helped by you learning new movement skills and increasing your body awareness.
  4. Your bones are helped by static loads of the type you find in yin yoga, but also from standing and walking rather than sitting all day.

Movement skills are also a key component when you are looking to diversify—think about your primary form of movement and what kinds of skills you are already developing with that form. Then pick something that does not use the same skills and challenge yourself to grow. For example, if you are a long-distance runner, you will likely have good endurance, but your body will be used to moving and being loaded in quite specific ways. To diversify both your skill set and your range of motion, you might choose to start climbing, join a dance class, or of course there’s always yoga 🙂

Another example: if you are a vinyasa yogi, you will probably be getting a reasonably healthy range of motion in your joints, and some combination of strength and flexibility in your muscles. To broaden and diversify your movement, you could try some high-intensity cardio to get your heart rate and oxygen consumption up, or you could try some low-intensity movement like yin or qigong to connect with your energetic system, work on your connective tissue and nourish your organs.

A final way to think about diversifying your movement is in terms of pace or intensity. There is not only one intensity that is good for you! You can get as much benefit from low-intensity movement as from high, and your best bet is to do both. Think about your weekly or daily schedule and you can find ways to slot in high-, medium- and low-intensity movement that suits and balances your life. In my own case, I have a twice-a-week dose of high intensity conditioning, and the rest of the time some mix of medium- and low-intensity movement, depending on how I feel when I wake up in the morning that day.

One of the great things about diversity is that each of your different movement forms will influence and enhance each other. Your body will learn from all of them and integrate those skills to make you better at each of them. It can be intimidating to have to suddenly try out all these new things, so one option is to build them into your routine one-by-one. Pick something that seems interesting to you and incorporate that for a few weeks or months, and then something else, and incorporate that. You will definitely notice how each thing you do impacts the way your body feels and helps you build skills that enhance your other movement forms.

Next post: an easy switch involving your relationship to the ground!