You may think that creating strong habits around exercise is a good way to achieve your health and fitness goals. But what if I told you that your exercise habits could be increasing your risk of strain, stiffness and plain old boredom?
In this episode, I'll share key elements that you can add to your movement program to make it healthier and more effective. And even more interesting!
BONUS: You can apply these key elements to your horse's exercise, so your horse can benefit too.
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Podcast show notes for this episode: https://www.marydebono.com/blog/h41
Hello. Today I'd like to tell you how what you believe about exercise is probably wrong, okay? And we're going to talk about some things that are just accepted. We just kind of accept them in our culture about how we exercise. So let me start with a story. There was a, a young woman, she was like early thirties. She attended one of my,
my programs. This is when I was doing them mostly in person. I now do them mostly online. And in these horse and rider programs, I teach people how to help their horses movement, you know, how to help their horses improve their flexibility, their bounds, their coordination, and refine the connection between them. But we also spend a lot of time improving your movement,
okay? Cuz that's super, super important. So in this program, this woman now, she was somebody who was very fit. She did 800 crunches every morning, which is like a crazy amount of crunches, right? I mean, who even wants to count to 800? She ran, she stretched, she did weight, she did all these things and she totally looked the part like she had 12 pack abs,
you know, just totally looked fit. But what she discovered was that she wasn't functional. So she had this aesthetic of fitness, but she wasn't functional and it really was limiting her. And she was telling me how she was always, she always had this level of back pain and she thought that the more she strengthened her core, her abs, you know,
that the less back pain she would have. And she said, I kept thinking, well if I didn't do 800 crunches, can you imagine how bad I would be? But what she didn't realize that simply repeating the same movement over and over, right, was not helping her, was actually harming her. It was limiting her. And it's like it took choice out of the equation.
And in life it's like we are doing like small changes of movement and direction and we, we need to have these options. I always say movement benefits from choice. When you're just repeating something over and over and that same pattern, that's your habit, all you're doing is strengthening those inefficient, harmful habits in her case. And this is a common habit that you might have as well.
She was tensing her abdominals when she was doing her crunches, but she was also tensing her back muscles. So she was fighting herself, which creates a tremendous amount of strain on the back. Now horses can do this too. And this is why a lot of horses have back problems. And what's interesting is the way I teach humans how to, to move their,
their spine more freely is very similar to how horses need to move their spine more, more in a healthier, freer way as well. And a lot of that revolves around like really softening the ribcage, really allowing the ribcage to kind of fold and, and be involved in the movement of rounding the back. So in this young woman's case, she wasn't doing that.
She was really being stiff in how she was lifting her head. It's like, it was like she was using just pure willpower and not skill power. So in the work that I teach, which is based on the Felden Christ's method, right? It's very important that you think more about improving your skill, then trying to just push through with willpower. Okay?
So again, in her case, she was actually harming herself. She was, when she had to slow down and figure out how to lift her head. So, so picture, you're on your back, your knees are bent, hands are interlaced behind your head, right? You're lifting your head. This very particular ways to do that. And in the work I teach,
I, I teach all these different variations of how to do that. To give you more choice, more flexibility, you know, better balance, better coordination of your parts. And she couldn't do it. It's like she was just stuck in this one pattern. So that was a big aha for her. And of course because she was in my program,
she was able to overcome that and change and it really transformed her. Okay? So this is a common belief that people think that if they just keep pushing, they're going to improve. But if you keep pushing through an inefficient habit, right? You just exacerbating that habit, you're strengthening the, the unhealthy habit, okay? And that's limiting you. So again,
in the work I teach, we talk much more about variations, about doing things differently so that each movement is a little different than the one before it. And it requires you to slow down, especially at first to slow down and to really feel that, to really be aware of the sensations and is it easy, is it comfortable, right? And then you can make the movements larger,
faster, stronger, all that stuff will happen automatically. But again, you don't want to start out just doing it quick and over and over again, right? Variation is key. Cuz what we're doing here is we're learning better ways to move. It's not just strengthening your old bad habits. Who wants that? We're learning. So you have more choice.
