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  • Denice Bracken

Finding Joyful Movement | Going Beyond a traditional Exercise Mindset

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

By Denice Bracken, RYT200, BSW, MScN,

Finding Joyful Movement & Going Beyond a traditional Exercise Mindset

In today's fast-paced world, the word "exercise" is often associated with rigorous gym workouts, monotonous machine routines, or the relentless pursuit of meeting step goals. However, it's time to challenge these preconceived notions. As someone who has been immersed in the health and wellness industry for nearly a decade, I can confidently say that beneficial exercise doesn't have to conform to a specific mold. It can be achieved through what myself and several colleagues call "joyful movement."

Joyful movement is about finding delight in physical activity outside the confines of traditional exercise. I like to think of it as a mindfulness practice that is based in choice rather than a sense of grueling obligation (unless your into that 😉- this is judgement free zone here). In this blog post, we will delve the essence of joyful movement, its benefits, and how it can enhance overall well-being. Additionally, we'll discuss ways to invite joyful movement into your life.

What is Joyful Movement?

At its core, joyful movement is any physical activity that brings pleasure, happiness, and a sense of fulfillment. While some find joy in what would be perceived as traditional exercise models (totally valid), it's essential to highlight the vast array of other activities that can offer the same benefits and more. Joyful physical activity celebrates the choice of being in a state of intentional movement, moving our bodies in ways that genuinely make us feel good, and fostering a healthier relationship with our selves. The best part is that everyone can try it and reap its benefits. Shifting from the mindset that exercise needs to look a certain way in order to 'count' or that exercise has to be a certain number of steps or reps, can bring liberation from just one of the many societal pressures to act or be a specific way.

Embracing a Diverse Range of Activities

One of the most beautiful aspects of joyful movement is its versatility. Unlike the many rigid exercise recommendations out there, joyful movement allows for personalized creativity and exploration. There are countless activities to look into, ranging from dancing and hiking to practicing yoga asana or riding a bicycle through scenic routes. It can be things you loved to do in your childhood such as cartwheeling, playing in rivers or creeks, or even climbing trees (safely, of course). Perhaps your joyful movement will be found in a sport you've always wanted to try, or even in one that you never thought you would like. Even playing with pets or kids at the park can be a joyful way to move.

For those who have had very limited physical activity in their life, might be reading this and thinking to themselves how daunting it is to move your body in ways you never have. Research has given some insight into this. If you haven't guest it already, the key to this common concern is to find activities that resonate with you personally. In a phenomenological-hermeneutic study (a study that looks at how experiences, traditions, and culture shape everyday practices) of physical activity and health, it was found that individuals who held an interest in a physical activity (despite having limited prior physical activity) were able to take up the movement just as effectively as those who had been physically active in the past. This is proof that having a passion behind movement can be a determining factor in one’s ability to perform in that type of movement.

Remember, joyful movement is less focused on the demands or 'suggestions' to achieve a specific amount of exercise per week, and more about embracing a mindful and joyful existence. Joyful physical activity affords diversity in your week. You can pick different forms of movement. It is customizable to your needs, wants, and ability. My favorite way to move is hiking in the mountain forests and swimming in the serene rivers and natural pools of the Pacific Northwest. I also find joy in late-night walks with my dog and partner. Starting out can be challenging. Finding interests take time. Give yourself permission to be a novice.

The Mental and Physical Benefits of Joyful Movement

Joyful movement extends beyond the physical benefits typically associated with exercise; it also profoundly impacts mental and emotional well-being. Engaging in activities that bring joy triggers the release of natural brain chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin. These endorphins serve various functions in the human body, including promoting a sense of happiness, reducing stress, and improving sleep, to name a few. Embracing joyful movement can lead to an improved outlook on life, reduced chronic pain, heightened mental clarity, and enhanced focus.

Furthermore, joyful movement allows individuals to cultivate a healthier relationship with their bodies. Instead of fixating on changing appearance or achieving specific fitness goals, the focus shifts to appreciating the body's capabilities and honoring what it can do.

