If you make a fist, holding it maybe just a moment, and then relax your fist, it takes a little while to soften, and to settle. Even then, your hand may not be totally without work. Many of us are walking around in a fist, and we don't know! And even if/when we do know, we might not be sure how to address it.
The more I teach Restorative Yoga, and the more I work with clients, the more I am aware that we all are working far too hard. I don't mean your job, although, perhaps that is also true. Instead, I mean our muscular work.
Its as though we instinctively are flinching, ready to run, always in fight or flight at some level. Or, we are working twice as hard to be in gravity as we need to be, because we simply have no other way to accommodate gravity than to fight it. We have only what we know how to do, and what we have developed out of habit. But, you know, it is very hard to be ready to move, or to walk, or to run, when the body (you) are already tense.
That tenseness is sometimes called high-tone, high muscular tone: like with sound, low tone would be soft, and high tone would be hard. We usually think of tone as a positive, but that’s not always true. A toned muscle is able to move well, but if the muscle is already on, like a light, how much brighter can it become? A toned muscle needs to be able to be on and off, so that when it is needed, it can be turned on, and when it isn’t needed, we are not spending our resources keeping a light on for no reason.
This is where Restorative Yoga and the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education are such powerful practices for me, and for my students.
I have learned, and am continually learning this truth: before I can change any behaviors that turn me into a fist, it is necessary to learn how to soften, to do nothing but yield and breath, to be available to myself, to be available for breathing. I must take the time I need to begin to let myself un-ball, unwrap, unwind. And I must practice doing it, so that it becomes more possible to be that way more often in my day-to-day.
This work of taking the time to do this practice of softening is deeply profound. It is a practice of being embodied (and learning to be embodied) mindfully, gently, without agenda, judgment, fear. It is a practice of being in the moment without being in a story we were told about ourselves, or a story we have been telling ourselves. It is about creating through our breath, through our inquisitiveness care for ourselves, our own experience of what it means to be. BE.
I’d like to share three things with you.
I am very fortunate to be able to stop everything.
So, I did. And I practiced finding quiet. Listening to the underneath, the thoughts and emotions that are so easy to set aside in daily life, to quash, or to ignore. When ignored, emotions can become stuck, can sour. I was feeling so out of sorts, grumpy, and had not painted since January, but for a few sketches. It was like a little girl inside me was stamping her foot: "STOP" she said. And eventually I listened.
Movement is one of the ways to work with emotion, not to deepen and exaggerate it, or to dwell in the stories that emerge, but simply to see it, and experience it in the body.
In yoga, we often talk about meeting ourselves on the mat as we are, with acceptance for our bodies as they are. Sometimes, it feels like we say that, but then we push to meet some goal, to change ourselves. Yet, if we really do see and accept ourselves as we are, then change becomes a possibility. It entirely depends on us to actually do the first step: really to accept and witness ourselves as we are. Otherwise, our actions are in conflict with our needs.
Its like we've been driving down a road, but we got lost. How do you go anywhere from a place of being lost? You can try, but where will you wind up? Yet, given a map, if you know your location, then step by step you can move towards your intention. Sometimes, we pretend we aren't lost, or we know we are lost, and keep going anyway. That's part of the process too.
Both Restorative Yoga and Feldenkrais are opportunities to create an inner map to our relationship with stillness, with our bodies, with pain, with comfort. They are ways to have a deep conversation rooted in compassion and honesty. For me, these can be ways to meditate with and in the body in a way that honors my whole self, that teaches me to meet myself with neutrality and create ease.
This is why I practice, this is why I teach.
Errol Flynn, the movie star from the 30s and beyond, was trained to fence, and while his lifestyle might not teach us much about yoga, learning to reach effectively, from the spine, using the ribs, well that's a skill many yogis don't know they are missing.
Watch the shape of Flynn as he dances up the stairs--Warrior Two anyone? What makes his stance powerful, and his thrust powerful, is his connection to the earth, the way he utilizes gravity to push up through his bones, his pelvis, into the spine, and directs the energy out the tip of his sword. He is not static, and yet, he can be still. He is at ease, and that ease results in quickness.
What if we were so easy and soft through the ribs that they became a true transmitter for the force generated by our legs, hips, spine? How would that change the way we reach out to the world, grounded in our own sense of self?
How does the very physical act of being both stable, and instantly movable, change our way of relating with others?
For me, to be truly connected to the earth, to be able to be at ease within--physically, and able to reach effectively out while not being pulled off balance: that is to be truly aligned with my inner intuition.