Okay? So that's a big one. And the other thing I wanna say to, to keep in mind, cuz you might think, well, I feel okay, you know, I'm okay, I'm, I don't really have many problems. But keep in mind that the way you breathe, move, and even where you direct your attention is all felt by your horse.
And that all influences your horse's interactions with you. Okay? So this is really important. So you're doing things non-habit, you know, habitually, excuse me, just out of habit, maybe the way you breathe or not breathe when you do certain things, the way your thoughts are running right through your head at certain occasions, right? And just the general way you move and the more specific way you move when you're riding or otherwise interacting with your horse.
Those are all being sensed by your horse and that influences your interaction with your horse. Okay? So this is why it's so important. Even if you're not interested in helping yourself, which I hope you are, if you want to improve your horse's wellbeing and the way you communicate with your horse, it's really important to put that attention, that awareness on yourself as well.
Okay? And if you think about it, it's like we all have kind of like this underlying sense of either ease or effort, right? When we're doing certain things. And that underlying sense of ease or effort is definitely noticed by your horse. And again, will influence your interactions with your horse. So again, going back to this woman that did the 800 crunches every morning,
she just had a very effortful way of being like, she just thought, I'm just gonna, you know, push through things that doesn't feel good to horses, doesn't feel good to you either, really. You may be used to it, but if you think about it, it really doesn't feel like good. Now, there may be times, of course you have to push through certain things.
I'm not saying this applies like you would never do this, but when we're talking about improving our movement, we really don't wanna be just reliant on this idea of pushing through, okay? But instead you wanna think of slowing down and noticing how you're breathing, noticing where you can reduce unnecessary effort. And then when you notice that release a little bit more,
okay? Very, very important. So you slow down and you start to notice things, right? So this is super, super important. And, and there's a question I I encourage my students to ask themselves a lot. And that's, how can this feel easier? Whatever this is. Maybe it's doing a crunch, maybe it's, you know, riding your horse down the trail.
Maybe it's, it's performing a dressage test or, or jumping a course of jumps, what whatever it is, right? How can this feel easier? So this is really, really important. You want to have the sense that there's, there's a sense of effortlessness when you are moving, okay? And when, when you're interacting with your horse. Okay?
Cuz that's really important. Another, another belief I wanna put out there that you might wanna question is this idea that stretching is so important and that stretching muscles and like taking them to the limit, right? Is something that you need to do. Now, I'll tell you before I got into the work that I teach, which I've been doing now for more than 30 years,
I was big into stretching, right? I just thought it was just part of being, you know, healthy and fit. You stretched. Well, I'll tell you since I, under, since I learned that stretching may not always be in my self-interest, that there's other ways of helping your, your body, you know, inhabit its full length, right?
I stopped stretching and I can still do, I can still, you know, I still have the flexibility maybe, probably even more so than I did back then. I would say probably more so. So that's pretty cool, right? And let's talk about that. Cuz when we're stretching, especially stretching to the point of maybe there's discomfort, you know,
or something like that, you are often creating like this alarm in your nervous system. Like your nervous system is going, wait a minute, we don't wanna, we don't wanna tear anything. And there can be like a, it's like, like a, a reflex where your body then actually shortens the tissue rather than allows it to be lengthened. In other words,
it might lengthen for a short time, but often you get like this rebound effect that it gets shorter. I remember working with this woman, she was a hoof trimmer and she had a lot, so it's a pretty strenuous job of course. And she had a lot of back issues and she was constantly stretching out her back. She was always into the stretching thing.
And when I explained to her this whole idea of stretching and showed her other things to do, she couldn't believe the difference. Cuz she's like, wow, no wonder she said like, stretching would feel good for a little while, but then she said, I would feel worse. So anyway, put that out there. This is the same as true.
