Beyond Pandemic and Hibernation: Moving Into 2021 With Nicole Tsong

by Mari Kim, Ph.D.

24 Ways to Move More: Monthly Inspiration for Health and Movement is South End author Nicole Tsong’s third book. The Seattle Times’ “Fit for Life” columnist has created a manual of sorts, with photography by Ericka Schultz, written from the vantage point of a supportive energy coach calling for us all to find work/life balance. Tsong challenges us to embrace more movement by exploring two new movements each month for a year. Her starting place for us is simple: We can do more than we think we can. With that she plants a mustard seed of change as she releases a volume put together to “make movement fun and inspiring again.”

With 2020 having ushered in a global pandemic, in a lot of ways, it’s a tough year for a book on exercise to be released. Between calls for preemptive quarantining, post-exposure mandatory quarantining, physical and social distancing, banned indoor gatherings, and the closure of gyms for adults, the message is clear: isolate, mask up, ventilate the indoors, and stay home. In the glorious Pacific Northwest, even our hiking trails have become suspect as they are increasingly jammed with hikers desperate for some outdoor time, sharing exhaled air which could be carrying the coronavirus. 

Yet under the energy of a powerful Mercury Retrograde that revisits and sometimes undoes the past, hope rises. This 2020 Election Week our nation voted in record numbers. We know there is an end in sight to a dangerous and destructive White House administration that continues to fail to respond to this pandemic seriously and responsibly. Moreover, with breaking news this week of two vaccines proving optimistically effective, some are daring to feel hope that the world will begin to be able to manage the as yet unmitigated threat of COVID-19. 

Voices of compassionate wisdom have begun urgently calling for us to remember we must embrace the healing practice of self-care to forge a path to well-being and recovery. In a conversation with Michelle Shireen Muri titled “Heal Yourself to Transform Society,” Victoria Santos, healer and community organizer, offers a clarion call: “As activists … we need to undertake our own healing as a way of transforming society. … If we try to transform society from the level of consciousness that still is traumatized and is reactive, then we are recreating the same patterns that have oppressed us.” Among the many community therapists whose practices have been overwhelmed by unprecedented demand for services, Dr. DeAnza Spaulding, a queer BIPOC therapist and founder of Renew Therapy & Consultation, agrees: “As activists and resistors, we need to humanize our experience and acknowledge the harms our bodies have endured. We are not machines — we are the human targets of this administration. This is where self-care begins: in the naming and acknowledgement of the need to heal and embrace life-giving, self-loving practices; from here, the love is extended to heal and nourish our community.” 

And in this calling we see that Tsong’s 24 Ways to Move More, a book on movement as self-care, is timely in an unexpected way. Whether walking or doing CrossFit, swimming or dancing hip-hop, hiking or trampoline jumping, playing tennis or tree climbing, paddle boarding or partner dancing, Tsong offers 12 months of reflections on two activities each month. In classic guru form, she prescribes reflection before and after the activities, knowing that awareness of what causes our resistance and mindful self-talk are among the necessary habits to reform if we are finally to detangle ourselves from the anxiety of expectations and form live-giving habits. Tsong does not expect us to embrace her recommendations each month: she wants us to discover that there is more to us than inactivity.

Image courtesy of Nicole Tsong.

I found myself flipping through the pages of 24 Ways to Move More, unexpectedly enjoying the experience of feeling unpressured by expectations. With the reality that best health practices in 2020 have actually called for the cessation of a lot of normal exercise activities, the absence of expectations combined with Tsong’s inspirational voice turned out to be a significant plus. Why? Because fear of failure and anxiety about under-performing is one of the most frequent obstacles to starting any new exercise regime. Realizing there are no expectations to disappoint can turn out to be just the antidote our inactivity needed.

During the current third wave of COVID-19 infections, there are some recommendations in Tsong’s book that will have to wait (e.g., social dancing, paddle boarding, CrossFit, aqua aerobics, etc.). However, Tsong’s guiding principle of movement for positivity, uplift, and good health is something we could all use right now. Tap into your sense of adventure and modify some of Tsong’s suggestions for the time being. Open the windows (but close the curtains), blast hip hop music, and bust some moves. Find that lonely yoga mat in the back of the closet when the house has gone to bed and try five minutes of pilates. If the day is sunny and you need vitamin D, mask up and plan to try a few minutes of trail running in the interior routes of Seward Park. Or, buddy up with a trusted and masked friend to walk the neighborhood in the quiet of the evening when there are fewer folks out and about. 

The last thing we need at the moment is more disappointment. Compassionately, Tsong isn’t asking us to become experts in any of the activities listed in 24 Ways to Move. Familiar with all the usual excuses, she just asks us to take five minutes per day to move. 

With the new year and hope approaching, Tsong’s invitation to us in 24 Ways to Move to start dreaming about a new start seems more than timely. She continues to offer the kind of concrete helping hand that is the hallmark of her column “Fit for Life,” but this time her supportive guidance encourages us through mindful reflection on questions that explore our hesitation and reluctance. Like the coach she is, Tsong suggests we can find something more in us, including perhaps a willingness to exchange inaction for something much more enjoyable. After such a long season of political duress and pandemic hibernation, this book emerges as a noteworthy and hopeful read for people who want to make plans to move into a more active and healthy 2021.

Mari Kim, PhD is a founding member of the progressive faith community Valley & Mountain (sponsor of the Hillman City Collaboratory) in South Seattle. Sometime professor of philosophy and social ethics, she currently works with Northwest Harvest as their Corporate and Foundations Relations Officer and is a nonprofit fundraiser and consultant for smaller nonprofits. 

Featured image courtesy of Nicole Tsong. (Photo: Kara Wallace)