Yoga, union, is to be really one with myself, body-mind-spirit. Doing the subtle practices of Feldenkrais lessons, one-to-one, or on my own, or in class, have taught me the places that I didn't know I was not inhabiting. This has effected my yoga practice, the way I dance, and surprisingly, the way I communicate with others.
Explore the Thoracic Spine, and see how it impacts everything--as above, so below... Tuesday 7-8pm
Drop in 15-20 sliding scale.
A Brief Exploration of the relationship between our eyes and neck, based on the work of Moshe Feldenkrais. Sense the relationship between the way you use your head in turning, the way you move your eyes. This is very personal, and although we all have a connection, how you move your head is dependent on your work, your development, even on culture. This exploration will help you sense your patterns, and possibly free you just a little bit. Enjoy.
Closed Captioned for ease of use and accessibility.
Please be mindful to only work in comfort. Pain does not cause gain in this way of working and sensing yourself. Pain is useful in knowing when to stop, and what some of your habits are. If you experience pain, back off, breathe. Do less.
I sure had fun exploring walking post session with a client today.
"Walking backwards is often a simpler pattern, because it is homolateral," I suggested.
"Is that why it always feels so different!" She exclaimed, and then asked: "Can you walk backwards contra-laterally?" She tried it. So did I.
I sure have trouble--I can swing my arms opposite, but does that really count? In fact, its hard to even do what I think I am doing when I walk backwards!
How about you?
When you walk forwards and backwards pay attention and see what you do. Do you keep your head centered, and walk contra-laterally (opposite arm and foot lead, sense of this through your trunk)--or just swinging your arms, head centered, but your trunk is quiet--or do you feel a little side to side movement through your head. What happens if you try to walk with your head centered? Do your arms swing the same amount? Is your walk easy?
In a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson, questions like this lead to further exploration, experiments with new ways of movement, epiphanies of self-awareness, and then an expansion of the possibilities of how we move. That would mean, in this case, an easier, more enjoyable walk! Come try it out!
Tuesdays 7-8pm, beginning February 19
Wise Orchid Taijiquan & Qigong
2002 E Union St
Seattle WA 98122
PS: You may remember Monty Python's Bureau of Funny Walks sketch, or maybe that's just me. And although these walks aren't that funny--well, I laughed.
As a young dancer, I was trained to look at my teachers to form an image in my mind of the “right way” to do something, then to look in a mirror, and form myself to that image. This is an extrinsic way of learning with very little reference to my own body.
Of course, I learned also from the feedback I gained from moving, but that was after I already had the image of the “right way” and somehow, the image of how steps looked remained more important than how I felt them in my body.
This happens in yoga too: we look to our teachers for models of what the poses look like. That is not wrong. Our eyes are a useful tool for learning. And, yet, that model image may override our own experience of the pose. This happens for many reasons—our bodies may not match the body style, shape, of the teacher. Our arms and legs may be longer or shorter relevant to our torsos, making the cues the teacher gives simply not apply to our shapes—and we may not even know that until years later. The cues for placing my feet for Bridge, for example, simply do not help me arrive in a configuration that helps me align for bridge--and that is true for more than 2/3 of the students I teach. Feet are either too far or too close to the sitting bones, too wide, or too narrow. The placement is based on canned cues that may not have been questioned even by a wonderful teacher (I have used them myself before I knew), instead of being based on the function of lifting the hips in the air--and how that works for us--and what that means for how we place the feet.
As an adult, and as a practitioner of Yoga, and most importantly, the Feldenkrais Method®, I now know that intrinsic feedback from my practice of yoga is invaluable to developing my own internal reference. This is something that I began to learn in Yoga, but have learned to do playfully, experimentally, and joyfully through Awareness Through Movement® (Feldenkrais group classes) and Functional Integration® lessons.
This idea of looking within for how I am aligned, how I feel, serves me in my life: I am much more aware of whether I am violating my own boundaries in my day-to-day interactions with others and with myself. I can feel it in the way I am breathing, feel a sensation in my gut.
I have built in more space to listen deeply to the voice within, and as I have made changes to my life, and my way of being, that voice has become much more easy to hear.
Heather Danso wears many hats. As an artist, she playfully explores work in Acrylic, printing, and multimedia, creating portraits and abstracts that explore expression, playfulness, identity, and the possible. Her CV is here.
She is also a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Method® Practitioner, yoga teacher, Awareness Through Movement® teacher, and helps people design and manage their own websites.