What applies to you applies to your horses as well. So you have to be really careful with the idea of stretching, okay? And to recognize that stretching is not giving you the opportunity to learn a better way to be. It's just, again, you know, you're, you're doing something mechanically. Okay? So just putting that out there. We're,
we are in this program, we're much more into learning and improving, kind of upgrading your nervous system. So if you think more so when we, when we in, in the awareness exercises that I teach, we may talk about, you know, length, right? Getting to length, but I caution people not to take it into a stretch more,
it's more that you're introducing the idea of lengthening or you're suggesting more length rather than insisting on it. It's the insisting on it that can really backfire. Okay? Many people though, think they're just like supposed to do all this stretching, but again, that's a belief that's probably not serving you. Okay? We talked also about this idea of variety, right?
Not just doing the same movement in the same way over and over, but actually doing it slightly differently. This is what gets the attention of your nervous system, right? This is your brain starts to pay attention and you start to explore different ways of doing it. So whether it's picking up a weight, maybe you're doing kettlebells or whatever, whatever it happens to be,
or picking up bells, you know, hay bale or buckets of feed or whatever it is. Playing around exploring, experimenting with slightly different variations is really, really powerful, right? Doing things non habitually, right? Bringing that sense of novelty to the situation. Again, this is, this is not talked about in typical exercise, okay? Typical exercise.
It's like, okay, you learn this exercise and you just keep doing it the same way over and over. Okay? So that belief you may wanna revisit. Another thing is, you know, there's so much talk about habits these days. There's also wonderful books out there that can be very useful that explore creating new habits. But, you know, I,
and they, again, they can be very useful and there's some really smart people writing these books. I would also encourage you to think about do you really need a whole bunch of new habits or do you want more awareness? So maybe you want to have a habit of exercising, okay? And you think, oh, I just have to kind of like drill it into myself that this is something I need to do and all that.
But I would again, step back and think of, wouldn't I rather feel a sense of choice and a sense of new awareness and think about all the wonderful things that can come about if I start moving in a healthier way, right? If I start doing things differently, the new possibilities that can exist. And if you want, you can also throw in some,
what we call move away from scenarios where you kind of frighten yourself. You think, well, if I don't do that, I'm gonna end up, you know, outta shape. I won't be able to ride. Well, I'll, you know, gain weight that I don't wanna gain or, or what, you know, I wanna have a stamina,
whatever it is. You could throw some of those in too. But again, it, it goes back to not being like a robot, that this is what I do all the time, but it's, it's a sense of choice and, and not compulsion. So Moshe Feldenkrais, the man who created the Feldenkrais methadone upon which my work is based, you know,
he would encourage people to do his awareness lessons movement. They called a awareness through movement lessons. He would encourage people to do them on a regular basis, you know, and set aside some time each day to do them. And he said, maybe you wanna do them at the end of the day and, you know, whatever. But he said,
if you find it being like a compulsion that you feel like I have to do this at this time, he said, take a break from it. Because he was all about increasing your awareness and increasing your, your choice, right? Giving yourself that sense of choice. And I think that's really, really important. So again, not saying anything is wrong with reading those nice habit books that are out there,
but you might wanna revisit this idea of being very compulsive about exercise. I remember the, the, this guy I knew years ago, and he was a runner. He lived in New York City and he ran like a lot every single day no matter what the weather or anything. And I remember once, I think he ran like 10 miles a day or something,
which is kind of a lot. And he, he sprained his ankle and he still wanted to run like he still was going to run because he was so attached to that as being his identity, that habit. Maybe he was used to getting a certain amount of endorphins from the movement, whatever it was. But even though it wasn't in his self-interest, I mean,
it was bad for him to be running and he was in the medical field by the way he was gonna do it. So that's when something becomes a compulsion. And I remember the, there was a story about Dr. Feldenkrais when he was working with a woman who had a bad knee problem. And she also was a compulsive runner. I have nothing against running.
I love to run. So, so nothing against running, but it's again, that compulsion, right? You have to, you have to ask yourself. So this woman had a bad knee problem, but she was a, a runner. And, you know, Dr. Feldenkrais thought was, wow, I, I think I have to help her become more aware of having a choice in whether to run or not.
