Take Root: Mindful movement in practice

I knew in the first few minutes of the class that it wasn’t going to be to my liking. I noticed right away, its absence all but unnerving my supposed-to-be calm senses.

There was no music.

Breathe in through your nose, the instructor nudged his pupils in the stony silence. I did as he instructed, waiting for the sound of soothing ripples or a harmonious flute to start floating through the stereo. “Any moment now…”

And out through your nose. I repeated the instructions. “Okay…. now!” I decided in my head this was the perfect time for the music to begin. I waited. Focus on your breath. I breathed in 10 more rounds of breaths in the stillness of the studio. Still no music.

We progressed into the first pose of the class. “Argh, this is so annoying!” I thought, catching myself pining for the sound of pine needles instead of my own breath. “And there’s still an hour left of this!” Some ‘surrender’ yoga class this was turning into.

I have written about my incessant struggle to slow down on my blog in a multitude of stories. Broken bones. Wheelchair confinement. Career and collegiate changes. It’s all been archived.

It’s my Achilles, of this I’m sure. A born-dancer who couldn’t sit still at the young age of two, I’ve barely stopped moving since. Climbing mountains. Traveling around the world. Biking, hiking, and running my way to success. Soaring through life like a trapeze artist (ooh, can I take classes for that?).

I’ve learned a lot about my penchant for mobility in the moments in which I’ve been immobile, but I still find myself flying back to the flight response whenever I start stressing.

Last weekend, in an incredibly painful moment of personal vulnerability, I’m driving around my hometown, too flummoxed about the current state of my many relationships to rightly process my emotions.

I’m heated. I’m upset. I’m tearful. I’m hurt. I’m seething. And in a moment of outright panic, I’m ~this~ close to dashing towards the nearest plane gate.

My home is 15 minutes from an international airport, and I often find myself wishing I could just hop on a plane — any plane — and escape my problems here on the ground. On this night, after mentally checking my bank account. I’m tempted to buy a ticket at the counter, text my mom I’ll see her in a week or so, and get the hell out of town.

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But I know, from years of introspection, that this gut-response, first-flight reaction is just an aversion to the pain that I’m experiencing in the present moment, and it ultimately won’t solve anything in the long-run. I’ll just inherit all those hard feelings when that plane lands back in town.

Take this new yoga class I’m in, for instance. It’s a deeply restorative, hold-poses-for-an-excruciating-long-time kind of yoga class, a practice I was missing in my almost-acrobatic version of dance-yoga.

About 15 minutes into the class, I’m folded over in an open-heart pose, and my shoulders suddenly go numb. I shift backwards, gently relaxing my overextended arms, but then my ankles start getting pinched from all the extra weight. Ugh! And all the while I’m shifting … no music!!

You may start to feel discomfort holding these poses for a considerable time. The instructor hums calmly. I nod, my body screaming discomfort in the silence. Hold the pose anyway. Breathe through the discomfort. Refrain from moving your body in aversion to the discomfort.

Mid-movement away from my own discomfort, I pause. Uh-oh, busted. I didn’t even realize how much I was moving until I review my last few moments on the mat. I scan my body and realize that every muscle group is burning in discomfort. And I’m only halfway through the class.

“Okay, no big deal. I’ll just keep still during this next pose.” The next pose arrives, and I’m already burning in anticipation of movement. I hold the pose despite the increasing discomfort in my elbows. Then my left eyelid starts to itch. I move my hand upwards in anticipation of scratching … but stop myself mid-air. “Movement!” I snap myself back to attention. I drop the hand and go back to concentration.

This no-music, no-movement class is the perfect test to my movement-first body. I find myself leaning away from my inner mind’s discomfort in the memory of music. I want so desperately to create a total-body sense of peace, especially after years of painful injuries … by avoiding all sense of discomfort, like in the poses I’m holding now.

Just like my driving-away, hop-on-a-plane aversion to the incredible discomfort I felt last weekend, in this class I am attempting to avoid all sense of discomfort by moving away from it.

But I have a hunch that my greatest moments of clarity, of patience, and of perspective will come from not moving at all — instead, these moments will arise in stillness and in silence.

Perhaps I must ‘surrender’ my surging feelings of self-doubt and nagging criticism to the mindfulness of both movement and stillness.

-bnb