It's important to note that when starting out, moving in new ways that you haven't previously done, or if it's been a while, can bring new challenges and discomforts. While I have always been active, there was a period of a few years when I was immersed in graduate school, relocated multiple times, and grappled with chronic pain.Even engaging in activities I loved became unbearable on certain days; however, movement was one of the few things that alleviated the pain. I would be lying if I didn't say I was defeated, but I knew that it would only get worse if I stopped. Every morning, I started with a body and mind check-in. I would ask myself what I felt was attainable and sustainable for me that day. I wasn't concerned with what anyone else was doing. Somedays my movement was quiet, meditative breath work, and soft stretches. Other days, I was lifting weights, trying new dance and core routines, or walking and listening to podcasts. What rendered movement sustainable and joyful was this regular check-in, and the fact that my goal extended beyond merely completing a workout.My goal was to build sustainable joyful movement.

Accessibility of Joyful Physical Exercise

It's essential to acknowledge that traditional exercise settings, such as gyms and fitness classes, may not always be accessible or safe for everyone. Factors like gender, race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status can create barriers to participation in these settings. More like sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, systematic oppression, and a general lack of compassion, empathy, and acceptance by some in power create significant barriers for others to participate safely in these settings

Furthermore, access to time off, safe green spaces, nature trails, and reliable transportation can significantly impact an individual's ability to engage in any form of joyful physical activity. It's crucial to acknowledge that finding sustainable movement practices comes with privilege in many parts of the world, including the United States. Advocating for inclusivity and accessibility should be a collective priority. It is our responsibility to heighten our awareness and raise our voices for the protection of our environments and ecosystems. We all deserve clean and safe green spaces and water to engage in joyful movement.

Finding Your Joyful Movement

Joyful movement should be individualized, cost-effective, and contribute to building connections in safe spaces that resonate with you. We are unique individuals with unique stories. Our movement and physical activity should be just as intricate as we are. Give yourself permission to build and create a physically active lifestyle that suits you. When finding and engaging in your joyful movement consider the following:

#1) Body Speak: Listen to your body and consider what physical activity you can sustainably and safely achieve today. We don’t all wake up with the same level of energy or time. Make choices to respect what your body and mind need.

#2) Setting Individual Goals: Reflect on your personal interests and goals for physical activity, focusing on what you desire for yourself, not what societal norms dictate. Centering a goal around what is going to be sustainable for you in the long run is ideal.

#3) Finding your Drive: Acknowledge and embrace the motivation that drives you to engage in physical activity, even if it varies from the people around you. Some clients of mine have a drive to be physically active to reduce pain and improve mobility. Others have a drive to win at paintball tournaments. What drives you to get up and joyfully move?

#4) Inviting an Intention: Determine your intention for moving today. Whether it's stress management, pain reduction, improving balance, connecting with community or self, or simply enjoying the moment, setting a positive intention can enhance your joyful movement experience. Setting an intention beyond the physical can improve our relationship with the activity and ourselves. It takes it from just being an act of physical movement into a practice of mindfully and intentionally moving through life.


Embracing joyful movement allows us to break free from the confines of conventional exercise and discover physical activities that genuinely bring happiness and fulfillment. We don't all have the same lived experiences, bodies, or mindsets. Forcing ourselves into the societal norms of exercising will just lead to frustration and disappointment when we fail to meet their expectations rather than our own. If there is one takeaway, I would hope you see that exercise doesn't have to be completely miserable or lacking in enjoyment. By integrating sustainable and nourishing habits into our lifestyle, including joyful movement, we can amplify their benefits and improve our overall well-being. Remember, joyful physical activity is a personal journey, so explore and find the joy in movement that suits you best. Let's prioritize joy, sustainability, inclusivity, and foster a healthier and happier relationship with our bodies through movement.

Be Happy. Be Free. Be Brave. Be Wild.


If you are interested in building joyful movement in your life, schedule a health coaching session with me or book a Free Discovery Call to explore your unique needs and which services will benefit you best!


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