Because the woman wanted to run, despite the problem with her knee, she didn't wanna take the time to let the knee heal. And he said, you know, if I just help her with the knee, but don't help her change that mindset. He didn't use the word mindset, but to have that awareness that her, her like healthy habit, so to speak,
has become a compulsion, unhealthy compulsion. He's like, I'm not really helping her. So something to think about because, and maybe you're, maybe you, you've done this with your riding that maybe you've been injured and you are going to ride anyway or do whatever anyway. Even if it's detrimental to yourself. You probably wouldn't do that with your horse though.
You'd probably give your horse the proper time to recover, right? So treat yourself well also. Okay, so the other thing is, you know, when most people think about exercise, they often just wanna get through it. They just wanna get through it. There's, there's, there may be some pleasure involved, maybe pleasure in the endorphin feeling, or when it's over,
it's like, that felt so good that I did that, you know, this is, there could be pleasure attached. I certainly hope there is, but the, like, the individual movements may not be pleasurable. And so we often just tune them out. And you see people all the time, they just, they wanna listen to loud music or podcasts or audiobooks,
which again, nothing against that, but they want their brain to be in a different place than their body. It's sort of like the, the brain and the mind are not occupying the same place. So they're just doing the movements again, very repetitively. Whatever the movements are, and they're distracted, they wanna be distracted instead. I would say tr maybe trade that at least at times for more of a sense of curiosity.
Curiosity is one of your greatest tools. And I'm going to add to that. I call it compassionate curiosity, which means curiosity without judgment. So you think about, well, how am I doing that? You know, how can that feel easier? Can I change how I'm doing that? Can I, can I do make it a little bit different?
So there's some variety there, you know, and again, this is something that we go into in much more detail in my move with your horse program, but use curiosity. So instead of just tuning it out right, and having your, your body and mind in two different places, bring them together. Actually pay attention to how you're moving. You know,
I, I, I've heard this saying that attention is the purest form of love, the purest expression of love. And I love that because think about that. When someone is really paying attention to you, you feel really heard, don't you? And when you really pay attention to your horse, most horses really appreciate that. And that's true. Again,
you know, it's the same as true with your family and friends and your colleagues, et cetera, right? They really feel listened to. And it's a, it's a wonderful feeling. So when you really pay attention, not that you're thinking of the next thing you wanna say. If you're in a conversation with somebody, but you're really paying attention, I can see why that would be a very pure expression of love and love yourself as well.
So if you stop and pay attention to yourself, you know, you're, you're, you're loving yourself. And I think the more we can love ourselves, the more then we can give love to others and the better the world will be. Okay? So that's my little make the world a better place thing, huh? Another thing that I wanna say about your beliefs about exercise is that you may just think of particular,
you know, like weight training or stretching or whatever, as affecting certain muscles. Like I'm isolating this muscle, I'm doing this. So the, so the benefit to you is local, right? It's local to that part of your body, okay? Maybe you think today's legs day, you know, you're gonna work out with, with leg weights or upper body another day,
et cetera. Again, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but there's another way to look at it. And in the awareness exercises that I teach, it's more about creating a global change of state. So it's like you're upgrading your entire nervous system so you'll feel better in body and mind. And you might notice that, okay, we only worked maybe with one side of the body,
but I already feel better on the other side. Okay? That's an example of how the, the improvements, right? The changes you experience when you really attend to yourself will be global. They'll pervade your whole system. Okay? So that's a really big benefit. So, okay, so I wanna make this short and actionable. So, so we're gonna wrap up here,
but I really hope you take some time and think about how you believe, you know, what you believe about exercise and how you approach movement in general, okay? And that you take some ideas. Cuz what, what I really like to remind you is that when you sense yourself, you can better sense your horse. When you move yourself, you can move with your horse.
And when you connect with yourself, you can better connect with your horse. Okay? So this is all about improving your life as well as your horse's life. And very importantly, that connection between you. So let me give you a few little actionable takeaways. Okay? Easy way to get started with this is maybe throughout your day, take some awareness breaks.
