You might be wondering: what is Intuitive Movement? Well first, I’d like to say that I did not coin this term and I am certainly not the first to talk about it. But as a Personal Trainer and Intuitive Eating Counselor, it felt well, intuitive, to explore this concept and share my 10 Principles of Intuitive Movement (a play on the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating). I define Intuitive Movement as a practice to help you have a more peaceful and joyful relationship with movement (or exercise, working out, fitness… whatever you want to call it!).
I think it’s important to point out that these are my 10 principles. These are observations I’ve made based on my personal and professional experiences and there’s still a lot to learn and discover! It’s also important to point out that these are not tricks to “do more” or “stick with” an exercise or fitness program. These are principles to help you develop your intuition to have a healthy, flexible, and relationship with movement.
When you’re done reading through my 10 principles, I want to hear from you - leave an additional principle, thought, or question in the comment section!
Unlink Movement from Weight (or Body) Management
It’s no secret that diet (and fitness) culture profit off of our insecurities. It puts thinness on a pedestal while selling you an often temporary and harmful “solution” under the guise of health. Then, when we can’t ‘stick with the program’, we blame ourselves and try again, vowing that this time it will be different. But as long as our motivation for movement is extrinsically motivated, ie as a way to achieve a certain body ideal, we’ll forever be stuck in the on-again-off-again loop with exercise. When your motivation to move comes from within, your desire to move comes without strings and you continue to do it because it brings your joy, satisfaction, comfort, or something else you might need in this moment.
The Practice: When that “should” voice pops up (“I should exercise more…”) take a moment to pause and ask yourself why? Do this with the curiosity of child. You might need to do this time and time again until you can identify a reason that is not linked with weight or body management. Simple, but not easy!
Approach with Curiosity
When we can’t seem to shake the diet mentality, the anxiety we experience can often be distilled down to one word: should. When we get so caught up in what we “should” be doing we immediately shift our focus outward, instead of inward. When we go inside, we can approach our movement practice with curiosity and instead of saying “I should go running” we can ask, “what would it feel like to go for a run?” We can take an experimental approach to movement and meet our curiosity with honesty and compassion.
The Practice: Stay curious throughout your movement practice, always asking “how does this feel?” or “what would it be like to try something different”. There are no right or wrong answers so approaching these questions without judgement and a healthy dose of self-compassion is key!
Consider Your Values
When I work with clients who have the desire to move, but recognize that they have no desire to go to the gym or try a trendy workout class, I often ask them to take a values assessment. It’s nothing fancy and simply requires looking at a list of 100 or so values (ie adventure, honesty, exporation, comfort, mastery, love etc), and circling all that resonate with them. This assessment can help you be more intentional about aligning your movement practice with your values and understanding why you might avoid situations that are not in line with your values.
The Practice: First find a list of values; you can do this with a quick google search. Then, circle, highlight, or jot down all of the values that resonate with you. If you’re overwhelmed by the number of values you’ve circled I suggest looking for themes or pairing your list down to 3-5 core values. From there you can apply the values in two ways. First, you can brainstorm some movement goals that are aligned with these values (ie the value of exploration might equal exploring new hiking trails every month). Or second, you can identify forms of movement that are the most accessible to you such as doing an at-home yoga video on YouTube, and do a value-check (is this activity in line with my values?). This a simple and effective way to find more intrinsic motivation for movement and further practice unlinking weight and body management from your movement practice.
It’s important to keep in mind that your values don’t just apply to movement! So while you might explore new forms of movement that align with your values, there are many other aspects of your life that are values-driven too. Sometimes making time for friends, family, school, or growing your business takes priority over your movement practice and that is just part of life!
The Practice: While your values rarely change, how you prioritize them does. A simple way to practice prioritizing values is taking some time each morning (or as often as you can) to set an intention for the day or the week. What values do I want to prioritize this week? This can help you get clear on how you want to spend your time and make time that is consumed by less fun activities feel more meaningful.
Improve Inner Attunement
Improving your inner attunement is pretty much the cornerstone of practicing intuitive movement; and it’s much easier said than done. Put simply, this means learning how to listen and respond to what your body needs without judgement. This at times might mean switching up your plan for the day or week. This might mean up-leveling your workout, and this also might mean taking an impromptu rest day. Often this means embracing modifications and knowing that taking the “easier” (as diet culture might define it) route might also be the healthiest choice.
The Practice: This might sound scary, but try getting rid of external feedback sources. This means your scale, your fitness tracker, your heart rate monitor (unless needed for medical reasons), even your stopwatch or desire to count repetitions. Instead, try using a rate of perceived exertion measurement with each exercise to check in with yourself. This could look something like performing a specific movement, let’s say walking, and asking yourself on a scale from 1-10 how difficult does this feel? There is no correct number to hit, it’s really just about where you are, and where you feel like you need to go. If you’re at a 5 and you have the energy to bump up to a 7 or 8… go for it. If you’re at a 5 and need to take it down to a 1, do it. The best part is that you get to decide how you define difficulty. Some days specific exercises might feel difficult because your muscles are burning from lactic acid build-up and your heart rate is increasing. Other days those same exercises might feel difficult because your energy levels are low or because you’re nursing an injury. Using RPE is a simple and effective way to begin listening and responding to your body’s internal cues.
