Exercise: Gentle and Flowing or Pounding and Pushing?

by Kate Greenaway, BAppSc(PT), Physiotherapist, Australia

Recently I had a fascinating experience that highlighted to me the difference between moving and exercising in a gentle flowing way or pounding and pushing the body. I was packing my car after a lovely time exercising in the local pool when I noticed two middle aged men running down a steep cement driveway near me – they were literally pounding and jarring their bodies. They were red and puffy in their faces and they looked miserable. It felt like they were punishing themselves in pushing their bodies for some sort of outcome. I was feeling really fluid and content in my body from the gentle moving and swimming that I had just completed and I could really feel the contrast with what these men were doing as they slammed their bodies with each step.

I remembered it was only a few years ago that I was pelting up and down the local pools to do my ’40 laps’ or pushing myself up the gazillion steps to the Byron Bay Lighthouse to feel good about doing something ‘healthy’ and ‘good’ for my body. Part of my drive came from the ideal that  ‘I should have a healthy body’ as I was a physiotherapist and ‘how could I tell my clients to look after their bodies and exercise if I wasn’t ?’

That drive was behind years of dabbling in all sorts of exercise. You name it – I tried it … from gym and weight workouts to twisting myself up into all sorts of shapes with many styles of yoga – to a slow series of movements in Tai Chi and Chi Gung. I even studied Tai Chi in the UK under a  ‘master’ and diligently practised, even though my knees were giving me clear messages that this wasn’t a natural way to move and exercise. I realise now that all I did was make my body hard and like these middle-aged men pelting past me I was punishing my body and not supporting my body.

I had made moving and exercise, as with other things in my life, complex and outcome based rather than a simple enjoyment of my body’s natural way of moving.

I remember as a little girl loving the lightness and spring in my body and being fascinated with how there was a flow in my body. I also loved the feeling of that gentle rippling through the body when I floated in water – it was a bonus having friends with pools growing up in Australia!!! Somewhere along the line I had lost that feeling of the lightness and flow and replaced it with ‘what my body should or shouldn’t do’.

When I was in my 30’s I was considered very healthy by the standard medical parameters, but I had low vitality, was moody especially in the early mornings and each day was just a job to get done.

When I was 35 a physio friend introduced me to Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine – that was a pivotal point in my life. As a physiotherapist I respected and loved the body and its biomechanics and I found out that Serge, through his sporting background did likewise. I came to discover that he had a much deeper awareness and knowing of the body’s natural healing than anyone I had ever met. This challenged me initially as I equated knowledge of the body with some sort of traditional medical training, and here was a man without that but with a far greater understanding of the body than all the health professionals I had known over the last 15 years. He just always made sense and I could see that he lived what he presented – that your body’s vitality gradually comes back as you live more gently in it. It took me years to understand what being gentle and more self-loving with my body meant and I am still learning. Initially, in reaction to all the hardness I could feel in my body, I stopped most forms of exercise – this didn’t work either as my body weakened and I certainly didn’t have much ‘get-up and go’. It was my trust in and association with Serge and Universal Medicine that inspired me to return to regular exercise but in a different way. Over the last 12 years I have been to most of the Universal Medicine presentations where Serge has just shared what has supported his body and what he has come to know about the effects of different forms of exercise on the body. It is up to us to then feel for ourselves whether what he presents is true or not.

So over the last few years I have rekindled my appreciation of the natural flowing movement in my body when I walk, swim or do some light weights. As soon as I go back into the old way ……’I must do three more bicep curls ‘ it’s as if another five kg are loaded on my arm and my body goes hard . When I come back to enjoying the natural flow of the movement and an openness to learning from my body, that same movement with the same weight is easy and light. It’s still a work in progress or really a ‘love in progress’. The old program of ‘exercise must do’s’ is so strong that I can slip into the ‘doing of it’ pretty easily . This is slowly changing as I catch these moments – enjoy my flowing movement again and just keep it simple as to how and what my body wants to do at that time. When I do this it’s like my body sighs with relief (!!) and over time the hardness continues to melt. I have shared this with many clients over these recent years and they have learnt to appreciate and even love their bodies again. I am now in my late 40’s and I have way more vitality and joy in my body than I had in my late 20’s!

One of the best things to all of this is that exercise and movement have become fun and way more playful again. I have learned that how I choose to exercise impacts how I feel and how my body physically feels such that for me I now choose exercise that is gentle and flowing rather than pushing and pounding.

468 thoughts on “Exercise: Gentle and Flowing or Pounding and Pushing?

  1. I was in LA recently, going on a gentle walk with my husband. We were walking down a steep hill. Coming towards us was a woman in about her 60’s. She was kitted up in running gear. She saw us, and started pounding up the hill, music on full blast. My husband and I walked past her and then turned around a few minutes later and she had started to walk again. I recognized instantly that in me – in the past I would always push myself harder when people were watching then slow down when they weren’t. When exercise becomes about proving something to others and not doing it in response to the body, it can be exhausting and harming.

