Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 6: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 6

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?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Read Week 3 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/31/book-club-week-3-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-3/

Read Week 4 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/09/book-club-week-4-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-4/

Read week 5 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/16/book-club-week-5-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-5/

Catherine

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

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.

Sam

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!

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 5: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 5

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?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Read Week 3 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/31/book-club-week-3-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-3/

Read Week 4 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/09/book-club-week-4-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-4/

This week is just Catherine and Christine chiming in. I’m too swamped!

Catherine

In Chapter 5, McGonigal writes about overcoming obstacles, generally by plowing over or through them. For the record, I have no interest doing a Tough Mudder competition. Ever. Any athletic event that involves even mild electrocution is not for me. I know whereof I speak, having zapped myself and blown several fuses in my house once with an ill-tempered hairdryer.

I can relate, though, to willingly embarking on a physical adventure where at some point you just take a deep breath and say, f**k it, here I go. My first scuba diving trip was just like that. I jumped off the boat into 15 meters of cobalt blue water, having no idea what would happen. There was terror at first, followed shortly by “hey, look at that pretty blue fish. Oh, look, there’s another one. I’m think I’m going to go follow them now”. I can’t convey how proud and thrilled I was for having lept into the wild blue water.

McGonigal’s exploration of the idea of high terror/low horror experiences is intriguing, and helps explain the appeal and payoff that comes from extreme events like Tough Mudder. However, I don’t think this idea applies to confronting serious physical challenges like recovering from or adapting to severe injuries. She relates inspirational success stories of people who trained at an adaptive fitness gym. They and their trainers set very difficult goals, and when they finally reach them, they get to post a message on the Wall of Greatness.

Not everyone in physical therapy or training is going to meet those goals, though. Sometimes overcoming obstacles means figuring out ways around them. One of my favorite mountain bike ride leaders Bill, who rides everything elegantly, always reminded us that “every mountain bike comes fully equipped with a hiker”. Some obstacles you commit to confronting and riding through or down or up. Other times, you get off and walk your bike around them.

McGonigal reminds us of the glorious feelings we can have in our bodies from doing, watching, witnessing and trying to master arduous physical tasks. I have reveled in such moments. Right now, they’re not resonating so much. Maybe it’s because we’re in the midst of Coronavirus time. I’m biding my time, moving my body in my local environment, keeping some resources in reserve. There will be “Cowabunga!” moments in my future. I’ll reread this chapter again when I’m ready for one.

Catherine

 Overcoming Obstacles

I am getting so much out of this book and it is meeting my need for certain key types of information that might help me work with my ADHD (instead of against it!) and become even more consistent with exercise. The (sort of) downside is that the information is wrapped in big ideas and big personal concepts that take a while to unpack and that kind of thinking doesn’t lend itself to a weekly review. So, I haven’t been covering everything that I want to cover each week but I suspect that I will be circling back to this book in future monthly posts.

The ideas in Chapter 5 – Overcoming Obstacles are definitely examples of the situation I am describing above. There is lots of great information in here but digging deep into how it applies to me and how it will help me will take a lot more thinking. So this isn’t all I will have to say on this topic!

Overcoming Obstacles is all about motivation, encouragement, and hope. She describes all kinds of different scenarios that illustrate the key components of activities and programs that support people to persevere and push themselves (in useful ways) towards the goals they have set for themselves. The personal stories are inspiring in themselves but her information about *why* they work is especially valuable.

In fact, the way that McGonigal handles stories is one of my favourite aspects of this book. Not only does she share individual stories as examples but she also refers frequently to people’s storytelling capacity, and to the stories they tell themselves as they proceed through their lives. As a storyteller and a life coach, I LOVE these references. In some cases, they confirm information that I already use in my practice and in others they expand it in new directions – it’s great!

I really enjoy the way in which McGonigal discusses the mental challenges involved in preparing for and completing physical challenges. Too often, the mental work of exercise is dismissed or lumped into ‘Grit’ or ‘Just set your mind to it!’ Obviously, grit and determination play a role in the mental effort required but it is much more complex than that (especially for those of us who are not neurotypical) and I appreciate the ways in which she addresses the thinking required to accomplish physical tasks.

Book Club · Book Reviews

Book Club on pause for a week while we all adjust to working from home!

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.

We’re taking a pause this week because of COVID-19 and its impact on our lives and yours too.

Want to catch up?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 1: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 1

Welcome to our 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.

