I believe that humans have that same innate knowledge about our own bodies, but as we age, we are all but trained to ignore those messages. As babies and toddlers, we are encouraged to roll, crawl, stand, and walk--and then just a few short years later, instructed to sit still. Even as children, our natural desire to move is stifled as we face a lifetime of sitting in chairs, sitting in cars, sitting on couches, sitting in desks. Rather than facing life with proud, pulled-back shoulders, confidently open collarbones and chests, and a playful skip in our steps--eagerly engaged in the present moment with every sense available to us, we hunch our shoulders forward, closing off the space around our lungs and heart, jut our heads forward, and our sphere of awareness is shrinking to the size of a three-inch smartphone screen.
Many of us accept this existence, despite having "joy guides" (animals and children) in our lives to remind us of what we are missing when we don't give ourselves permission to act upon those spontaneous urges to move and stretch. We smile at a dog riding in a car with his head out the window, mouth open to taste the air. A cat sleeping belly-up in the sun makes us wish that we too, could slow down for a minute. Children in a park moving effortlessly from walking to skipping to hopping to rolling make our own legs tingle, and we lament not having the energy that we used to possess. But why stop at wistful observation?
Who are the "joy guides" in your life? Pets? Dogs being walked in your neighborhood? A cat in someone else's window? Children? Identify these beings with gratitude, and honor them and yourself by watching and imitating their actions. Begin by simply noticing them feel good in their bodies. Give words to their movements (stretching, scratching, shaking, rolling, wiggling, flexing) and then translate those actions into your own body. Here are some examples:
Lay on the floor and roll to one side. Using your abdominal muscles, curl yourself into a ball, elbows touch knees, head tucked between upper arms. Then extend all your limbs back out, still on your side, with an arched back. Point your toes and reach your fingers long. From above, you'll look curved, like a banana. Repeat several times, curling in to yourself and extending out, and then roll to the opposite side
In Downward Dog pose, instead of being rigid and still, bring easy movements into the pose, to warm the body and lubricate the joints. Start by slowly shaking and rolling your head. Sway between Downward Dog and Upward Dog. In Downward Dog, twist your hips from side to side.
Lie comfortably stretched out. Focus on your fingers and toes. On an exhale, ball your hands into tight fists and squeeze your toes toward the soles of your feet. Inhale, release and extend fingers and toes, finding as much space between each of them as possible. Exhale, squeeze, inhale, stretch.
Laying on your back, arms along sides and palms pressed down for support, extend your legs upward to the ceiling. For at least a minute, shake your legs vigorously. Keep legs perpendicular to the floor, but hold no tension in any of the joints, and allow the feet to flop. This is an excellent way to loosen the muscles and revive tired legs.
On hands and knees, arch your spine like a cat does after standing up from a nap. Dip one shoulder toward the floor and then the other. Shift your weight forward on to the hands, as legs stretch out behind you, toes pointed along floor. Then push back, hips onto heels, in child's pose.
If you live near a playground, hang from the monkey bars, either with your hands, or with knees bent and legs hooked over the bar (I'd recommend having an adult friend spot you if you try the upside-down version). This releases compression from between the vertebrae and feels even better if you sway a little.
In your life, how has your natural ability to move been imposed upon?
Who are the "joy guides" in your life?
How do they move?
How can you imitate them in your own body?
Give yourself permission and freedom to come back into your own animal intelligence, to add play and rest to your daily rhythm, and take as many stretch breaks as your cat or dog. I promise, your pets won't judge you if you try to copy them!