As you may recall from my 2011 New Year's post, I don't much like resolutions, at this time of year or any other, especially when they involve "improving" oneself. I think we're all okay as is, that we each have more than enough within us to meet the demands of life. We're resilient. We contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman said.
Nevertheless, we are continually either growing or stagnating. If you prefer evolution to entropy it is vital to keep learning more and more about your self, how you relate to that self, and how that self relates to the environment and those with whom you share it. This doesn't necessarily require learning a new skill; it might mean strengthening a skill you already possess or adapting a well-known skill to a new purpose.
For 2012 I am reviving a discipline I had going about ten years ago, when I was teaching Alexander Technique to groups of graduate students in MFA programs, first for opera singers then for actors. I nearly always began each class with a 20-30 minute warm-up, which stretched muscles, opened joints, got people breathing fully, and unified mind and body (at least for a few minutes at a time). After that we could really get down to work (or play).
I have become much less physically active than I was in those years, and while I do manage to find time once or twice a week for exercise, I don't do it every day, and so I need something to keep my bodymind in shape and centered. As with sitting meditation, consistent practice is essential.
So I now get up one half-hour earlier than I used to, grab my yoga mat, and begin the sequence I taught 3 or 4 times a week when I was teaching groups. It feels really good to be moving in this familiar way once again. Plus, rather than having to split my focus and track my students as we do it together, I have the freedom to pay full attention to myself as I slowly wake up through movement.
That's the nice part. Here's the not-so-wonderful thing: I am ten years older. That's ten years of an increasingly sedentary existence. That's the difference between age 40 and 50. I knew I would not be as flexible and that in some ways my body would resist even as it hungered and thirsted for the stretching and the lifting and the balancing and the deep breathing. Yet I was surprised -- shocked, even -- to discover how simultaneously stiff and flabby I have become. In both body and mind.
All I can say is, it's a good thing I don't talk to my students the way I talk to myself.
There is the notion in Alexander world, and in some yoga traditions, that we bring our most prominent habits into every activity. In my case, the very first habit I noticed on Day One was my mental/emotional habit of negatively judging myself. All the time. No matter what. Despite any reality to the contrary.
Thus, as I began my first few mintes of stretching, grounding, and centering (which was going pretty well, by the way) I heard,
Boy, are you out of shape!
You call yourself an Alexander teacher?
Who do you think you're fooling? You are fat and old and doing this won't change that.
This is pointless.
(and a bunch of other really mean things.)
Luckily, as I heard myself say "pointless," I stopped and took half a second to consider whether or not that was true. I instantly concluded that even if it would not change how I looked, it would certainly change how I feel, because even five minutes into it I was feeling my energy rising and I like that feeling. So, not pointless at all.
How could I stop the inner critic, or at least detach from it? Mindfulness has taught me to always return to the breath, so I did that. And as I did, I remembered something I learned more than 20 years ago at Kripalu Center, where I often visited once upon a time. Some of the yoga teachers there were heavy into holding yoga poses for long periods of time. Maybe that's characteristic of "Kripalu style" yoga, I don't know, but man, we maintained those poses for hours ! Okay, it was only a few minutes. But it felt like hours, and so the teachers gave us a strategy for being with the challenge of lengthy posture-holding:
When I practice this simple method I change the word "relax" to "release" because that fits better with my Alexander work and my own sense of what needs to happen. I don't think it's possible, or even optimal, to relax in many circumstances, but it is always possible and beneficial to release whatever I might be holding unnecessarily, or however I might be efforting too much.