Some of what follows are teachings I was handed by brilliant women and men before me. Some of it I cultivated over my own two-plus decades of teaching.
1) "Just listen to your body" is not a reasonable instruction for beginners. If that person knew what to do, they wouldn't be coming to you. Not to mention the cultural indoctrination to push through, override, or otherwise ignore pain signals that have taught most people to stop listening to their body. (I have written on this topic at length. If you want to read more, click here.)
2) Yoga done to music is fine, but it can prevent someone from learning to listen to their body. It was practiced for decades without any musical accompaniment. It's not that strange.
3) Leading practice is not the same as teaching.
Also: Teaching a lot of classes does not equal practicing a lot.
4) If your goal is solely bigger/fancier/bendier movement, that is ego. That is where you are more likely to get hurt. If your goal is to understand the movement and to find the resistance to the movement, that is meditation.
5) Fancy yoga isn't advanced yoga. Many people who do fancy poses could already do something close to those poses before they walked into a yoga studio.
6) Using a wall or a prop is not remedial yoga. Coming out of a pose when you're done is not remedial yoga. In fact, knowing you are not ready for a fancy pose and need a wall or prop; knowing you're at the end of your endurance; that's what I call self-awareness. That's what I call advanced yoga.
7) Yoga classes self-select. If the teacher leads a practice, the students who enjoy that practice will stay. The student who doesn't move the same way the teacher does will decide yoga isn't for them and may never come back. If they keep at it in spite of the challenge, eventually they will get frustrated at lack of progress. Unless they find a teacher who actually teaches, they, too will get frustrated and quit.
8) Irreverence is good. Creating community matters more to me than creating a sacred space of silence. In my experience, laughter promotes breathing. Community decreases competition. Both of which lead to more self-awareness, less pose-envy.
9) Flowing through a series is a wonderful way to practice. But if you never slow down to observe the effects an individual pose, you may never learn which poses are nourishing you, which are helping you breathe or creating ease in a tense area of the body. Likewise, you may never know which poses are depleting or even injuring you.
10) Yoga doesn't cure anything.
This will not be a three-sentence post like the other Creativity Break posts.
I cannot believe I already couldn't maintain a daily practice past a week. If I'm honest, I didn't even get past the full week. I counted movement on Day 8 that is part of my normal day as my practice because I did a bit more of it. Yeah, no.
Let me give you an idea of what my days look like, movement-wise, and how it's easy to think I've practiced when I really haven't:
I am increasingly teaching about all those ways in which movement throughout the day matters as much if not MORE than a specified period of daily exercise with the remainder spent sitting at a desk or behind the wheel or on the couch. I believe in the vital importance of moving more of your parts in more ways throughout more of the day. And in that respect, I practice what I preach.
So why do I want so badly to get back on my mat?
Getting on the mat is physical work. It's a chance to really inhabit this body that I've spent a lifetime moving. I've moved onstage and in private. I've moved to tell stories and to teach others. I feel intelligent in my body. I feel graceful. I feel powerful.
I learn on the mat and through my body. Getting on the mat has given me insight into injuries (ankle, pelvis, shoulder) and helped me heal them. Getting on the mat can be playful or challenging or calming. It is inward work.
I spent my first three decades sweating in dance classes and exercise classes. Movement up until then had either been performance or otherwise externally driven. I got serious about yoga in my late 20s and immediately understood its therapeutic benefits. When running hurt my knees, I got on my mat and figured out at least one of the problems. In my mid-40s, I ran a 10K with my sights set on a half-marathon. The damage to my ankle joint over decades of dance injuries barely survived that 10K. It took the next four years of slow, diligent work on the mat to unwind my movement patterns and re-train my leg, ankle, foot so that I could walk without pain again. Only after all that effort on the mat could I know that running or skipping wouldn't hurt my joints (though I have not tried to run a mile even still).
I've spent the past four years using my body knowledge on the mat again, this time to recover from a frozen shoulder. I still don't have full range of motion. And I'm again in the process of unwinding the habits of decades to relearn how to use an even more complicated joint.
I have all this experience of utilizing my yoga and body knowledge for my own betterment. I used to inspire my personal practice by studying with my teachers (one now deceased, one far away) and colleagues (all far away since I moved). I used to have a set time of day. I used to have local peers, students who didn't need me to guide them but appreciated sharing space while we all practiced.
I'm starting to wonder if all my (necessary) therapeutic use of yoga has removed play and fun from getting on the mat. I don't have peers to practice with here, which I had before I moved to MN. In Michigan, colleagues and students and I would get together and practice individually in the same space. Maybe I have to create that somehow here. It wouldn't be daily, but it might be enough to motivate me to do it on my own between times.
Just sitting with this today, sitting with my unwillingness, digging through why I have and have not practiced during periods of my life, makes it clear that it isn't outer accountability I need. Even declaring a 40-day commitment publicly didn't do it. I lied to myself and to the public by Day 8.
The motivation is going to have to come from me.
I have looked at my calendar. Rather than writing "Practice" on each day, I carefully chose specific times each weekday and wrote the actual time down. An appointment with myself. Some appointments are 30 minutes, some 45, some 20. I tell my students, it doesn't need to be 90 minutes to be a practice. Time to listen to my own teaching.
I do not know if this will work any better than what I've been doing. But I am done with my rebellious, "I won't" attitude.
I keep thinking of something a friend shared with me. "Paint until you feel like painting."
Yep. I'm going to practice until I feel like practicing.
Getting refocused with the Creativity Break. Day 1.
[And in case you read the first day of the Creativity Break, here is a photo of the broken Sarasvati that gave me the impulse to do this in the first place.]
