Moving Toward Joyful Movement

There are so many ways to move our bodies, and moving our bodies has so many benefits. Especially in midlife.

Runner’s High

When we think of movement, perhaps our minds go straight to strenuous or heart pumping exercise—like running, cycling, interval training. After all, exercise is encouraged by the American Heart Association and many different sources as a way to maintain fitness, strengthen heart muscle, and lower blood pressure.

We might also think about the endorphin rush that comes with aerobic exercise, that sense of euphoria that is also known as “runner’s high.” Endorphins are chemicals released by the nervous system to cope with stress and boost positive feelings. They are also known as nature’s pain relievers, because they reduce the perception of pain.

But did you know that many forms of movement, even those that are not high intensity, boost endorphins?

Yes, yes!

Even light-to-moderate intensity movements—like most forms of yoga—when synchronized with breath, release endorphins.

Better yet, movement releases other chemicals, like endocannabinoids, that increase optimism and boost our capacity for joy.

Moving Toward Joyful Movement

Endocannibinoids also increase the pleasure we experience of being with other people and reinforce what anthropologists and sociologists call collective joy.

In her book, The Joy of Movement, Kelly McGonigal PhD defines collective joy as an altered mindset that stems from moving in synchrony with other people. That generates a sense of transcendence that allows us to experience ourselves as connected to something bigger than ourselves or, as McGonigal puts it, a sense of “we-agency” that means ‘We can do this and I don’t have to do it on my own.’

Collective Joy in a Virtual World

Can we generate collective joy through movement classes or practices in a virtual world?

Yes, yes!

If you’ve been moving your body at home asynchronously (e.g., via online replay classes or a subscription to a video library), consider adding a live online class of your favorite movement practice, especially one in which movement and breath are synchronized. Not only might you experience that endorphin rush, but also release the  endocannabinoids that help us tap into and reinforce the human capacity to bond.

I am moved to learn that finding ways to move our bodies alongside others can also generate collective joy, and in doing so, strengthen social connection.


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