I often talk in my yoga classes about effort on the mat in order to have effortlessness off the mat. This could also be stated as working hard in one area of life in order to make other areas work more efficiently.
I also often expound upon building inefficiency into your day to create more movement opportunities. Paraphrasing biomechanist Katy Bowman, "efficiency doesn't save time; it reduces movement."
So which is it I want to instill in my students and clients? Efficiency? Inefficiency?
Honestly, it's both.
I recently got deluged with requests for information about private sessions, upcoming events, shoes, waiting lists, classes. It has been incredible to experience, but it also forced me to see where inefficiency was hindering my ability to function, my ability to help all these people. So many of them initially needed the same information. Rather than copy and paste the same content into 100+ emails, or try to send one email but need to add 100+ names to my contact list to do so, I finally figured out to put all the information into an Out-Of-Office reply. This allowed me to respond to all the individual requests (booking private sessions) in a more reasonable manner.
As I began meeting all these new clients, I also noticed that many of them needed similar descriptions of movement work in the follow-up emails I send. I finally realized I could copy much of that information into a large document, copy and paste specific exercises into individual emails, and then add the details relevant to the specific client. This saves me an enormous amount of work.
Each of the above is an example of effort now for effortlessness later. Each example created efficiency. On the mat, in a movement practice that looks a little different. If I teach a pose to you that creates strength or mobility where it has previously been lacking, that pose will not be an easy pose for you. It will be a lot of physical effort for a very brief period. But that effort, repeated over time, will eventually lead to you having the strength or mobility you have been missing. That new stability or flexibility or alignment will become unconscious work for your body because of the effort put in during the actual pose. This is creating efficiency in the body.
We count on our bodies to do a certain amount of unconscious work. If you had to consciously think about every muscle, every action required to do a daily task such as brushing your teeth, it would be extraordinarily draining. Do that for every part of your morning routine, and you'd be ready for bed before you even got to eat breakfast. It is clear then that a certain level of physical efficiency is desirable and necessary.
The flip side of that, however, occurs when we lose dexterity, strength, mobility, due to all the ways we've made our lives efficient. Much of the required movement our ancestors needed to do to get through their day has been eliminated in current Western culture. We do not have to spend all day in search of food or creating shelter. We do not have to walk anywhere. We do not even have to drive anywhere to buy the food we eat. Many, many people order groceries on line and have them delivered.
I have worked with clients who prefer slip-on shoes because then they don't have to bend over to put them on. They won't have to tie their shoes with fingers that don't work as well as they used to. That same person comes to me to relearn how to bend over. I give them exercises to rebuild dexterity and strength in their fingers. And then I tell them to bend over to put their shoes on every day. Buy tie shoes and use their fingers every day. That little bit of efficiency (slip-on shoes) has created weakness and inability in their bodies.
Most people put the most used items within reach in the kitchen, just above or just below waist-height. If an item gets stored down low, many folks choose to add roll-out drawers in the cabinets. Those same people have stiff upper backs and shoulders from never lifting their arms. They cannot squat down. So they start going to the gym or classes to relearn those movements. Or they simply give up on squatting, lifting something off a high shelf, etc. because they're "too old."
Tying your shoes may seem like a small action, but over days and months and years, that action allows a person to maintain specific abilities. Bending over, getting closer to the ground, reaching up high --- all these are part of how humans are designed to function. Stop using one body part and it stops working well. Over the long haul, these seemingly small deficits create bigger and bigger health risks. (Picture the Tin Man rusted stiff in the woods in The Wizard of Oz. Not a perfect analogy, but it'll do.)
Building in inefficiency is a way to undo the damage of our sedentary lives.
These two topics --- effort for effortlessness, and inefficiency for more movement -- actually can cycle themselves together. They are not strictly opposites.
Over the past few years, I have been gradually working on getting closer to a full squat. It started with working on some specific poses to increase the strength around my knee and hip joints, to increase my ankle flexion, and to lengthen my tight calves. It was a good bit of effort on the mat for a few minutes every week. While my heels don't yet reach the floor, I can comfortably get all the way down into a decent squat (AND get back up). It took a lot of effort in focused moments over a long period of time. Effort over time for effortlessness now.
Because of that previous effort and the resulting ease of movement, I can do the following:
I squat down in the early morning to get the dog's leash and a poop bag, then I squat to hook the leash on the dog, to put my shoes on, to pick up the dog poop, to undo her leash, to take my shoes off again ... if I do all that, I've squatted down six times before I've had my morning tea. Throughout a day, I easily squat 30 - 40 times. It takes me a tiny bit longer to get down and back up than it would to bend over or to store things closer to my standing reach. Squatting down is inefficient.
But here's where they connect: I don't need to find time to get to the gym to do 30 - 40 squats every other day. So ... inefficient = more efficient.
I fully encourage you to do the real work now to create ease in the future. Weak ankles? Learn what you need to do get more stability and strength at that joint. Stiff hips? Learn what you need to do to bring more mobility to the area.
And don't mistake ease/effortlessness for doing as little as possible. Build inefficiency into your daily life for better movement, better health.
(NOTE: I am aware that non-Western, non-wealthy cultures do not have the same problems. I am also aware that not all physical limitations come from inactivity. I am talking to and about the people I see most in my classes and private practice, people of a certain amount of wealth in a particularly sedentary culture who are struggling with aches and pains related to all of the above.)
"I can't balance."
"My knees don't bend that far."
"I'm too old to climb."
I hear these and many other statements from students and clients and even the occasional passerby who sees me walking along a fallen log or squatting down to get something. I understand the feeling. A couple years ago, I started to clean the gutters and I felt unsteady climbing the ladder. I though, "I'm too old for this." But then I realized, it wasn't age that made me unsteady on the ladder. It was the fact that I hadn't been regularly climbing anything for many, many years.
When my students tell me they don't balance well, I usually respond by asking how often they balance every day. The answer is usually "not at all." Why do we think we'll be good at something we don't do?
Trying to relearn an old trick takes time. Little kids challenge their balance all the time if allowed to play. They walk on the curb or low walls. They play games demanding hopping or freezing in funny positions. They simply opt to try and stand on one foot. When is the last time you did that?
Same with squatting down. If you have a limited relationship with the ground and choose to sit only on chairs and sofas, your hips, knees, and ankles have lost mobility and strength. Regaining ability in all those joints means starting very gradually with work designed to move your body a little bit more in the direction of squatting. It doesn't mean force yourself down into a squat today.
After that experience on the ladder a few years back, I made a point to climb up onto chairs and stepladders more often. I gradually became accustomed to how my body moved and how I balanced. And I can tell you that climbing a ladder no longer makes me feel old. I got better at it.
Whatever you do a lot of is what you get comfortable doing. If you want to move differently, you'll have to start moving differently. Give yourself time. It may seem as though balance or climbing or squatting come easily to young bodies, therefore you have to be young to do that. In reality, it comes easily to bodies that balance, climb, and squat regularly.
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.