1993 Manchester, my younger self attended a workshop with Irene Hultman of the New York New Dance scene. She started the session with a series of eight Zen Imagery exercises - formulated by a japanese man called Masunaga, and I have been doing them ever since. Something about their simplicity attracted me - 8 poses to remember and you are done. At first I did them to become more flexible but they became so much more than that. I do them every day that I remember to - for some years that was really every day, for some not at all, but I keep coming back to them and right now it’s a daily thing.
They are like good old friends to my body and brain- you know the kind you can tell that you haven’t got time to talk to, without causing offence. And I treat them exactly like that. Long ago I gave myself permission to simply rush through them if I couldn’t focus or didn’t have the time (especially when my 3 kids were little). My goal was to simply get them done. Eight postitions, that would take me 5 minutes, 15 or even a whole hour… I did not criticise myself. I did not feel guilty if I rushed - I simply felt glad that I had gone through those motions and knew that tomorrow would be another day. And it built up my self esteem. I became the woman who stretched every day, the woman with 3 kids who stretched every day, the middle age, menopausal woman in auto immune collapse- who stretched every day… wonder woman!
And the more did it, the more I wanted to, the more I needed to.
My stretching is my sounding board. I notice how my body and my mind feel when I attend to the stretching- when exactly in the sequence do I ‘wake up’. Which stretches are easy, which feel stiff and akward, why could that be?. Can I focus or is my mind full? I think while I stretch- I get the best and most creative ideas for writing, for my work teaching. I suddenly notice the themes that are running my life or the fact that I am actually more anxious about this or that than I let myself realise. Moving lets my subconsious thoughts bubble up to be dealt with as necessery.
I have stretched when fat, when pregnant, when underweight and ill. It helped - it helped me to accept the way I was in every instance. However I looked or felt I could stretch and enjoy the sensation of release and relaxation. It helped me connect to my vitality in every shape or form - whent here was lots and when it was almost gone from me. I practiceed kindness- when something was hard I went easy, soft and did not push. Eache stretch was a question instead of a command and it helped me realise how important it is to be kind to myself in this harsh, harsh world.
I have learnt how to put effort and will power aside when I stretch and attend to sensation and alignment, then simply breathe and let my body sink to gravity. I find myself more flexible in mind and body, better able to see the subtleties of a stiuation, take a moment to notice my emotional response, and be aware of what I am doing and why - not always but sometimes, and that is good enough. Stretching has helped me parent my kids - not perfect but also good enough and it helps me teach and support my clients to this day. It puts things in perspective.
Eight simple positions, some breath and attention, and a dose of self love, on the rug by my bed, in the garden, on a balcony, in my work space - anywhere where I can stand full height and lie down full length. With music, without, with toddlers for company or all alone as the sunrises listening to the birds waking up. My body, my mind, a simple and oh so complex moving me.