Underpin Your Yoga and Pilates Practice With These Two Things.
What underpins your movement practice? Whatever your movement practice is - though I assume it might involve yoga and pilates if you've landed here - do you know what drives it? Can you pin it down? I’ve been a movement teacher for almost a decade, and recently I've been pondering this very question. What is it that informs my own practice and my teaching? There's the obvious stuff - like anatomy and understanding human movement and movement patterns etc. But what underpins the lot of it? I've realised it's two things, and they are both vitally important.
These two things, I believe, should be present any time we move to exercise, explore, rehabilitate, strengthen etc. These two things have a place in all movement – whether it be yoga, weight lifting, running, dancing or anything beyond or in between.
So ... what are these two things?
The first is kindness.
The second is curiosity-fuelled awareness.
Without the first, we risk falling into blind self-flagellation and making even the gentlest forms of movement a form of self-punishment.
Without the second, we risk missing what we’re doing altogether.
So let me explain a bit more about what I mean.
Let’s start with kindness.
Picture, if you will, two women side by side, doing a classic yoga posture – downward-facing dog. The first woman is tense – pushing to get her heels to the floor, clenching her jaw at the thought that she has to stay here one more minute. She has sweat dripping from her temple and her fingers are clawing at the mat in desperation. But she is adamant that she is at least ‘doing it right’ because she followed the teacher’s instructions to the letter. When she finally comes out of downward-facing dog to rest in child pose, she chastises herself internally for not doing it with more grace. She swears that next week her heels will come to the floor and she’ll breathe more evenly because she just has to get it right. She’s disappointed in herself and her body. She will do ‘better.’
The other woman is in downward dog too, but it looks a little different. When she started to find her way into the shape she noticed the back of her legs felt ‘tight’, so she kept her knees bent. Her arms are maybe a little wider than the teacher demonstrated because she felt a pinching in her shoulder, and she moves around a bit, playing with the shape and noticing the way changes in the shape create changes in what she feels. This woman comes out of the pose ‘early’ because, quite frankly, she’s ready to. While she rests in child pose she reminds herself how awesome it is that she fit the pose to her body, not the other way around. She notices a moment of worry that she didn’t do it ‘right’ and that it didn’t match everyone else’s pose, but then she reminds herself that her movement practice has nothing to do with anyone else, and everything to do with her. She’s here to feel BETTER, not worse.
Ok, so which of these women is being kind? If you were walking past the window, it’s possible that they both appear kind because they’re both doing yoga – they’re both on a mat, committed to moving their bodies in a way that will hopefully bring them greater ease and relaxation.
But when we dive in under the surface, one of these women is truly being kind, while the other is punishing herself with movement in an attempt to do it ‘right.’
It is easy – truly easy – to turn any movement into self-punishment. We’re all too good at playing this game. We might even think that we’re being kind, but part way through the kindness flutters out the window, only to be replaced by a nasty voice reminding us that we’re never quite good enough.
Now, it is my belief that this voice visits all of us to varying extents. The goal isn’t to make it disappear (though with practice, maybe!); instead it is to notice and choose kindness instead.
Like any skill, moving and being with kindness takes ongoing practice.
Choosing again and again and again. And then again.
One interesting thing to note about kindness is that kindness doesn’t always equate to ‘soft’ or slow or even gentle. You can run like the wind, lift heavy weights, ‘feel the burn’ and run a marathon from a place of kindness – it’s all in the intention.
That’s a big deal – so I urge you to pause and think about that.
I can run as a way to atone my sin of eating a block of chocolate, or I can run because it makes me feel darn good and healthy. There’s a big difference there. Yet it can be subtle. Sometimes we set out with an intention of kindness only to recognise later that it wasn't fuelled by what we thought. So we keep practising.
Ok, so that’s a summary of the kindness piece. So what about curiosity-fuelled awareness?
Curiosity-fuelled awareness is a delightful topic – it really is. This is where we start to look at ourselves, not through an analytical, judgemental lens, but instead through a lens that finds wonder and awe and finely-tuned attention.
Here’s an example: Let’s say I was wiggling my toes and watching that happening. I could do a couple of things – firstly, I could just look at my toes and acknowledge ‘I’m wiggling my toes.’ Second, I could ignore my toes completely and check Facebook. Thirdly – and this is the juicy one – I could wiggle my toes and get intensely curious about it.
This curiosity-fuelled awareness might look like me noticing the way it feels – the nuances in that, the subtleties. I might get curious about whether some toes move more clearly than others or if I’m more aware of sensation in certain toes or in a certain foot. I might marvel at the fact that my feet – complete with their 33 joints – are an utter wonder worthy of my attention and delight. I might notice the bones and tendons I can see working beneath the skin.
Very different options, yes? And the last one is where the magic is.
When we can look at things through this lens of curiosity and awareness, we open up so many possibilities. What we can notice, we can change – so this way of noticing becomes a way to work our way towards a more mobile, resilient body that we truly view with awe and gratitude.
Can you feel how much power that holds?
When we move without awareness, we miss so much. We miss the opportunity to spot things that have perhaps been outside of our field of awareness until now. We miss the opportunity to choose movements outside of our range of habits and to do them with greater skill – because, believe it or not, movement is a skill, even though we do it every day. Being able to move in a way that is conscious and choice-based is very, very cool indeed.
So, how are you moving today? Is it with kindness and curiosity-fuelled awareness?
I hope so. And, if not, know that you have a choice. And even if you have to choose it 1,000 times today, that will be worth it. For real.
Did you know that I run weekly classes and regular immersive classes at my studio in Croydon North in Melbourne's outer east? You can find more information here. I can also visit your workplace or your next conference or team-building day to talk about kind, curiosity-fuelled movement and how it can easily be slotted into your day. You don’t even have to change out of your jeans (or roll out a yoga mat!) Get in touch to find out more!