The Joy of Movement

Here’s our thoughts about Chapter One “The Persistence High” and we look forward to hearing what you thought about it in the comments section below.

Sam

I’m so glad we’re reading a happy book. These aren’t easy times and I need something positive and uplifting to sustain me. Kelly McGonigal describes her book as a “love letter to exercise.” The theme of the book are the connections between exercise and happiness. Chapter One looks at the “persistence high.”

McGonigal doesn’t call it “runners high” but that’s the thing she’s talking about. I confess that while running (and riding) make me smile, as a person who doesn’t use mood altering drugs I hate the “high” talk. I confess I kind of glossed over McGonigal’s discussion of “exercise induced endocannabinoids” and went straight to the social bonding material.

The second part of Chapter One discusses the connection between exercise-induced euphoria and social bonding. McGonigal likes that idea that being physically active can enhance co-operation and help us extract even more joy from working as a team or helping others (30). There are some lovely examples of people who run as part of a group and feel better for both the running and the social connection. Her theory is that the good feelings of exercise enhance the social pleasures of sharing and co-operating. Regular exercise allows for more feelings of closeness and connection, companionship, and belonging.

Does this seem right to me? It certainly matches my experiences of group riding, group exercise in CrossFit communities, team rowing, canoe trips with friends and family and so on. But I am, by temperament, a social exerciser. I liked this chapter but I wondered about my friends who are solitary distance cyclists (hi Cate!) or who like to run ultramarathons and who train many hours alone, because that’s the why they like it.

I’ll confess that the academic in me also wanted more studies and footnotes. But it’s not that kind of book and that’s okay.

Christine

I confess, I was predisposed to like Joy of Movement. Two of McGonigal’s previous books ‘The Willpower Instinct’ and ‘Yoga for Pain Relief’ are in view while I type this. I like her writing style and I enjoy the way that she makes connections between ideas.

So, when I received an email promoting ‘Joy of Movement.’ I literally squealed.

If you read our posts for Nia Shanks’ ‘100 Day Reclaim,’ you know that I am puzzling out why it is so hard for me to be consistent with exercise and what part my ADHD plays in that challenge.

I found some very useful tools in Shanks’ book and, even just 62 pages in, I am finding some very satisfying ideas in McGonigal’s.

While I currently work as a writer/storyteller/life coach, the questions and interests that led me to my career are rooted in my anthropology/archaeology degree. I am interested in people, how we connect, how we work together, how all of our current patterns came into being over time.

So, McGonigal’s interconnected discussion of human evolution, social connections, and physiology and how they all play a role in the joy of movement is exactly my kind of thing.

A few challenges:

Like, Sam, I am a bit wary of some of the language in the discussion of a ‘runner’s high’ but I found the section very intriguing and useful.

I am also wary of how people might interpret the discussion of the Hadza, an African hunter-gatherer group, and see them as some sort of mythical ideal rather than as an example.

McGonigal avoided this pitfall and warned us against some aspects of it. However, I have taken too many anthropology classes that cautioned against the risk of idealizing another cultural group (it’s an easy trap to fall into) so I kept wondering about the possibilities of that as I read.

I also couldn’t help but wonder about whether someone whose movement is restricted would be upset by some of the ideas in the introduction. I understand (and am thrilled by) the fact that this book is about finding the joy in movement. However, some of the statements in the first chapter about how movement is our only way of interacting with the world and about how movement is connected with the most basic human joy did make me think about how those concepts would affect someone who is unable to move. Obviously, one book is not going to meet the needs of all audiences and, of course, McGonigal will expand and explain her ideas throughout the book, so this is just a question and not at all a condemnation.

The great stuff:

Those things aside. are some of the ideas in the book that resonated for me, so far:

Movement strengthens our feelings of community – I am thoroughly intrigued by the idea that the ‘feel-good’ results of certain intensities of exercise carry over into a desire to connect with other humans. And, the fact that she gets into a discussion of how things like sharing food and putting in a group effort further builds our sense of community makes this thread of ideas useful for me as writer, as a storyteller, and as a coach, in addition to how it helps me think about exercise.

A runner’s high is actually a ‘persistence high’ – Even though I struggle to be consistent, being persistent is one of my strengths. Once I get started, I can and will keep going until the task is done. (For someone with ADHD, this can lead to other challenges, but let’s stick with the positive here.) So, this idea that my persistence, when consciously applied to exercise could have even more rewards, is very inspiring. I’m very interested in the concept of additional physiological/psychological rewards for our movement efforts and the fact that it may have an evolutionary basis.

