Joyful movement is the idea that the movement and exercise we choose to do should bring us joy. When the focus shifts away from weight loss and appearance, and more toward how we feel, we develop a more harmonious connection with our bodies. It makes absolutely no sense to keep punishing ourselves with exercise we dread. A militant approach is never sustainable and will harbor guilt, self-hate, and stress.
Where did Joyful Movement come from?
Joyful movement originated as part of the HAES (Health at Every Size) framework that aims to help all people improve their relationship with their bodies. It was founded by Linda Bacon, PhD and can be explained in her book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Joyful movement coupled with intuitive eating has been proven to help people improve their body image and help many recover from eating disorders.
How I found Joyful Movement
Diet Culture and Body Goals
About 6 years ago I fell for all the lies the fitness industry was trying to sell to me. I dieted, cut out entire food groups, counted calories, and forced myself into a strict workout routine to lose weight. I was miserable and it also was not even working. After chasing unrealistic body goals and eating habits, I developed a horrible relationship with food, exercise, and my body. I was constantly blamed my “lack of willpower” and sit in a pool of self-disappointment.
My turning point
In 2018 I got in a car accident with injuries. All of a sudden I was no longer able to do all the exercise I wanted to, it felt like torture. Once I recovered I just felt so grateful to be able to have legs to run, arms to lift things, and an able body to dance with. I started to truly enjoy exercise, stopped counting calories, and viewed it as a celebration of my abilities. You can read more about my story here.
Is it Joyful Movement?
Questions to ask yourself
- Would I do this movement even if it had no impact on my appearance?
- Do I like how this movement makes my body feel?
- Do I dread this movement?
- Is this movement either enjoyable or functional?
- Am I doing this movement for a sense of control over my body?
- Am I flexible with my movement routine?
- Do I have a sense of guilt if I don’t exercise?
- It is painful?
- Is it causing me to miss out on other aspects of my life?
- Do I consider myself “bad” for skipping a day of intentional exercise?
- Do I think about the calories I’m burning while doing it?
Joyful Movement and the Mind-Body Connection
Health is about so much more than diet and exercise. Other major influencers on our health include mental well-being, hormonal health, social health, sleep hygiene, and spiritual well-being. How does joyful movement perform in each of these categories compared to the traditional fitness industry ideology?
The Old Way – Traditional Fitness Industry
Raise your hand if you’ve heard any of these phrases:
- “Sweat is just fat crying”
- “No excuses”
- “No days off”
- “Think about that beach body”
- “You’ll only regret the workout you didn’t do”
No, actually I have regretted workouts that I’ve done – ones that caused me pain, cost me my mental health, and made me miss out on time with family and friends. The mindset behind those phrases is toxic, but I used to buy into all of it. I would wake up early to do a workout even if I only got four hours of sleep. My body was in a stressful state – a recipe for hormonal imbalances (i.e. excess cortisol can actually cause you to gain weight). I would also have anxiety if a social or family event would conflict with the workouts I planned. I would also have anxiety over meeting friends at restaurants if I was dieting. In summary, this toxic diet and fitness culture essentially took away my happy life. There is absolutely nothing healthy about that.
The New Way – Joyful Movement
Now that I practice joyful movement, my exercise is flexible, fun, and guilt-free. I listen to my body, rest when needed, and make time for people in my life that bring joy. Oftentimes my movement would not be considered intentional exercise – such as walking home from work, going out dancing, and playing beach volleyball with friends. There are definitely some days I start mentally falling into my old ways of thinking, but the important thing is that I can identify when the toxic mindset comes back to haunt me. I prioritize healthy sleep, restorative practices, and my mental health. Joyful movement supports true, holistic health in every sense.