I don’t often read fiction books however on the run up to our recent retreat in Morocco I read an excellent and very funny book. It is titled ‘this book will save your life’ by the author A.M. Homes. The story is about a stocks and shares trader who works from his beautiful house in L.A and is so caught up in making money, he sees no one except his nutritionist, his trainer and his housekeeper. He has become so out of touch with his feelings that he does not realise how completely disengaged from life and other people he is until an attack of excruciating pain lands him in hospital. While they can find no physical reason for the pain it is the catalyst to his emotional thaw and the start of his transformation to engaging more fully with his life.
At one point he goes to see a doctor who says to him 'you have hit a wall, now climb it - literally' and gives him the number of some rock climbing venues. 'Make the mental physical and the physical mental, and things will improve.'
Whilst rock climbing might not be for everyone he has a point. In the relationship between physical and mental the line is blurred. The body is an object that inescapably conditions our thoughts, feelings and perceptions of the world around us and this in turn conditions every cell, organ and function within our body for better or worse.
'Our minds and emotions are difficult to observe and tend to resist change; the body is an ideal, highly visible medium for transformation. ..when we relax the body and release tensions, the mind and emotions tend to reflect this change (and vice versa). Conscious physical training is using the visible to mold the invisible.’ Dan Millman, The Inner Athlete
I like this quote. It suggests, as does my own experience, that a mind-body movement practice can be a powerful tool through which you can affect and change your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing in profound and enduring ways.
Physical ease is a mirror of the relationship of the body to the mind and relaxation is the single most effective indicator of whole body well-being. Relaxation through balance is the best way of promoting vitality.
Less energy is expended by working with the body rather than against it; learning to breathe well, to stand, to sit, to get up and down and to move in ways that centre and align the bones and breath is fundamental for health and well-being.
‘A body free from nervous tension and fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well-balanced mind, fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living’. Joseph Pilates
Relaxation in the context of physical training is often misunderstood:
“Relaxation is not negation, it is not passivity. The moment it is considered as such, flaccidity is encouraged, both mental and physical. Take hold of your bones softly, but do not let go of them.” Mabel Todd, The Thinking Body
Babies and children are masters of relaxed movement. They have yet to develop the tensions, imbalances, comparisons and limiting self-beliefs that often plague us as adults. They progressively, playfully, yet determinedly persist in exploring their movement potential every day and as adults there is great benefit to be gained in rediscovering, restoring and refining basic yet fundamental movement patterns.
Thankfully most of the body’s tissues, including the brain, have a remarkable and lifelong capacity for change. Becoming aware of the chronic tension we carry is the first step in being able to release it but as with any change there is likely to be a period of discomfort as the body and mind adjust. Indeed a sure sign of this is that we feel as if we are getting ‘worse’ as we become increasingly aware of our stiffness, tension and weaknesses. Due to this temporary drop in self-esteem our built in defence mechanisms can cause resistance which results in us remaining stuck in old patterns and habits that no longer serve. The will to change therefore needs to be greater.
Perhaps the crux of any mind-body movement practice therefore should not be to try to conform to an ‘ideal’ or achieve a particular standard of posture or movement but to develop our curiousity and awareness sufficiently to be able to recognise and evolve our own habits and patterns, particularly those that literally disconnect, contort and confine us within our own body.