A few weeks ago we started a virtual book club.
You can read about the idea here.
You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.
What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.
What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.
Want to catch up?
Chapter 6 of McGonigal’s book is about how nature helps us get out of our own heads and into a different state of mind. She cites E.O. Wilson on biophilia, who defines it as a hard-wired instinct that’s key to human happiness. Wilson says, “the emotions that modern humans tend to feel in nature—awe, contentment, curiosity, wanderlust—contributed to early humans’ ability to thrive as a species that had to find its place in a complex and constantly changing landscape”.
As I read this chapter about the feelings of transcendence, connection, care and contentment that immersion in nature brings, I can’t help but notice how distant those feelings are now. Parks and green spaces and beaches and wilderness areas are closed. And rightly so; when the governor of Florida re-opened beaches for socially-distanced recreation, crowds of people thronged the shores.
Does McGonigal have something to offer us for accessing the transformative powers of nature in these sequestered days? Yes. She describes how astronauts on the International Space Station all perked up around their new crewmember Rose, a spouted zucchini plant that one astronaut carefully nurtured from seed. NASA now recommends gardening in space as a psychological balm against the artificiality of space travel.
Yesterday I spent some time tending to my house plants, watering and pruning and staking and planning for repotting. I’m also starting an herb garden on my back porch. For me, caring for things live and green cuts down on the whingeing and promotes a quieter, softer mind state.
Walking through our neighborhoods, noting the developing buds and green shoots and flowering flora is a pleasure worth slowing down and taking in. Maybe we need to think of it like athletic training. I’m considering this and will report back.Christine
When comes to exercising outdoors, my ADHD-related challenges with *starting* an exercise session are compounded. Not only do I have to get myself organized to do the exercise itself, I have to get extra clothing on and I have to be prepared to face whatever weather is happening out there.
(Don’t start with the ‘There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing’ thing with me. I’m not buying it.)
I like to BE outdoors and I like doing outdoor things but, like with many things in my life, I have trouble bridging the gap between wanting to do something and actually starting it.
This is where McGonigal’s Chapter 6 ‘Embrace Life’ is going to come in handy.
This chapter is all about the underlying physiological reasons that exercising in nature is good for us. It’s not just about the movement, it’s not just about nature itself, it’s about the brainspace that we can access when we are exercising outdoors.
She says that in our regular resting-brain state our minds are not quiet, they are, instead, chattering about our social connections – our relationships with others, our place in our own social world. This is not inherently bad (in fact, it is quite useful) but it can create challenges when we are dealing with mental health issues. In nature, however, our resting mental state almost immediately flips to a different sort of consideration. The sights, smells, and sounds of nature draws our attention outwards and we get ‘out of our heads’ and tune into the world around us. We begin to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
That’s the kind of information that can help me get past the challenges of starting.
I know that I feel better in nature – exercising or just being – but having it described in this way is very tangible and helpful. Knowing the specific type of feeling I am seeking (and how to achieve it) can be another little push in the direction I want to go.
I was also very intrigued by her descriptions of groups who do gardening/landscaping/outdoor work for their exercise and how they can be motivated by seeing their progress…that there is a visible difference in their space from the time they start to the time they finish. This ties in nicely with another struggle of mine – not being able to see how the pieces add up to the whole.
One of my challenges with consistent exercise is that it is hard for me to recognize that any given single session will add up to a greater whole of increased fitness. There’s not often a tangible, positive result from a single workout so it is hard to convince myself that there is any point to a given session (Yes, intellectually, I know the difference but it’s not my intellect that is front and centre when I am trying to convince myself to put on my sneakers.)
So, this chapter has me wondering two things –
1) How can I regularly remind myself that exercising outside will give me that expansive ‘unity sensation’ that I enjoy?
2) How can I add that element of tangible, visible results to my exercise activities?
Chapter 6 is an interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking chapter and I will definitely be able to make good use of the information it contains.
I’ve decided I like this book best when I ignore two things: brief descriptions of theory without enough detail to determine if they are actually backed up by studies–that’s not the kind of book this is, and also the analogies with drugs and drug use–that’s not the kind of person I am, though clearly the author thinks lots of people will find it useful to think of exercise that way. Not me.
What I do love though are the stories. This chapter has some great stories about our connection to nature and the implications for human happiness, especially when it’s outdoor exercise in green environments.
I loved reading about emails to Melbourne’s trees. Melbourne gave 70,000 trees email addresses so people could report on their condition and instead, or in addition, people all over the world wrote letters to the trees themselves. See People from all over the world are sending emails to Melbourne’s trees.
I enjoyed reading about the author’s difficult decision about what to do with her elderly, ailing cat and how it was all made easier by a walk in nature with her partner that put things in perspective.
New to me too are Green Gyms, a program in the UK that combines, exercise, outdoor activity and caring for the outdoor environment. “Green Gyms are fun and free outdoor sessions where you will be guided in practical activities such as planting trees, sowing meadows and establishing wildlife ponds. Unlike other conservation projects, the emphasis is very much on health and fitness – volunteers warm up and cool down in preparation for a range of light to vigorous activities to suit all abilities.”
This appeals to me because I am often struck by how compartmentalized our lives are and how something as simple as gardening ticks a bunch of well-being boxes (outside, and everyday movement, and maybe even vegetables at the end).
Like Catherine, I’m thinking about the outside lots these days as I’ve moved even my bike riding to inside. I have wistful canoe camping thoughts and while it might be a very long time before I am back inside a restaurant or a mall, I want to get back into the wild as soon as possible. Heck, I am looking forward to eating outside in the evenings in our backyard as soon as it’s warm enough.
Also, I plan to garden. Wish me luck!