Be Flexible (Without Guilt)
Nope, I’m not talking about yanking yourself into a trendy yoga pose (unless of course that’s in line with your values and brings you joy!). I’m talking about being flexible with your plans. We all have busy schedules and if your day-to-day life doesn’t allow for much movement, it might be helpful to intentionally carve out some time to move at home, outside, or maybe even go to a gym, studio, or class. Planning and scheduling when it comes to movement is ok if that’s your thing! However, it’s important to be flexible with your plans and honor your needs. There are so many reasons why your plans might change last minute, whether it means going for a short walk instead of a long run or watching your favorite TV show instead of moving at all, and that doesn’t mean that you’re “making excuses” or being lazy. Ok?
The Practice: If you feel like scheduling movement or having a plan is helpful, try to do it in short-term chunks. This allows you to be a little more respectful of your present state when you’re planning. I prefer to do this on a week-by-week basis and usually look at my schedule for the week and plug in when I’ll have time to carve out for some movement. Sometimes this depends on my work schedule, and often depends on the weather. This way you’re able to plan for around these events (ie if you need to bring a change of clothes) but you’re also able to practice flexibility in the moment if a friend wants to get together last minute or your baby gets sick. It’s not the end of the world and your movement practice will always be there for you when you’re ready for it.
Modify Modify Modify
This piggy backs on flexibility and is an especially helpful principal if you’re someone who enjoys follow-along type movement practices like group exercise classes, workout videos, or yoga. Modifying exercises so they are appropriate for your body and your ability level does not mean you are taking the easy way out. Modifying is just one more way you can practice listening and responding to your bodies needs, and therefore strengthen your intuition!
The Practice: I find it best to start with a modification, whether it be one that is offered to you by an instructor, or one that you create on your own. From there, you can assess and decide if you want to up-level. And remember, you can always change your mind!
This is something that I talk to almost all of my clients about when it comes to movement. With the rise of HIIT workouts and exercise videos (most of which are designed for an advanced ability level) in today’s fitness culture it can easily feel like if we’re not constantly pushing our bodies to the limit, we’re not doing enough. When we start to sharpen our intuition we also get to throw away the “shoulds” and redefine what it means to do “enough”. Enough some days might mean taking to dog for a walk, doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, and other days it might mean doing something more formal. Whether you’re training for a half-marathon or indulging in a TV marathon, let what you do today be enough.
The Practice: I like a mantra: I am doing enough. I am enough.
Experience Enjoyment and Pleasure
Are you a masochist? I work with so many people who feel like if their workout doesn’t feel extremely difficult or it’s not a certain length of time, then it doesn’t “count”. And if it brings them joy or pleasure? Then it can’t possibly be good! First, see above. It all counts. And, none of it counts. But more importantly movement can and should be enjoyable and pleasurable. In fact, the more joyful, the more likely you are to do it! When your movement practice contains a healthy dose of pleasure, it creates a positive feedback loop that ultimately helps you form new pathways in your brain to change behavior. Ultimately no amount of accountability tools, trackers, or programs can change your habits as powerfully as actually having FUN.
The Practice: Make a list of activities that you actually enjoy. Think outside the box, this doesn’t have to include a typical “workout”. It could be going out dancing with friends or walking to your favorite coffee shop. The hard part? Allow yourself to soak up the pleasure of these activities without guilt.
If we’re not comparing ourselves to the person next to us, it’s likely we’re comparing ourselves to our former selves. Having the thought “I used to be able to do this…” or “When I was [smaller, stronger, etc] I was able to do this…”. It’s easy to get caught up in these loops, but it’s important to know that intuition only works in the present moment. It’s near impossible to approach movement from an intuitive place when we are chasing what once was. There are so many reasons our bodies change. Physical disabilities, disease progression, injuries both chronic and temporary, pain, pregnancy, surgery, and mental health issues can all play a role in how we move. Practicing presence simply means that we don’t have to harp on fixing or striving to “get back to where we were” but instead, we practice honoring our body where it is now and working with our bodies instead of fighting against them.
The Practice: This is something you can practice always and it doesn’t require anything except a little awareness. Try grounding yourself to the present moment by doing a quick body scan; noticing how your body feels from the tip of your toes to the top of your head. You can do this lying in bed, sitting at your desk, or during your movement practice. This simple act of noticing now can help keep you in the present moment.
As you can see there is SO much to cover when it comes to this concept of intuitive movement… this post even though it’s over 5 pages long (literally!) is just scratching the surface.
I’ll be answering more specific questions related to the concept of intuitive movement in an upcoming podcast episode. Have a question of your own? Pop it in the comments section and I’ll address it on the podcast!