I have been guided to write about the joy of movement and to remind myself and every one of the benefits of physical activities. My goal of writing the blog is to explore various subjects, to learn and grow. Writing is a great way of reminding myself and others of the ways of celebrating life, in spite of challenges and hardships along the way. You may wonder why the joy of movement? We all have heard the old cliche, that exercising is good for us, that maintaining physical activity is beneficial to our health, but let’s dig deeper, shall we?
My initial impulse to write about the subject came from the fact that I had always been physically active, but fairly early in my life, I was faced with physical restrictions that prevented me from fully participating in sport activities for nearly two decades. This new life situation taught me things are never guaranteed in life, that life is a gift and no one owes us anything. It also made me realize the joy I was getting from physical activities in the past, that I could no longer taste fully in the present moment. Prior to this medical condition, I did lots of hiking in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, did tons of walking, played tennis almost every day in summer, and skied practically every hill in my hood. I did cross-country skiing in Kananaskis Provincial Park, and danced until wee-wee hours.
I remember that moment in time precisely, when I started feeling discomfort during walking activity, that never left me, until the day I underwent surgery, almost two decades later. I was only 33 years old, and I just enrolled in full-time study at Alberta College of Art & Design in Calgary (ACAD). I noticed discomfort in groin area, but it was rather faint and barely noticeable at the time. However, over significant period of time, almost five years later, things deteriorated rapidly. Suddenly and almost overnight, I was no longer able to go on long walks, dance or move freely. This rapid change caught me by surprise, and I had to quickly adapt according to my body changes. Eventually, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my left hip. Despite limitations, I maintained active way of living. I was still able to do tings, but in much smaller dosage, and certain strenuous activities like, hiking or running for a ball on tennis court, were out of the question.
When I told my doctor the distances I was walking, she gave quick glance at the recent X-ray and told me she couldn’t believe that I was able to do that. Each morning I was waking up and ready to face the challenges ahead. I was rested, prepared and willing to push myself, despite the discomfort and pain. On the days I exerted myself, my body would remind me to be gentle with myself, so I had to recoup the next day. All these trials and tribulations taught me our bodies were designed to be in motion and I needed to learn the balance of movement and rest to accommodate my new condition.
After I graduated from ACAD, and now known as Alberta University of the Arts, I recall working at Fran Willis Gallery in Victoria, British Columbia. It was beautiful 3500 square feet space, located in the heart of old China Town, overlooking Inner Harbour. I worked as Gallery Assistant to the Director, helping Fran to run the gallery. I spent good part of my day on my feet, arranging large canvasses, ready for photo taking and uploaded images to gallery’s website.
Every four weeks, we had an Art Exhibition change. Fran and I were responsible for installing new works of art. I remember that gallery was closed for four days, from Monday and it was reopened on Thursday night for the new Art Exhibition. During those days of closure, Fran and I were working tirelessly, taking down previous art show, bringing new works or art, and installing them on the walls. It was enormous task, involving painting drywalls, climbing ladders, and taking measurement to ensure new paintings were installed in equal distances from each other, for pleasing esthetic effect. Every painting had to be labelled with title, artist name, medium and the size.
After four long days of transforming space into new art show, we had to metamorphose our bodies covered in sweat and sweat pants into gracious and elegant hosts, ready to entertain guests with wine and cheese and good conversations in attempt of introducing new artwork to potential buyers. These long four days of working tirelessly brought to mind, the stages of caterpillar, transforming herself into a beautiful butterfly. Fran and I, traditionally, on the night of new art opening, grabbed early sushi dinner from the local restaurant located downstairs of our building. Warm sake was always welcome on cold, winter night, and cold white wine during summer art reception.
The reason behind recollecting all these details of my work at the gallery is to remind myself that despite advanced arthritis at the time, I was able to face all the challenges presented in my work. I had enormous sense of satisfaction derived from the tedious work of transforming the gallery space into the new art show in spite of physical discomfort in the hip. Throwing myself into this work, diving with the head first, allowed me to forget the pain. I recognized there was a benefit of going through this undertaking of transformation, and although I was being paid for the work I did, but these four days of transforming the space was like descending into Hades, and sometimes you wondered if you will be able to complete the assignment on time, while dealing with the pain that never goes away.
