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I don’t want to oversimplify things. And I’d like to make it clear before I go any further that I’m not a huge fan of the sweeping generalization. But my years on my own yoga mat plus another decade of helping other people move around on theirs has led me to a conclusion that sounds ridiculously simple and a bit like a sweeping generalization.
We have to move.
Are you feeling angry? Move.
Are you depressed? Move.
Brain scattered? Move.
Do you have a cold? Move.
Are you fighting cancer? Move.
Is your back sore? Move. Mindfully, of course, but move.
Your knee? Again, pay attention, but move.
Anything else sore? Let’s figure out how to safely get you moving.
Seriously, we are designed to move. Too much stillness – the sedentary, screen-oriented lifestyle that is becoming our norm – makes us sore, sick and sad. Plus irritable. Very, very irritable. We are not meant to be crochety and uncomfortable. It’s a lot harder to spread joy, light and love in the world when we’re not feeling good in our bodies.
So let’s get ourselves back to feeling good. Let’s move.
The September 19, 2016 issue of Time Magazine announces in huge letters on its cover the “exercise cure.” Mandy Oaklander, in her article called “The New Science of Exercise,” describes the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. People who do not move, sweat and build muscle are at a higher risk for cancer, worsened arthritis, increased low back pain, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety and early death from any cause. Whoa.
We’ve known literally for millennia that we need to move. Hipppocrates wrote in 400 B.C. that “Eating alone will not keep a man well. He must take exercise.” Dr. Robert Sallis of Kaiser Permanente Fontanta Medical Center in California, interviewed in Oaklander’s article, makes the argument that exercise should be prescribed by doctors in the same way that medicine is. He’s been doing so for years and says, “It really work[s] amazingly, particularly in my very sickest patients.”
Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky agrees. His research into the science of exercise reveals that when blood is drawn immediately after exercise, many aspects of our body and health show improvement. In fact, he says, “if there were a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can, it would be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever developed.”
So how do we get this miracle drug of exercise? We need a combination of two things: aerobic exercise and strength training. And not too terribly much of either, by the way. The World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week plus twice-weekly muscle strengthening. You don’t need to hit the weight room at your gym for this strength work. Moving your own body weight is enough. In fact, yoga is at the top of the list of recommended strength training exercises for optimum health. A vigorous style of yoga such as Ashtanga (the kind I practice and teach) offers both of these recommended types of exercise.
Over the years, I’ve had students describe healing of all kinds from their yoga practices. One describes no longer needing the inhaler she’d used for years because of asthma and allergies. Another describes freedom from back pain that has plagued her for most of her adult life. Another tells of relief from migraines and another of resolved digestive issues. I work with students who use their practices to keep depression at bay and to navigate anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve seen yoga dramatically change countless students’ bodies – some who just needed to reconnect with their physical selves and others as they healed from joint injuries, surgeries or years of living with chronic pain.
I pray that articles like the one on the cover of Time Magazine serve as a wakeup call to the people everywhere who have forgotten to make movement part of their days. And I pray that it keeps those of us who have embraced movement on our mats (or in our sneakers) where we belong.
The next time you have an ache or pain – whether it’s inside or out – I hope you choose to (repeat after me) MOVE!