short story

What my missionary mother taught me about movement

By Jennifer Gleeson Blue.

When I first started studying alignment and movement, my mother told me I came by it naturally, by which she meant that she grew up wanting to be a doctor and my interest in the way the body works reflected her own desires. ; ) Unfortunately, she didn't really know how to become a doctor in the 1960s and didn't receive any help when it came time to go to college. She ended up at a teacher's college; unsurprisingly, she became a teacher.

After a long career teaching and doing missions work "on the side" and with all five kids out of the house, she sold her house, packed her bags and moved to Guatemala to pursue the life that brought her the most meaning. She formed a religious organization with several Guatemalans and set about teaching prostitutes how to sew for a living, feeding and clothing the poorest of the poor, teaching English to those who wished to learn and sharing the truths she held dear to her heart. 

Here's my mom in classic missionary mode:


But lest she seem one dimensional, I also offer this pic of her swinging at the pinata that was bought for her 65th birthday (and I think that's her badass truck in the background):

My mother was a serious evangelist for most of my whole life and I saw repeatedly how she navigated a really basic problem: when people are hungry, they cannot hear anything you have to say. And what you say is irrelevant because what they really need is to eat.

To some degree, this went for all aspects of the way she approached her missionary work. She had what she considered to be the answer to the highest need (this is what she would preach on), but she saw that there were more fundamental needs that she wanted and felt called to meet first or simultaneously (the need for food, physical safety, education...). 

My mom and I disagreed about a lot when it came to religion and how that intersects with other people. But for the sake of her religious convictions, she could have turned a blind eye to the full scope of a person's needs. She didn't do that. 

She believed in the dignity of each human being and in the importance of meeting them where they were, be it in a need for tortillas, a need for clothing, a need for job skills or the need to believe in something bigger than themselves. 

She was intentional about helping people meet their basic needs first.

Are you wondering what this has to do with movement? 

I'm getting there...   :)

Understanding that there is fluidity (and limitation) within any framework, we can look at Maslow's classic hierarchy and explore our motivations, our drives toward change and growth. And what are the most basic needs that we seek and need to meet? Physiological ones. 

My mother understood this. She wanted to speak to the parts of the brain evolved to construe meaning and follow curiosity, the parts that were interested in the exploration of ideas about God/Spirit; however, she needed to ensure at least some of those basic physiological needs were met first. 

In watching her tend to this principle in her work, I have learned to apply it to myself. I really, truly need to tend to my basic, physiological needs if I want to fully engage in explorations of meaning and self-love and community and personal development. 

If I am not ensuring that my basic, physiological needs are being meet, then I can expect to move more slowly and more superficially in these other areas of my life. 

Have you felt this in your own life?

How when you are hungry (not even literally starving, but just in need of some calories), you lose some of your rationality?

How when you are worried about your physical safety, you are not available for explorations of meaningful work?

How when you don't have enough money to pay the bills, your relationships suffer?

Here's what you might not have fully grasped, however: 

Movement is a basic, physiological need.

In most conversations about meeting our basic needs, we forget about movement. If you're reading this, my guess is that, on the whole, almost all of your physiological needs are generally met. But what about movement? Even if we skip the part about aligned movement (which is REALLY important) and exercise (which helps us get aligned!), almost all of us are simply under-moved.

Our bodies ache.

Our lives are busy.

We have too much pain.

We aren't sure where to turn.

We are given poor information about our health.

Our lifestyles don't support more activity.

We are out of the habit. 

We lack basic knowledge about our physiology.

We are scared. 

We are indoctrinated to be sedentary.

None of this changes the fact that you need to move. It helps you meet your basic biological needs. And enhance your relationships. And deepen your sense of community. And grow in love. And be available for the big questions in life.

Are you meeting your physiological need for movement?

How can you know if you are or are not?

I'm going to leave you with these questions to ponder. As you think of them, also consider what you want for yourself. Importantly:

How would meeting your movement needs support other areas of your life?

I hope you'll share with me what comes up for you, what emerges as you think about these questions.


Jennifer Gleeson Blue is a certified Restorative Exercise™ Specialist, having trained extensively with the the Restorative Exercise™ Institute. The wonderful story above originally went out as a newsletter to her community. You can find out more about Jennifer and her varied and brilliant practices in the links below.