Movement Practice, or Exercise… or BOTH?!

Movement Practice, or Exercise… or BOTH?!

  • By Susannah Steers
  • April 15, 2014

“I  go to the gym, I get all the movement practice I need.”  I heard these words, and others like them, when I hosted a booth at the Wellness Show in Vancouver recently.  While at the show, I had a chance to talk to people from all walks of life; people who were all interested in some aspect of living well. I was curious about the fact that although many were open to meditation, mindfulness and other such activities, not many of them had ever considered how they might be able to use those in the pursuit of their PHYSICAL health. What if it were possible to bring conscious awareness to many physical activities, and trips to the gym – to create an experience that gets better results not only in terms of fitness, but in terms of quality of life overall? It is!

What the heck is movement practice? Well, there are many more learned people than I who have very particular ideas of what a movement practice is. A yoga practice, for example, seems like a fairly clearly identifiable thing. “The practice” of the discipline is about creating regular occasions to deepen your physical experience of yoga, while working to better understand your own mind, emotions, and spirit in the process. It’s not about a single event. It’s about a continually evolving and maturing understanding of  the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual world.

In a functional context, movement practice might just be about creating better motor control skills so that you’re able to more effectively complete a movement with ease. You break a movement down into its essential components, and practice doing those really well, until you can progress to fuller motion with more load demand and flow. Regular practice of these skills allows you to master new movement, or old movement in a better way.

Moving Spirit Pilates, contact improvisationIn the context of something like Contact improvisation, (an improvisational dance form that relies on the sharing of weight, contact and momentum between dancers), movement practice might be about feeling qualities of weight, exploring the boundaries of communication between bodies, or investigating flow.

Regardless of the discipline, movement practice requires some conscious attention to whatever you’re doing. It demands mindful awareness of some or all aspects of “the work” you are doing in the moment. With that awareness comes a better understanding of your own relationship to your body, to your emotions, to your mind and spirit – all in relationship to specific physical tasks.

Having practiced all of the above disciplines with varying degrees of intensity, I can say that a movement practice is a really great way to get in touch with what is important in your movement and in your life. I find there are recurring themes – even across disciplines. Contact improv did more for my marriage, and taught me more about my relationships, than any number of hours with a marriage counsellor.  It taught me to widen my perspectives, to be less attached to an outcome. Functional movement practice helps me to keep tabs on my structural health. I can see where things aren’t working as efficiently as they might, and I can begin to see what parts of my life are creating challenges for me physically – whether that’s a new activity, too much of an old one, or just plain old stress.

Sometimes I think the idea of a movement practice sounds dauntingly serious, but it doesn’t need to be! What if you could just start paying attention? Instead of plugging in your headphones when you go for a run; feel the beat of your heart, the movement of your breath, the flex and length of your muscles. Yeah, you’ll feel the discomfort when it’s hard – but you’ll also feel the pure elation and joy when things start working well together.

Now… here’s where I “out” myself:  I don’t like exercise. I never have. I love physical activity, I love to play, dance, run, ski, swim, and generally move my body in as many possible ways as I can. Movement is my way of engaging life. Any “exercise”  I do is strictly to make the rest of the things I do work better, so I can have more fun! So, I pay attention. What do I feel in my body? Where do I feel it? Can I affect how that feels? What emotions am I bringing with me into this activity today? What effect do those have on my experience today? What can I do with more ease? What can I let go of? When can I push for more? When do I need to back off and let things happen? And once you’ve managed that, you can start to ask how some of those things relate to your movement as a whole, and maybe even to other aspects of your life or the world around you.

Really, it’s about being present. About staying in your body when you do things – even hard things. About expanding your awareness beyond the futuristic goals you may have to really be aware of what’s going on for you NOW. Because whether you like it or not, NOW does have an effect on how TOMORROW turns out. Why don’t you give it a try? The next time you embrace a physical activity – pay attention. Not just to whether you’re meeting your goals or not, but to how it feels getting there. There may be some demons to face along the way – but once you acknowledge them and move through them, they can’t be demons any more.

Nordic Skiing woman, Moving Spirit Pilates, Fitness VancouverOpen yourself up to a new experience. It’s doesn’t have to be either or. Be present in your body and every activity becomes a movement practice – whether it’s “exercise” or  simply walking to the bus. I’d love to hear how it goes! If you experience something new in working this way, please share with a comment below!

And today, I’ll leave you with a brief passage from a book by Bonnie Gintis, DO called “Engaging in the Movement of Life.” I think she’s dead on…

“The subtle messages sent from our body to our consciousness that can help us finely tune the quality of life can only be experienced when we are in resonant participation.Whether we attend to our life or not, it runs a course of its own. By joining our attention to the rhythms and movements of our own body, we can do more than just go through the motions of living. We can access a portal opening into a depth of dimension that is waiting to reveal the eternal mysteries from which everything emerges.” 


Lilia Lee - April 18, 2014

As an avowed couch potato, I really resonate with this particular post. Anything that resembles exercise turns me off. But if I move in the guise of doing something else (think of it as moving meditation), I am quite content to do so.

    Susannah Steers - April 18, 2014

    I understand what you mean Lilia! I always feel a lot better when I’m moving – but exercise for it’s own sake just bores me. So much more fun when we can bring our whole selves into the activities we do in life! My meditation is movement – whether I’m running, dancing, playing or doing an actual “walking meditation!”

Cena Block from - April 18, 2014

I like that you talk about how to think about movement vs. exercise. It’s a fresh perspective and a great way to look at it.

    Susannah Steers - April 23, 2014

    Thanks Cena. Movement is my first language. For me, that’s the only way it makes sense. 🙂

Kathleen Watson - April 18, 2014

“What if you could just start paying attention?” A great question, Susannah, and one I get to challenge myself with more consistently. Since I just did an entire ezine on the concept of “be here now” and you posted this article, I’m sort of getting the idea that the Universe is trying to whap me upside the head so I tune in more. 🙂

    Susannah Steers - April 23, 2014

    Glad I could help with a gentle “whap!” Presence, mindfulness, embodiment – all different faces of the same coin. Sink in, baby!

Jane - April 23, 2014

Movement practice. What a great concept. We take movement for granite, that is until we can’t. I so agree with Cena that re-framing exercise as movement is a great idea.

Keep moving…..

Susannah Steers - April 23, 2014

Hi Jane, I’m glad it makes sense to you this way too. It’s so much more FUN!

Dorothy Pang, Fertility Coach & Acupuncturist - April 25, 2014

I love this idea of movement practice. I suppose qi gong falls under this category. Qi gong, which can be like yoga is a practice of awareness of movement of body, breath, and intention. This idea is so freeing to me, because “exercise” is not something I particularly enjoy, either!

    Susannah Steers - April 26, 2014

    Qi Gong is definitely a movement practice! I love that you’re diving into it Dorothy!

Elizabeth Owers - October 13, 2021

So true. Movement is such a critical element of our life that we often neglect its importance in our daily routine. For me, it’s only when knowing a bit about the repercussions of inactivity that movement becomes relevant to me. Everyone is motivated by different reasons, but for me, picturing myself with atrophied bones and muscles (and slow brain) is what moved the needle.

5 components of fitness - April 9, 2022

Amazing. I agree and appreciate your effort to gather knowledge and provide us on Health Components. I will read your other blogs too. Thanks one again.

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