As a recent graduate of the Mind Body Dancer teacher training program, I feel a bit as though I've been running a marathon since last September when the training began. In many ways, the regular class attendance, monthly weekend training sessions, and independent study have created a continuous, knit-together quality to my life. The past year has been a steady flow of transitions, of steps taken and new work accomplished, only to find that one finished task quickly leads to another. For the most part, I've loved this sensation of constantly learning and navigating new territory with lots of forward momentum. The idea of standing still has never sat well with me, which is probably why a life in yoga and dance has appealed to my nature. The pull to be in constant motion is strong.
I think many of us are like this, especially in New York. We throw ourselves into careers and relationships and the day-to-day happenings of this hyperactive city. It can be thrilling, addictive even, to flow through each new day's events with vigor, launching ourselves into new endeavors with open minds and hearts. The yoga practice constantly reminds us of the impermanence and newness of things, the ceaseless flow of breath and life. It can be argued that yoga is one big transition, that "stops" don't really exist in the practice or in our lives.
While this idea rings true and is most certainly reinforced by the never-ceasing breath in our bodies, I'm wondering if hitting the "pause" button more often might be of some value.
I recently dropped in to a workshop class with Tiffany Mills Company. Tiffany Mills and her dancers specialize in partnering, particularly contact improvisation. After a warm-up and exploration of some basic partnering tools and skills, we did an exercise they call "round robin." Essentially, there are a group of dancers in a circle, with one person in the middle. This person more or less gets to be lifted and turned and thoughtfully thrown around by the other dancers, who provide support and structure to this improv scenario. It's an exercise in seeing opportunities, of working together to create interesting movement encounters. This process can become quite exhilarating as bodies move seamlessly from one to another and transition from flying through the air to rolling to the ground.
During this particular experience, an interesting thing began to happen: the flow of movement from person to person became repetitively out of control. Our group settled into a continuous rhythm of transition that quickly became blurry, unfocused, and unsustainable. Our bodies and minds were fuzzy and slightly exhausted. Only when Tiffany herself held on to the dancer in the middle and stopped did the flow of movement once again become clear. This element of pause allowed choice to be a part of the equation. Dancers could see, evaluate, and make decisions. The result was a collaborative improvisation that was more creative and dynamically interesting.
Compared to many of life's activities, the yoga practice can already be viewed as an opportunity to slow down, but I think the tendency to use the constant flow of movement transitions as a way to avoid evaluating the present moment can often win out. Getting into a groove is one thing, but not being able to see the forest for the trees is another.
Of course, the flow of life and yoga is always present, but how can we add clarity and choice into our practices and our lives? Perhaps it's spending more time in sitting meditation. Maybe it means taking a much needed summer vacation or trying something new, like a new class with a new teacher. Perhaps it means paying particular attention to physical and mental habits in your yoga practice, discerning which patterns are real choices and which ones are blurry repetitions.
Maybe it means listening to the very brief, but very evident, silence after an exhale, right before the next inhale begins.
Allowing "stops" to be present in our lives can help us avoid blurry and potentially exhausting patterns. In turn, we can see new opportunities more clearly and make stronger, more creative choices. I know that after this big year of consistent, flowing transitions for me, I’m craving a little bit of rest before jumping into teaching full force.
What will your pause button be?
- Katherine Moore