  2. The push and the pound does not allow us to feel how the body embraces the flow and ease that exercise brings. Instead we are offered the strain and hardness and we call this a ‘great workout’.

  3. Exercise is to support the connection we have with our bodies, not to bash it, not to drain it and not to change it. We as a society are far from engaging with exercise in a manner that enhances this connection.

  4. “It took me years to understand what being gentle and more self-loving with my body meant and I am still learning.” I can so relate to this, I think it is a life long process as we are forever students of our selves and of life and there is so much of the world telling us to be hard and driven – so there is a lot to unpick!

  5. ‘So over the last few years I have rekindled my appreciation of the natural flowing movement in my body when I walk, swim or do some light weights.’ When we stay in our natural flow we find we move with an ease, when we start putting drive and effort in, not only do we lose ourselves in the process it suddenly becomes really hard work.

  6. Vitality is a rare thing these days. So few are truly vital and even fewer are really enjoying and embracing life. Have we not remedies and solutions for long enough to see that nothing has worked. We are all too quick to grab an energy drink or sugar bar without truly and deeply feeling why we have low vitality in the first place.

  7. There is such a strong ideal that says overcoming the unnatural and training our body to achieve the impossible to a point where you can look like you have no pain is heroic. If we are to exercise in support of our body, and not in search of recognition/identification, that would not be how we would treat our body.

  8. Vitality is such a different measure of wellness that we often overlook when we think of physical fitness and function.

  9. “I now choose exercise that is gentle and flowing rather than pushing and pounding.” I always hated the ‘pounding and pushing’ so opted out of exercise altogether. Having discovered that gentle exercise can be so beneficial it is now beautiful to feel how my body responds these days.

  10. I’m just about to exercise so this is a brilliant reminder thank you – that every move we make is either melting our hardness and tension or increasing it. I think that drive and push comes in when we exercise to change something, rather than to simply take care of our bodies.

  11. ‘Part of my drive came from the ideal that ‘I should have a healthy body’ as I was a physiotherapist and ‘how could I tell my clients to look after their bodies and exercise if I wasn’t ?’ Such an interesting sentence, striving for an ideal never works and yet at the same time as a physiotherapist you inspire with the health of your body and how you treat your clients. Clients get everything about you and the way you live. Your words got a different meaning and a different foundation after you changed how you exercised.

  12. Living, working and moving with complexity and outcome gives our body a drive that it doesn’t like at all. And that also stops us from connecting with our tenderness inside and our universality on a bigger scale.

  13. Since learning about conscious presence my awareness and movements with my body are now completely different, what has made a huge difference was in giving myself space to move as my body felt to rather than pushing my body from my mind.

  14. It is the most gorgeous feeling to feel your body literally guiding you through its natural impulses as to what to do and how much to do it. It has such a beautiful way of knowing all about everything that is far greater than just what we know from our heads.

  15. Life has a flow which naturally supports us. As long as we stop fighting or trying to strive to drive ahead, we can be part of it – and our bodies love living this way instead of stressing in our head – thank you Kate.

  16. It is interesting how we can make almost everything in life hard work, even though it is possible to have it simple and flowing when we do not do more than we need to do.

  17. As an adult I used to play squash and loved the hardness of the game. No way would I even consider playing it now, I dread to think of the problems I’d have had in my body if I had continued playing. I played for 20 years, between the ages of 20 and 40. I have knee problems and it will have exacerbated those. Now I love gentle exercise and don’t miss the competition.

  18. The great thing is the more aware I become of my body and listen to its messages, it is almost impossible for me to pound and push my body like I used to, because I know the consequences and how it will affect my quality in everything I do.

    1. Same here Alison not only with exercise but in every day life, whenever I push too hard or ignore what I am feeling in my body everything I instantly know about it and get the opportunity to change how I am treating or caring for myself.

  19. It is so easy to impose on the body and override what is naturally there, to push and to be proud what our body is capable of at the expense of our innate tenderness and delicateness. I know for myself how expectations I have on myself can come in the way of listening to my body and surrender, the more I let these ideals and beliefs just be, the less grip they have on me and my movements.

  20. If we were to respect the natural flow and order in our body then we would not have most if not all of the illness and disease that we have now.

  21. I have been doing an exercise programme recently that has been so unlike my past ‘idea’ of exercise, that I have been really inspired to incorporate this into my day. It is quite incredible how the simplest and smallest movements, when done gently and in true connection with the body without straining or pushing, can have such a profound and lasting impact on the whole body and how we feel.

  22. I used to exercise constantly with the pounding and pushing, but like you Kate I am discovering the benefits of exercising more gently and feeling how my body responds to this without adding any stress or being hard in my movements.

  23. Its so wonderful Kate working as a Physiotherapist that you have reconnected to the joy of exercise with the body.

  24. Beautiful Kate. If we break down what you’ve presented about that moment you noticed the runners pounding by, we need to ask just how are we living our life? Are we sprinting in stress? Or flowing in grace as you do? Every moment matters and contributes to the body of Love that we have, and the whole of the world.