‘Continuous Moderate Intensity’ is the goal for feeling good – I know that short bursts of intense exercise can be good for me and that I sometimes enjoy them. However, I have trouble making myself start a high intensity session. Reading McGonigal’s information about the psychological benefits of continuous moderate intensity reminds me of the fact that I need to be exercising for about 10 minutes before it starts to feel good. I regularly forget that fact so this reminder, grounded in a kind of scientific discussion that is familiar to me, is helpful and motivating.

Group effort, personal effort, and feeling good- One of the examples that McGonigal uses to illustrate her ideas is a gym in London that is structured around its members doing collective good with their exercise. They run together toward the site for a community project, or their individual runs take them to visit someone who need their help and company.

One of my most satisfying days recently was the day I spent helping to shovel people out after a storm. I worked with various groups to excavate people’s cars and driveways and by the end of the night I had plenty of activity minutes, lots of energy, and the great feeling of a job well done.

Given my schedule, I can’t always do group projects like that but I have been looking for ways to do it more regularly. This section of the book put me right back into that ‘helping out’ feeling and reminded me that I have to keep an eye out for those opportunities.

Collective Goal – At another point in this chapter, McGonigal mentions a person in a spin class who feels like everyone in the class is working toward a collective goal. I love the idea of that and it matches my experience with Taekwondo – one of the few places in the world where you would say ‘nice work’ to someone who has just kicked you in the head. I’m really interested to explore how the positivity of a collective goal shows up for me in other forms of exercise and how I can use it for motivation.

There are many more useful and enjoyable pieces of the book, of course, but my section of this review is already a bit too long so I am going to leave it at that.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of Joy of Movement.

Catherine

Before I get started properly, I want to say how fun it is to read a book with others, commenting and reading others’ comments along the way. It motivates me to keep going and keep reading and writing—my own form of a “persistence high” that McGonigal talks about.

Like Sam, I don’t like the use of the word “high”, both for the reasons she gives, and also because I don’t experience what I would call a “high”. It’s rather a feeling of relaxing into the pleasure of the activity. When I used to train for bike races (more than 10 years ago), I found that 23 minutes into my workout on my bike trainer, all of a sudden I’d notice a drop in heart rate while expending the same effort. I noticed this outside as well. These days, it takes longer—probably 30—35 minutes— but I start to feel lowered anxiety, more relaxation, more pleasure, and less effort to go the same speed. It tends to persist, with some shifts with stronger efforts, but then the pleasure comes back in abundance. I find myself laughing after big efforts, and laughing while flying down hills. Is that what McGonigal is talking about? Maybe.

Her discussion of the ways we benefit by doing physical activity in groups was familiar and encouraging. However, the GoodGym group was doing a bunch of activities that account for the feelings of bonding, connection, self-satisfaction, etc. Any of us at any level of physical ability will benefit from volunteering in groups, helping others, working to improve the environment and providing services for those in need. Like Christine, I felt like people with physical limitations would feel less included in this section. I look forward to reading more, in part to see what McGonigal will have to say about movement and activity for all.

One more comment: I would also liked to have seen some study references, but I know it’s not that kind of book. In 2017, I wrote a post called Running is Contagious? It depends on who and where and when you are. (https://fitisafeministissue.com/…/running-is…/)


It cited a study that showed asymmetric patterns of motivation among runners’ groups. In short, when a slower runner reported a run, it motivated a faster runner in a group to go running, but not the other way around. Paying attention to the social dynamics of our activity groups may be just as important as belonging to them. But, I am getting ahead of myself and ahead of McGonigal, too. Let’s see what she has to say next week.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of Chapter One? Let us know in the comments below.

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Join the Fit is a Feminist Issue Book Club!: We’re reading The Joy of Movement

Joy of Movement

We’re reading a new book and we’re inviting you to join us!

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.

When do I get started? Reading? I’d recommend this weekend! Commenting? We’re starting Tuesday, March 10th. Our review post will usually goes live at 2 pm EDT.

Is it a good book? Actually, we don’t know yet. We’re reading it week-by-week with you. It *looks* like a good book. That’s why we chose it! But we’ll see.

Feel free to drop in or drop out at anytime. This is a fun, informal gathering of feminist friends interested in reading books about fitness. If you’re interested, let us know in the comments to this post.

We’d also appreciate suggestions of other books to read and review as we go.