Okay? Maybe you wanna put a post-it somewhere or set an alarm on your phone or whatever's easy for you. But take these moments of self-awareness. Maybe just pause and think, how am I breathing right? How am I doing whatever I'm doing in the moment? Whether it's sitting at your desk, walking, you know, standing, feeding the horses, riding what your truck,
whatever it is, pause and ask yourself, how am I doing this? How am I breathing? Where can you reduce unnecessary effort? That's a big one. That's a big one because habitually we tend to hold on so much tension that we don't need to, that interferes and creates a lot of wear and tear damage over time makes us tired and stiff and all kinds of bad things.
So slow down and breathe and ask yourself, where can I reduce unnecessary effort? And then when you do answer that and you let things go relax even more, cuz there's going to be parts of you that, that still can relax a little bit more. They're kind of determined to hold on to that habitual neuromuscular tension. So it's a good time to say,
how can this feel easier? So take these self-awareness breaks, how can this feel easier? Okay? Another one is just a reminder to embrace curiosity, not criticism. So when you're thinking about how can this feel easier, don't criticize yourself about, oh, my shoulders, were up by my ears again. Or I'm holding the steering wheel too tight. Or look at the way I'm sitting.
No wonder I can't ride my horse. Well, you know, we get into that downward spiral, that really negative self-talk, but embrace compassionate curiosity. There's no judgment needed. And this is true when you're thinking about your horse as well. Like if you're thinking about ways, you know, you'd like to improve your relationship with your horse, your performance with your horse,
it doesn't have to be a critical thing, whether critic critical against your horse or, or yourself, right? It could just be reflective, it could be cur, you could be curious, right? And explore different things. So that's really important. And think about how that feels different for you when you are embracing this idea of compassionate curiosity. And you can apply this to any situation,
maybe to your colleagues, your family and friends, whatever, instead of right away jumping into that criticism that we often do, that judgmental nature that many of us have, right? You know, this is something I work on because it's so easy sometimes to, to be critical, especially if we think someone isn't caring for their horse properly or something like that.
But to be, have more of that compassionate curiosity, compassionate curiosity, okay? Instead of just jumping into criticism. And this will, once you start doing this, and, and you know, if you're like a normal human, you'll have to remind yourself many times, right? To do this, but you know, to have that compassionate curiosity. But you'll,
you'll see that over time it'll start to, to go into other areas of your life as well. Like, in other words, you will be kinder to yourself, you'll be kinder to others. You know, it's really just a beautiful thing and you'll be more, more effective at improving, right? So if we think about yourself, right? Because many of us have,
you know, a lot of negative self-talk and it becomes a hammer. It's like constantly running in the background, right? It's affecting us physically and emotionally. So if you can change that and, and embrace this idea of compassion and curiosity, right? That's going to help you physically and emotionally because you're, your, your emotions need a physical container, right?
So again, this relates back to this whole idea about beliefs of exercise. Changing what you're thinking about and how you're talking to yourself can immediately change you physically as well. So this is another thing that the, that it's so important to kind of reflect on what you think about on a regular basis because that will impact your ability to move well, to be flexible,
balanced, you know, coordinated all that good stuff. Okay? So anyway, I will wrap up here, but I hope this gave you some ideas and to really question this idea of just like pushing through. Remember, we want skill, power over willpower. The, the strength, you know, your strength, your speed, your stamina, all of that will increase automatically once you get really skillful at moving well,
right? Your aches and pains can go away. It's amazing what this does. So hope, hope this gives you some ideas. And if you're not already on my email list, please get there because I do share, sometime I give out free awareness classes, right? As a matter of fact, I'm doing one later today. I'm doing another one tomorrow.
They're totally free. I also have that series of three free rider lessons that you can get at mary Debono dot com slash rider, even if you've done them before, do them again. It's a great way to get started in this. And then of course, I have my move with your horse program where we really take a deep dive into this to help you and your horse improve your movement.
You know, your flexibility, your balance, your, your coordination, as well as really deepen the connection between you and refine your communication. So thank you so much for joining me on this podcast. I so appreciate you being here. I know you have a lot of choices in what you listen to and I'm very, very grateful that you're here and I can't wait to share more with you.
Thank you so much and I'll talk to you soon. Bye for now.