Movement Contemplations While Raking

I spend a week at home with my family for Thanksgiving every year. Home is Macon, Georgia: a small to medium sized city, south of Atlanta, in the heart of the Bible Belt. I’ll save additional commentary on that for another time . . .

For now, what you should know about Macon is it’s the suburbs, and my parents live in the part of Macon that’s quiet, rural, and beautiful. Horse farms, pecan trees, winding country roads, greenery and wooded grounds. I get to hear the sounds of nature when I fall asleep, absent of glaring street lights and other light pollution. The air is clean, I hear the wind rustle the leaves, I get to walk barefoot in the grass, and I can see stars at night.

When I went out on a morning run, I noticed our yard was the only one on our street still covered in fallen leaves. I find out Mom likes to save the leaves to make soil out of them and she just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. After my run, I felt a longing to stay outside and move my body, so I took to raking the yard. Two things happened while raking the yard that are the impetus for this post.

The first thing that happened is that I thought I had a heart attack. Well, you know. That’s the first thing that you think of when you get sharp pain in the left side of your chest, right?? So, here I am, raking the yard furiously, as if I have a deadline by which to finish the job. I also feel the need to impress myself with how much I can rake in the shortest amount of time (why???). After less than 10 minutes into my subconscious, ego-driven competition, I feel a sharp pain in the left side of my chest. Beyond the initial freak out comes the rational realization that I likely pulled a muscle. Only one way to find out. I pause, stretch open my chest, take several deep breaths, and the pain dissipates. My first reaction is disappointment. “But I’m fit!” I say to myself. “And I move. And I move in different ways all the time, and raking is not a load bearing or challenging activity!” But of course, my own knowledge catches up to me. “When was the last time I raked a lawn? And did so vigorously at that?” A few years ago at least. Ok fine, I tell myself. New movement, new sensations, new muscular patterns.

I keep raking.

Less than 5 minutes later, I get an even sharper pain in the right side of my chest. There’s a moment of silly relief that now I can conclude what I previously felt was definitely not a heart attack, but I then immediately start laughing and I understand. (Usually, we need more than one message for life to get its point across.) I need to slow down! There is nothing else for me to be doing, no time limit, no one to be competing against. Why am I in a rush? I’m literally raking the yard like it’s part of a HIIT routine. Or . . . the way a New Yorker does anything: aggressively, competitively, and as rushed as possible to be able to perform the next task within the limited hours in a day by which we’re confined. It was a truly amazing moment if not just for the fact that I already know all these things about myself and about the way we should truly be living life, about the places happiness truly comes from, about the importance of slowing down and activating a calmer and more relaxed state within the nervous system. You know, the whole stop and smell the roses stuff. It’s so cliché but it’s real, and it’s my line of work, and I know it. But knowing something and living it, as we know, are not the same thing. I’m not immune to the pressures of life, to the energy of the city, to the anxieties of trying to run a successful business, to my own anxious personality type. Not only am I reminded to live what I already know, but it’s at home in the respite of the suburbs that I can actually laugh about it and do it. The real work is to live the lesson back in the city—or at least to learn to see the world’s messages/invitations to slow down and heed to them. It’s lifelong work for me.

The second thing that happened while I was raking was a friendly neighbor across the street offering up some help. Whether it was to genuinely help or to get our yard cleaned up faster, I don’t know. But he offered up his leaf blower and said, “It would take just a couple of minutes.” I said thank you, I’d check with Mom and get back to him. It made me think about how convenient we’ve made everything and how hard we have to try to actually use our bodies to get things done. Sitting culture and all its conveniences, of course. But a leaf blower! How easy! And the five minutes it would take to blow the leaves would replace the almost hour it took me to rake the front half of the yard. The next morning, the sides of my low back and my forearms were so sore (which I love when that happens because I get to know what’s really being used in a novel way while accomplishing a new movement or task.) Had I used the leaf blower, no energy would have been spent, no various new movement patterns would have been experienced, and no sense of accomplishment would have been felt. (and no chest muscle pulls to remind m to slow down!) It was a quick moment, a quick opportunity most people might have taken and I might have taken under the time constraints of daily city life. But with some extra time on my hands, I took the opportunity to perform a task I seldom perform, hear the shuffle of the leaves instead of the machinery of the blower, and contemplate the idea of writing a blog post about the whole experience.

I feel that this is especially relevant as I seek to work one on one with clients. A foundation on which I plan to work—a perspective I’ve gained from some of the top movement professionals today—is to help people help themselves. An indispensable part of this approach, in my opinion, is motivating people to want to move. The idea of sets of exercises and repetitions can make people want to kill themselves, myself included. If there’s a specific goal or an injury—maybe that’s the most effective method. But that method won’t shift anyone’s lifestyle. How can I get someone to prefer to rake the yard by hand instead of use the leaf blower, to prefer to take the stairs instead of the escalator? Where does that mental shift start? How can I encourage someone to want to move more and differently? To crave more physical activity everyday? It’s shift in perspective that is undeniably life changing. I think this is part of the reason I like the name Movement Coach instead of a teacher. There’s a motivational quality attached to the word Coach with which I’d like to associate my work.

Move well—that’s specific training. But move more and move with variety? That’s a lifestyle choice.