Recognizing (yet again) how my active end range of motion isn't anywhere near my passive end range. Arm and shoulder work trying to unwind some fiercely held movement habits. Taught my husband how to help with one of those.
It's been an office, email, phone call day. I won't call it a practice, but I made a concerted effort to move my arms and shoulders frequently today to counter all that desk work. I plan to do more active end-range work all weekend.
Creativity Break - Day 6
Found myself with a bonus 45 minutes. Treated myself to Free Movement with Movement Parallels Life reinforcing that my ROM (range of motion) ends way sooner than most people's. Ended with some hip and leg work on the floor.
I'm exhausted, run-down, and hoping I'm not getting a cold. My practice tonight is short, but challenging. I've been watching folks play with blankets and sliding and thought I'd give it a try.
Coming home after a weekend retreat is a good reminder of all the ways it's hard to get on the mat in daily life. Mondays have four clients, two classes, one school pick-up, lots of driving, plus laundry and dog walks. I spent some time tonight after all that with a little wall dancing courtesy of @movementfluency (Instagram) and her #unprops challenge which led me to some flowing, calming, ground work.
A long drive home today, unloading, unpacking, laundry, spending time with my son home from college, meeting one of his best friends, and dinner with my in-laws. I still have work to do to prep for this week and catch up from last week. So my hands are getting to work it out: in the car, sitting and visiting, at dinner, and during computer breaks.
Lots of short videos from colleagues for inspiration led to a lot of ground work. Then a lot of standing poses as prep for teaching two workshops. Last, I gave myself the opportunity to take a class, wherein I realized yet again it's time for me to own the title Master Teacher.
I have been feeling creatively stuck when it comes to getting on my mat, and it has recently prevented me from doing so more often than I care to admit. This morning, I discovered a small figurine of mine was broken. It was a representation of Sarasvati that I had received as a gift. Sarasvati is a the Indian goddess of music, passion, and protector of creative energy. And she was broken. Actually, she was still in one piece but she had come apart from her base and from the beautiful, broken lattice work she sat in front of. I was surprised how sad I was to discover her there, on her back amongst the collection of stones and personal and spiritual tokens I've been given or have collected over the years.
As someone who loves to use metaphor for a doorway into healing, I immediately made the connection to my feeling of being stuck creatively in my body. And here was Sarasvati, broken free of her base. Clearly, it is time for me to break free from a personal movement practice that felt lacking in creativity.
With that in mind, and with a couple suggestions to refine the experience, I am declaring myself on a 40-day movement challenge. I need accountability so I'm declaring it publicly including here on my blog. Every day, for 40 days, I intend to explore on my mat. Sometimes that will be a long practice led by a teacher or movement specialist I follow. Sometimes, it will be an exploration of a body part or a pose or a limitation I'm working through.
What does it mean for you, dear reader?
It means a daily three-sentence blog post. I will share them here on my website, and on Instagram (@healingandbalance). I don't know how that restricted form will color what I share, but I will share it daily from now until November 20th. (There will still be regular, longer format, Deep Thoughts kinds of posts here and there.)
Now that you know the why and wherefore ...
... Day One
Think back to childhood. Remember who you were then. Playtime Yoga!
My children started off their educational lives in a Waldorf school. Educating head, heart, and hands is at the center of everything they do there. Music and rhythm are used to teach math, knitting to teach reading, using the whole body to form letters as they learn the alphabet, reverence for all kinds of transitions and occasions. I'm a big fan. I could go on, but that's not the actual topic of this post.
I recently had a Skype session with my friend, Patty, who, among other things, taught handwork at my children's Waldorf school in Michigan. Our session was about foot health. I mentioned just how many muscles are in the feet (25% of your muscles are below your ankles) and why it's so important to move all those muscles more than we do. Because Patty's always making art with her hands (knitting, felting, sculpting, painting), I mentioned that there about as many muscles from the wrist to the fingers. Fifty percent of your muscles are in your hands and feet!
I then went on to explain how using those muscles more is what pumps blood out of those parts and back to your heart. Yep. It's not your heart vacuuming the blood back up from your extremities. It's muscles being pushed and pulled via movement that presses on the multitude of arterioles, the teeny tiny blood vessels in your muscles. That pressure pushes blood back to the heart. It also helps remove cellular waste from the area. So we're talking lymphatic health AND heart health, all by moving your hand and fingers, feet and toes in more ways.
Patty loved this information because, of course, she knows all kinds of benefits that come from using your hands. Handwork is so important to your mental, spiritual, and physical health. This particular bit of of heart health education was a fun addition to all her knowledge.
You know how if you're doing something that requires long periods of time spent with your hands in one position (typing, chopping, knitting, name your activity), you'll stop and periodically shake your hands out? Moving them deliberately and slowly is a better way to address that stiffness and soreness, and promote healing and balance.
Next time you're at your computer for hours (or working on knitting that sweater or fixing the deck or painting a bedroom), take a movement break. Try holding your hands in front of you, palms up. Slowly, moving all your fingers at the same time, curl your fingers in until you make a fist. Slowly uncurl them and spread the fingers wide. It should take several seconds to curl them in and several seconds to uncurl them. Make sure to keep your hand in line with your wrist; don't bend at the wrist. Repeat this process 5 - 10 times. Turn your hands so the palms face each other and do the same thing 5 - 10 times. Now turn your hands to face palms toward the floor. Repeat the same movement 5 - 10 times. Your fingers, hands and forearms will be warm from the increased muscle use and increased circulation. And I'll bet you'll return to your work for longer than you might have if you'd just stopped to quickly shake out your hands.
I'm including a video I made some time ago that has a couple more ideas for ways to engage your fingers, hands, and forearms. Give it a go.
Do it for your hands.
And for your heart.
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.