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Exercise as a Foreign Language

So how is that New Year's resolution going - you know, the one about Getting Fit? If you are like most people, you place the emphasis on the "fit" and not the "getting." We walk around with "before" and "after" pictures in our heads, as if "fit" was a destination (probably in California). Once you are there, you've made it and can finally relax! So most of us start off our efforts with a bang in January and by now we are feeling like failures, reinforcing our identities as "couch potatoes."

But "getting fit" is more like "becoming fluent." It takes a long time to integrate physical activity into your life and have it feel natural. It takes a long time to see yourself as a speaker of the language, and for other people to see you that way. And in real life, fluent speakers have fluctuating opportunities to use their language, and it can go dormant and come alive again. The good news is that anyone who loved recess has physical activity as her native language! 

Spend some time thinking about what your life would look like if you were "fluent" in physical activity. You would have an athletic identity for yourself. You would see yourself as the "sort of person" who can't sit inside and let a beautiful day go by, who notices when she feels a "hunger to move," and who exhilarates in the feeling of her body's muscles carrying her along like a beloved horse. That sort of person can come in any physical package at all, contrary to our cultural images of "athletes." 

So do you have to spend hours of boring practice to become "fluent"? Language lab, dialogue sentences, endless reps of  "la plume de ma tante"? You might think so if you only looked at the mindless drudgery taking place in many gyms and PE classes. But what if movement was more like traveling to a foreign country? What if you were set down to explore this new territory, its colors and smells and sounds and your own body's reactions to it? 

You might feel overwhelmed at first, but probably not bored! You'd make all kinds of mistakes, and have to really concentrate sometimes. You could not have perfection as a goal! And yet really being in the experience would be like being carried along in a river current. 

So here's the first question: Where do you want to visit? Ask yourself what kind of movement interests you. Does your body yearn for something graceful and deliberate like Tai Chi? Something raucous and wild like slam dancing? Something in the water, with music, accompanied by other people, or not?  Thinking about making a change in your life is the all-important first step, and it counts. Try the "Hunger to Move" meditation for inspiration.

The next step is to explore. Become a world traveler and try different kinds of movement. You don't have to fulfill your New Year's resolution by buying a gym membership and limiting yourself to 400 square feet of weight machines. Instead, take your money and a good friend and try some new movement adventure every week. You won't like everything you do, but you will learn what you like, and want more of it. 

Bon voyage!

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Last updated: March 05, 2011.