What Must Burn?Sep 13, 2020
As great swaths of modern human distraction behaviors and routines are erased (at least temporarily), our collective nervous systems sound their alarms, cycling us through a gamut of uncomfortable sensations. Like pin balls in a kind of apocalyptic arcade game, we seem at the mercy of something outside of our control, a player of unknown skill flinging us abruptly from fear to despair, to uncertainty to hope and then back down the shoot toward fear once again.
What are our soothers during this time? Many of us are staring down the barrel of our own survival, both physically and economically, some of us for the first time- particularly in wealthy western countries. How do we locate moments of somatic peace in our bodies amidst all of this low-grade terror? And how do we regulate our nervous systems so we can, fingers crossed, skew toward mental and physical wellbeing on the other side of this pandemic?
My first answer is; Any way we can.
Given the tall and wide gaps in mental, emotional, physical and economic privilege and resources, the bottom line is that you move through each day the best way you can manage.
You might scroll, you might eat, you might drink, you might lie on your back staring at your ceiling or the sky, you might clean every nook and cranny of your home. You might cry. Or shake. Any and all things are appropriate.
I’m writing this to invite a few suggestions of my own to your personal mix of pandemic coping practices.
What must burn?
When it comes to contemplating our overall purpose here on earth I tend to seek out the deeper meanings and contemplate the eagle’s view as much as I can. Each day during this crisis, I’ve been witnessing the incredible efforts humans make to take care of each other. Efforts such as I have never experienced before in my almost half century of time on earth and my spiritualist nature can’t help but wonder if there may be an unprecedented level of transformation underway.
This leads the witch lineage in me to step forward and ask the next natural question: “What must burn?”
If we truly are on the precipice of new ways of being and creating, it makes sense that there are old ways that face collapse, yes? What better way to bid farewell than to build a pyre and light that shit up.
There are many structures I would love to see extinguished on the altar of Corona. For example; racism, ableism, sexism, classism, capitalism.
In my own little bubble of expertise and passion, I would also put forward that “Fitness” as an industry be considered for sacrifice during these times. My hope being that we all come away from the altar embracing the transformative gift of movement as medicine and ritual instead.
The business of fitness has been fractured and ripe for transformation for a long while. The shaming of bodies, big and small, and the constant promotion of impossible ideals, intense and excessive levels of exercise and disordered eating practices are just a few of the reasons why it feels like time to say goodbye. There are beautiful people in the industry, many of them caught up in the distortions created by the need to sell as opposed to serve. Many of them also deal with their own body dysmorphias and conflations of thinness with health. These people need saving just as much as you and I. This does not mean no one gets to earn a living teaching the joys and techniques of exercise, but it does mean that the exploitation of physical insecurities and the promotion of oppressive and disordered agendas stops.
It has struck me often during the past several weeks, that being torn away from our typical routines can create, with proper grieving, both opportunity and space. Our exercise and fitness routines are no exception. Yes, we’ve lost access to most of our equipment, our facilities and our face-to-face contact with instructors. Yes, we are experiencing completely different rhythms to our days and demands on our time and in many ways it likely feels much harder right now to fit exercise in.
But is it really?
Or do we just need to strike the match and craft something entirely new from the ashes?
Exercise as Medicine
The benefits of exercise are exceptionally well documented and exercise prescription for mental, physical and emotional health has a history dating back to healers in the earliest civilizations of India, China and Greece. We know how much our mood and our nervous systems and our energy levels can shift when we add exercise to our schedules. It’s one of the more helpful soothers we can support ourselves with during this unprecedented time. And it doesn’t need to be with any great intensity or in any particular way for it to be beneficial. We can still exercise! We can walk, bike or dance. We can source out body weight based workouts online or chair based ones if mobility is a concern. There is gardening and skipping and chasing our kids around the house. In some cases there are stairs to walk or jog up and free or low cost Youtube and Zoom based classes galore. It doesn’t need to be 30 minutes on the elliptical or a 60 minute yoga class. Find 10 minutes. Move your body if and when you can. Notice how that feels.
Movement as the Melody of the Soul
When we broaden our understanding of what movement (as opposed to exercise) has to offer, it changes us. Early civilizations and many Indigenous peoples moved as a part of ritual, celebration and sport. They moved and still do move as an expression of joy and of sorrow. (Have you seen the many videos of traditional Indigenous healing dances in the last few weeks on social media? They are incredible). Movement was part of processing life and of initiation, though it was not labeled or separated out as such. It was integrated, intuitive and instinctual and it can be those things again, if we want it to. Feeling your feet on a trail or your hands climbing on stone, cranking up music and allowing it to twist and shake your body as it sees fit, digging, crouching and lifting in the dirt of a garden, gliding over ice on skates or peddling a bicycle to a destination. When we can come to movement as an expression of our soul and as reverence to our environments, it feels different. It feels vital. And from there, the ease with which it integrates itself into our lives is pure and simple magic.
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