For those of you who don’t know very much about what I do, I travel the country (and soon to be the world) teaching people about strength, and Mindful Strength in particular. In every workshop I teach someone ends up asking about cardiovascular exercise, and because of our cultural fascination with cardio, and weight loss I’ve decided to embrace it a bit more.
When we think of cardiovascular exercise we usually imagine biking, running or skipping. Some of us think riding through nature breathing fresh air, while other imagine running indoors on a treadmill watching the miles click by slowly. There are different types of cardio movement, some more productive than others, and some that we haven’t even imagined yet.
Two weeks ago I taught a workshop at an amazing community centre that had all the bells and whistles I could have ever imagined. A full deck of cardio machines, weights, a 400m indoor track, basketball courts and yoga room. All weekend as we moved through the different rooms and training areas we noticed people jogging around the track, and what stood out to me more than anything else was how lifeless the joggers seemed. It definitely did not seem like they were enjoying every step, feeling their body moving through space, and embodying their craft.
On the Sunday of my workshop I gave people the option to hit the track themselves, but rather than jogging around in a circle I instructed the group to try crawling around the track. The instructions were to get all the way around the track by doing any movements, from crawling to running, jumping, sideways moving, etc… and to breathe with the nose only, and to go at a pace that allowed them to do both of those things. After a couple seriously? looks, the group set out on a journey that took around five minutes. As they circled back to the starting point I noticed they were giggling, sweating, sharing stories of frustration, a couple women started cartwheeling and trying new movements, they were invigorated. One person said it felt like they had run around the track five times. I ended by making the point that if the goal is to get your heart beating, and body moving there are many ways to do that. I pointed to the cardio machines and I recommended that people ditch exercising on the spot, and actually move through space. It was clear in that moment that the 400m of crawling delivered a way better workout than any length of running could have, and that people actually enjoyed it, and felt present after it was finished.
I don’t have anything against beating hearts, and moderate to high intensity movement. What I have a problem with is people riding a stationary bike because they feel like they should, and zoning out or having to watch TV just to get through it. I believe that dissociating during exercise brings us further away from our health goals, and it trains us to tune out, rather than tune in. I think if you enjoy riding a bike, and you love how you feel in your body while and after you do it then all the power to you. I know there are a lot of people reading this who have been doing a lot of cardio not because they love their bodies and they want to move them, rather because they think they have to in order to lose weight, or as some type of punishment for not being active. I’m here to say that yes movement is important, but we can move in a way that gives us enjoyment, embodiment, freedom, intelligence, and that extra little sweat that we all love.
Lately I’ve been wanting to amp up the intensity in my classes, because my students are starting to really get strong, but I wanted to do it in a way that would make people feel good, and good about themselves. A month ago I started taking out my Yoga Tune-Up balls and getting my class to bounce a ball on the floor as a warm-up, because I don’t have the space to have ten people crawling around. In my classes we would begin with bouncing a ball only with one hand, as many bounces as possible, pretending it was a basketball. Then we would switch to the other hand. Eventually we would do the same in a squatting position, then in a seated position. Yesterday we bounced the ball in a plank, we practiced moving from sitting to standing while bouncing the ball, and basically anything I could think of. We did this for fifteen minutes, and by the end everyone was definitely warmed up, but what else happened during this fifteen minute period?
When you bounce a ball you immediately get pulled into the moment, focus narrows in on the hand-eye coordination, and the stresses of life get pushed to the back burner. Yes bouncing a ball might seem simple, but after a couple minutes balls are flying everywhere, people are diving across the room to catch them, spacial orientation kicks in, and you experience your body in a different way. Laughter erupts, people have to work together, while behind the scenes your heart is beating like crazy, delivering the benefits of cardiovascular exercise to the entire body. And just for the record, it doesn’t have to be bouncing a ball, it could be anything like this. The goal is to empower people come into their bodies, but in a way that is task oriented rather than diving deep into their feelings. Some people get frustrated more than others, but at the end of it all everyone moves at their own pace, and rests when needed.
We have all heard this before, but movement practice should bring us into our bodies, not make us want to escape them. If we have to be distracted from our movement practice or workout regime, is it really helping? There are so many ways to move that can actually help us come into the present moment, rather than retract from it. It is possible to move with higher levels of intensity, while actually enjoying the practice, the challenge, and the moment even though it feels tough.
Practicing cardio with this new mindset has actually made me excited about it again. The flashbacks of riding an elliptical machine as a teenager just to burn calories are slowly drifting away, as I now have a new way to experience cardiovascular exercise and movement. I hope you take some time over the next couple of weeks to experiment with this for yourself. Only practice cardio that makes you laugh, lets you learn something about your body, and that doesn’t require a TV on in the background.
Interested in working with Kathryn?