The job at Fran Willis Gallery was a perfect job for me at that time, that provided me with the right set of sedentary periods combined with physical activities.
In the last year of my journey through chronic pain, I had to purchase a cane, as I could no longer bare the throbbing in my hip. The cane helped me to discover the new freedom of moving again. Eventually, after fifteen years of these physical restrictions, I have finally healed the condition and became absolutely pain free. The surgery gave me completely new chance at life, so I could taste the joys of movement again, from participating in physical activities, and all the sports I loved doing.
One thing I love doing is dancing and I danced a lot during Covid-19 lockdown to help myself with moving my body. Since I work at home during current pandemic, I often put my favourite music on during my breaks and danced like no one is watching. During dance, I experience certain heights, almost mystical like feelings, when I get the sense of being connected with every single being on a planet. Although I cannot explain where these feelings are coming from, but in the trance of dance, I feel I can teleport myself to some other dimension with much higher frequency, where everything makes perfect sense, even if nothing makes sense in 3D dimension, especially during COVID-19 lockdown.
I recall when I was younger and danced in social settings, I could experience the sense of euphoria, and heightened sense of belonging and connecting with everyone, even strangers. Even, once the evening ended, the feeling of happiness spilled all over into the morning. I loved those moments of heightened happiness for no particular reasons.
Prior to writing this blog, I kept hearing in my mind the phrase “the joy of movement”, so I decided to investigate it and I entered the phrase into Internet search engine and learned of the book titled exactly that: “The Joy Of Movement” written by Kelly McGonigal. I listened to her youtube interviews and currently reading the book, and now I understand why I was experiencing all those high moments of happiness and connection with everyone around me after physical workout.
McGonigal writes that exercise produces certain bliss and it can be experienced after significant effort of physical activity, whether it is running, dancing, swimming or hiking. It seems it is our brain’s way of rewarding us for hard work. One writer on Reddit forum, in response to runner’s high wrote: “I love what I’m doing and love everyone I see”. And another wrote: “I feel connected to the people around me, the loved ones in my life, and I’m infinitely positive about the future.”
The writer further explores the findings of anthropologist Herman Pontzer who studied physical activity habits of the Hadza, one of the last hunter-gatherers tribes in Africa and compares lifestyle of Hadza and typical adult in United States. Hadza spend most of the day hunting and foraging. On a typical day, the Hadza engage in two hours of moderate to vigorous activity. Hadza show no signs of the cardiovascular disease so prevalent in industrialized societies. Among many other health findings, Pontzer was particularly struck by the absence of two modern epidemics: anxiety and depression.
I found the book a fascinating read, and I learned that sports are so much more that just about physical health, it’s about connecting with others, cooperating and creating bonds among each other. Physical activity changes the brain. It explains why physical activity becomes more rewarding the more you do it.
I recommend “The Joy of Movement” wholeheartedly. The author explores countless situations of benefits of exercise, including people with severe disabilities and how physical activities improves the quality of life.
It seems that the act of movement promotes happiness and the joy of being alive, no matter what your level of physical fitness is. In this simple act of moving our bodies, one can find a life purpose. Movement breeds more desire of movement, more movement releases joy, often compared to even ecstasy, the spiritual experience of joy of being alive. Movement is infectious and creates happiness and connection and so much more.
Haefele, the accountant mentioned in a book, says that after the race she feels like this: ‘After a race, I’m in love with everybody, and sometimes it lasts the whole day. The person who’s selling me a coffee at the convenience store on the way home, I’m like, “I love that guy.’ I’ve never done ecstasy, but that’s how I imagine it is: All’s well with the world, everybody’s wonderful. If all you have to do is run thirteen miles to get that, it’s so worth it.”