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Let Your Body Move You

© 2014 by Jennifer Read Hawthorne

I measure time by how the body sways.
Theodore Roethke

It’s January, that time of year that can evoke feelings of new beginnings—but also dread at the thought of some of the New Year’s resolutions we know we want/need to make. If you’re like most people, your list of resolutions is likely to include something about exercise (groan).

Here are the top three secrets I’ve discovered to actually put an end to the dread part and amp up the wonderful part.  First, stop calling it exercise; if it’s anything less than fun, forget it. Two, stop thinking it has to be at a gym. And three, instead of thinking that you have to move your body, let your body move you. With this perspective, not only will you be able to do something great for your physical health and well-being, but also for your mind and heart.

For example, one of the fastest ways I’ve found to get out of misery is to put on some music and move! As Gabrielle Roth, creator of “The Five Rhythms,” says, “Put the psyche in motion, and it will heal itself.”1 I have discovered that even five minutes of dancing to music I love can shift my mood, release stuck emotions, energize me and make me a nicer person.

My friend Ted is a crazy swing dancer who goes to group dances at least once a week and will even travel if necessary to find a dance event. A deeply spiritual man, he says it gives him the perfect balance between the physical and the spiritual, keeping him grounded and centered.

Walking is another way to let your body move you—especially if there’s a reason for the walk other than “exercise.” The woman affectionately known in my neighborhood as “the dog lady” walks by my house every day. She is one of those people who bear an uncanny likeness to their pets: she is sleek, silver-haired, and eager. She is also devoted, because no matter how beautiful or brutal our weather, she’s out there twice a day with her two greyhounds, who think they’re walking her.

“Why?” I asked her one day. “It gives me purpose and timing,” she said. “Like the lines on a calendar, it shows me where I am now, in my day and in my life.”

Elinor is another walker. About five times a week she heads for Snow Canyon, just minutes from her house, and spends some time communing with rocks. They speak to her. Although she’s been a regular walker for fifteen years, she says this walk is like a walking meditation: It’s a time just to be. She doesn’t listen to headphones, doesn’t focus on anything, doesn’t try to solve problems, but enjoys nature and connects to the earth. If something has been “up,” the answer usually comes to her on the way out of the park, at the edge, in what she calls her “ah-hah” zone.

And then there’s my friend Jennifer. Walking in Central Park every single morning of her life is her lifeline. Like the dog lady, Jennifer doesn’t really care how bad the latest ice storm blanketing the Northeast is. Never mind that she walks all over New York the rest of the day, putting in miles between subway stops, her office, grocery stores, the florist, and the restaurant where she eats at 11:00 p.m. on her way home. She says there’s a tree there that moves her to tears.

We’ve long heard about the benefits of walking: more energy, deeper and more satisfying sleep, stronger leg muscles. Walkers are said to live longer and have less incidence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other “killer” diseases. It impacts mind and spirit, too. One website says it “benefits your brain power, improves your mood and helps ward off depression, and allows you to connect more deeply with your spiritual side and with your loved ones.” (walking.about.com) I’ve even heard Dr. Deepak Chopra say that walking is the ultimate exercise, because every part of the body is affected.

Not convinced? Hate walking? Consider this: Is there something else you do naturally to stretch out your back or your calves? I love yoga, for example, but sometimes the thought of a “yoga session” or class is just too much effort. So I might get off the couch or my desk chair and hang in a forward fold for a minute, letting my upper torso fall forward from the waist, arms dangling to the floor, “resting.” Now that feels good! The next thing I know, I’ve moved into triangle pose, one of my favorites, just because it feels good and I feel beautiful when I make that shape.  Before I know it, 20 minutes have passed and I’ve had a yoga session that came from the inside out, not a self-imposed, crack-the-whip, “you’ve got to exercise” perspective.

If exercise is on this year’s list of resolutions, get creative. Really think about ways you enjoy being in your body. Take a salsa dance class (it’s no effort to get there if you love it). Find a pool and do back dolphins and let all the air out of your lungs so you can lie on the bottom—all those crazy things you did as a child who loved water. Think FUN, not exercise. And this year, you just might find that your New Year’s resolution carries you way beyond January.