  25. ‘It’s a love in progress’ It really makes the differnce when we change the purpose in the way we exercise, as with love there can’t be any pushing but honouring our body, which takes us to a greater awareness and respect of it.

  26. Our body simply does not like pounding and pushing, no matter how hard we try and convince ourselves that it does. This is seen in the level of injuries we see after we have pounded and pushed.

  27. I can relate to pushing my body for an outcome for many years with only temporary results so that I either pushed myself harder or gave up entirely as I became too exhausted. Now I really enjoy exercising gently moving in connection with my body’s natural rhythm and flow.

  28. “I had made moving and exercise, as with other things in my life, complex and outcome based rather than a simple enjoyment of my body’s natural way of moving.” There are so many rules about how we should move, exercise, stretch etc. and yet when we let our body lead the way and don’t impose these rules upon it, it will show us exactly what it needs for us to be ‘fit for life’.

  29. We can easily be sucked into doing ‘just enough’ to get by, to not be hurt. But doesn’t this just show how desperately we’ve got the world the wrong way around? For as you show so expertly Kate we are here to feel how great it is to go deeper in every day not just settle for what we knew yesterday.

  30. Gentle exercise such as you describe Kate, has been absolutely revolutionary for me, and I have never enjoyed exercising so much.

  31. When we are truly connected to our body, we can feel the moment we start to push and it is no longer part of our natural rhythm and as soon as we bring in that push we lose ourself.

  32. So true Kate that we can actually do a lot of damage to our body by pushing ourselves in exercise. The balance between enjoying activity, being fit for life and having a body that is strong vs. going hard and ‘pounding’ is very individual and something we can all experiment with to find our flow.

  33. I was always a… Pusher and a pounder ☺… Many years of daily grinding away at martial arts, a total disconnection from my body, with the results that I am living with now, and yet, to discover at my age, the benefits of truly gentle exercise… Well there is a miracle.

  34. When I try to push my body to do more exercise it does tense up. Reading this today I can see and appreciate how much my exercise routine does now flow whereas in the past it was very hard and at times brutal in martial arts. With gentle exercise and stretching I have found my strength and flexibility increase much faster as my body doesn’t have to recover from being pounded but expand from the gentle exercise.

  35. Gentle exercise feels so much more supportive than the push, drive and overdoing of the exercise we have become accustomed to. Less is more feels true in this case… and definitely I would say quality over quantity.

  36. Thanks Kate I love how you describe the process of feeling into what exercise and how much supports your body as a ‘love in progress’. This is a path that I have now been on for a while but I can still easily get pulled into the ‘more is better’ camp and push my body to do more than is true for it at that particular time.

  37. I love what you share here Kate about having more vitality in your late 40’s than in your 20’s. I have found the same and it all comes from deepening my relationship with myself, my body and honouring what I feel impulsed to do in terms of exercise, diet, sleep etc – rather than what any one else tells me. Our body has an harmonious nature and with this understanding it becomes very clear when things are ‘out of kilter’ and need rebalancing.

  38. This is really interesting. What I can feel is how there seems to be an ideal we hold as a physical being and how that gets in the way of us listening and appreciating what our own body is communicating us through our direct experience of being in one. We can study and train our body so hard and know a lot about it, but without connecting with it.

  39. To move with the flow of life, or to move against it? It really is as simple as this. A question we can ask ourselves in each and every moment.

  40. This sharing is so inspiring Kate as I too recall the feelings of lightness and spring in my body as a child and even though I will not have that feeling quite the same as way back then I do get glimpses of it time to time and this brings much joy and this inspires me to gently stay with my body.

  41. Kate this is fantastic, I love how you have described how you used to be compared to how you exercise now.
    Fascinating the body knows exactly how and when to exercise yet we can often over ride this with pictures of how it should be, Like you say Kate listening truly to how our bodies feel and how they want to be moved brings us more presence and vitality.

  42. Reading this puts the joy back into exercise. No push or drive, just moments to enjoy the gorgeous flow of our bodies.

  43. The huge difference between the way I exercise now to the way I used to exercise is that I enjoy feeling the natural flow from connecting and being present with myself compared to driving and pushing my body and letting go of the numb and hard outer layer to feel what my body is truly communicating.

  44. With all the injuries that the health care system has to fix each and every year we really need to be honest and contemplate if the way we are exercising and consider normal in today’s fitness world is not actually so loving for our joints and body on the whole as we think it is.

  45. It is deeply beautiful to no longer be controlled by outcomes when you exercise but rather just simply enjoy the body’s natural way of moving, allowing it to guide you in what it needs and no more. There is a wisdom within we often override and ignore at great cost to our health and well being… so to not do this and attune to this innate knowing is a truly stunning way to move through life.

    1. Totally agree Samantha. To allow our awareness to grow so that we can feel when we are no longer in the body’s natural way of moving is such a blessing and the presentations and modalities of Universal Medicine support this completely.

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