Our minds and our bodies are only separate in the way we think of them. We can think about movement, conceptualize, and study, but as much as we can fill our brains with information, our bodies have a mind of their own. I’m curious, especially in yogaland, if our movements are as new and fresh as we sometimes think they are, and if we are challenging ourselves in a range of ways.
Before I go on I will mention that maybe not everyone wants their practice to be in a constant state of evolution. And if this is how you identify, I also respect that you know what is right for you. For me change is key, it keeps me fresh, and it keeps me engaged in the nuances of movement and life. When I teach movements that are new, and that pull people out of their comfort zones I notice that something happens to them. They laugh, and smile, and they momentarily become creative again, and from my experience this is really fun and great.
After seeing so many videos and posts highlighting perfectly good (but not at all new) exercises I decided to spend a few hours playing around with the props I had in my living room. One single foam block, something that has been lying around my house for years sparked a new interest in how my body moves, and how I perceive movement. I had seen some stick movements online, but I had never tried them, and I wanted to do something with a block because of my place in the yoga world. I will also mention that I’m not pretending that I have invented some new and great movement, but these movements were completely new to me, and that is what is important right now.
If you want to practice along here you go…
Take a foam block, lie down on the front of your body, bend one knee, look back at the sole of your foot, place the block on it, look forwards again and try to balance the block. Once it is balanced, lift the thigh off the floor (hip extension) and lower it back down. Then start to straighten your leg, but don’t let the block slide off your foot. Bring the foot as close to the floor as you can, and then bend the knee back to the starting position. In order to not lose the block the sole of the foot has to stay almost parallel with the floor. As the knee extends, the ankle has to calibrate to keep the block balanced, easier said that done.
Wow this exercise is really difficult, and I’m making it up as I go, so I’m not sure if it will ever work out. I can hardly balance the block on my foot at all.
30 Minutes Later
I’m glad I stuck it out this far, this isn’t as bad as I thought. Video Here.
Ok it balances better right off the bat, maybe I don’t even need to warm up. The sole of my foot it tingling a bit, it feels like I’m “strengthening” the sensory information on my foot. Weird, but lets keep going. Video Here.
Nailed it, lets start to think of other ways I can extend this work. How about I try to roll over onto my back while balancing the block on my foot the whole time. Ugh this is hard. Video Here.
The impossible is now possible, I can roll myself over onto my back, and I learned how to do a backwards roll as well. Neurological adaptation is so cool! Video Here.
There is so much to learn from movement, and there are different ways to challenge our bodies. I believe in adding load, and in practicing isolated movements especially in cases where there is a significant strength deficit. But in practicing only strength, are we forgetting how to move? When I place a block on my foot and I roll over with it, all my leg muscles have to work, my glutes burn, my hamstrings cramp, but it feels like fun, and my brain is solving a puzzle all at the same time.
If you follow along and practice these movements you will run up against a moment where your body feels confused. The wall of confusion is frustrating, but if we keep trying to run up, eventually we end up on the other side, and we realize that it wasn’t a wall at all. It was a staircase that we had to climb, and at the top there is a more clear view into the expanse of practice. Its interesting to work with our bodies in this way when it comes to movements that are completely safe, like balancing a foam block on one foot. When it comes to strength training, and more vigorous skill practice I don’t prescribe to the “mind over matter” approach, but with something so simple and with such a low risk of injury, why not.
It is so easy to get stuck, and comfortable in what we do, but the problem with this is it makes us even more awkward it what we don’t do. This week if I can inspire you to do anything it is get down on the floor, find a prop you always use, and do something you have never done before. But I really mean it, something you have NEVER DONE BEFORE, and see where it goes. Watch how strength is formed in different ways, watch how your mind stays effortlessly present, and notice how your brain is actually housed in your body, your limbs and in your sensation. Notice where the imaginary walls are that are keeping you blocked off, and notice if you can surpass them, and what lies on the other side.