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Reclaiming the Magic of Movement: Beyond Aesthetics and Disease Prevention

Updated: Mar 9

Photo by Tanner Ott

It’s a shame that movement and exercise have been sold to us as ways to get thin (or muscular, or aesthetically pleasing) or to prevent diseases. Movement is a spiritual experience, an expression of the now, and exactly what trendy new therapies like somatics are trying to get us to. What if exercise wasn’t for some hypothetical future healthy self? What if we moved our bodies simply because they crave movement, without the pressure of achieving a certain aesthetic or health outcome?

I recently started lifting weights. I have never been an exercise person, despite being a lifelong yogi. My yoga practice, while it started as a form of exercise in pursuit of some hypothetical future yoga body, is now a very spiritual practice for me. The movement is meditative. It is healing. It is the philosophy and energy that I plan my life around. However, I started lifting weights after realizing that despite years of yoga practice, I am actually quite weak. 

I didn’t take the decision to start lifting weights lightly. In the past, I have struggled with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, from which I credit my yoga practice for healing me. I knew I didn’t want to go to the gym for aesthetic purposes. I didn’t want to take before and after pictures. There isn’t even a mirror in my apartment to obsess over these inevitable physical changes. I don’t want to be attached to a specific body outcome that will ultimately be temporary. I also didn’t want my time at the gym to be in pursuit of some specific physical feat, like a handstand or a deadlift. 

I set out to work out for the sole purpose of finding my strength. I wanted to get stronger. And I wanted to see what I could learn about myself and life through the process of getting stronger. 

I told my bestie that I was working out at the gym these days and she was thrilled. “Oooo take lots of progress videos! Show me!” she cheered. Normally, this would be the approach I would take. Did it really happen if you can’t post it on social media, after all? But this experience feels very different. I am not aiming for anything specific. I am just doing this for the journey, and to see what I find along the way. 

It feels kind of strange, for once in my life to be pursuing exercise without an aesthetic goal. It almost feels like that’s the purpose of exercise -- right? When we are told that we should work out by the myriad messages that inundate us every single day, we are told that we will lose weight, get a flatter stomach, sculpt our asses, obtain the ever-elusive bikini body. 

3 buff gods, as seen in my local gym

There’s this saying in the body positive community that has been pervasive: “you are not your body; you have a body.” And I want to disagree. The body was not invented at the time of the gym; we humans have had bodies for as long as we have been human. Our bodies are as much us as our minds or spirits. Studies have shown that people who move their bodies regularly are happier. New therapy techniques are using movement and mind/body connection to get to the root of healing trauma. “The Body Keeps the Score,” is a bestselling book and healing philosophy. The body is deeply connected to who we are, and not just this hypothetical self that we want to keep healthy for the future. The body holds our past selves and our present selves in this same space. The body is the self. The meaning of the word “yoga” in Sanskrit is “union,” as in the unification of the body, mind, and spirit. 

I think our natural state, who we are as humans, is much more connected to our bodies than our culture gives it credit for. Our jobs are often so far removed from our bodies that most of us sit at desks and don’t move throughout the day. Repeated traumas combined with this cultural lifestyle have really convinced us that we are separate from our bodies. Many of us see our bodies as a burden, another thing we have to take care of, and a source of shame. And then our culture has turned this around and essentially sold us fitness as either aesthetics or long term disease prevention. Personally, as a chronically depressed person, the appeal of long term disease prevention has never motivated me to move my body. It has been hard enough to imagine a future in which I live, let alone a hypothetical one where I grow old and prevent heart disease. 

But what if we talked about fitness as more of a present tense thing? What if we talked about how just 5 minutes of movement is shown to improve mental health – immediately!? What if we connected to the self that is not deep inside but is actually right there, waiting for you to unite the mind and body together instead of treating them like they are separate?

I have learned more about myself through movement than I have through 7 years of therapy. Sure, therapy has supported these breakthroughs, but they are things I never would have discovered about myself or my views on life, the divine, and magic without having a regular movement practice like Ashtanga Yoga. I’ve also cried more, laughed more, and experienced huge waves of pleasure, relief, excitement, disappointments, and more through this practice.  When I move my body, I am fully human.

Something I repeat to myself often is, “I am a spirit having a human experience.” And I have trouble figuring out why a spirit would need a human body beyond using it to explore things that it cannot without a body. I see part of my purpose -- my shot of life here on Planet Earth -- as a chance to work things out and experience life through the body.

I believe that reframing our perception of fitness and movement is essential. Rather than viewing it as a means to achieve external goals, we should see it as a sacred practice—a journey of self-discovery and self-expression. By reconnecting with our bodies and honoring their innate wisdom, we can unlock the transformative power of movement and embrace the magic of being fully human.

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