Perhaps it’s my temperament or astrology sign, my cellular make-up, or maybe it’s just my access to joy – but I believe in physical exertion. I learned to enjoy the bliss of play growing up in the heart of the Appalachians with hippie parents squashing my pleas for television and Barbie dolls with commands to get outside, enjoy nature, and make my own fun. When I was in middle school and my hormones steered fat onto my thighs and stomach, clouded my brain, and cause my moods to ebb and flow like the tides, I hit the running track with my best friend and experienced focus, peace and contentment. I decided to study psychology and exercise in undergrad to further understand the connection between the two – why activity induced a surge of otherwise difficult to attain clarity and joy. I never found out, but now I don’t have to know the mechanism as I have enough anecdotal evidence to convince me that it just does.
I am now a physical therapist and see patients daily that begin treatment with pain, a weakness of muscle as well as a diminished spirit. As progress occurs and the patients participate in hours of exercise and movement they begin to develop a sense of control over their livelihood, tools to live their lives without unmanageable pain. They begin to crack jokes, tell stories about their families, and enjoy one another.
I believe when we participate in activity or recreation, we are truly re-creating. We are not only initiating a connection between our central nervous system and motor units, but between mind and body. We can discover ourselves through physical movement, as it often demands a quieting of the internal monologue to focus the energy otherwise, as well as a respect for our physical vessel as it gets us where we want to go. There is little else that can soothe my anxieties than a swift walk in the outdoors once as a kid and now as an adult.
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