I took up Yoga a few months ago, and I find myself returning to the thoughts that I had during my Tai Chi years. In the West it seems that health is something to be pounded into the body from outside. We have the whole “no pain, no gain” mantra, the idea of straining for that extra bit and the mathematically challenged notion of 110%. The body seemingly broken into separate muscle groups, a view that I’ve seen challenged by research.
I’ve been through this and have, in the end, sought healing in the methods of the East. These systems seem to hold a view that I find more agreeable, that health and wellness should grow naturally as a whole from within. The notion is very Taoist, the whole of nature grows; it isn’t chiseled or designed, it expands and organises naturally (Tzu-Jan). So it is with Yoga and Tai Chi, but when used correctly these systems also work on the mind as well as the body. This is in contrast to the one sidedness of the systems we so often encounter in the gym, where if they go near the mind do so in a seemingly combative way. I’ve been in classes where the instructor has had the students wilfully ignoring the warning signals from the body; “go the extra mile”, “give 110 percent”. Then we get aches, pains and injuries. I’ve seen them in others and had them myself.
That’s so wrong it’s not even funny, mind and body should be working together holistically. I’m reminded of the words of my Tai Chi instructor, who taught me that the body has natural stops in it, it will tell you when you go too far in a range of movement; learn to listen. The same is true of exertion and I find myself returning to the 70% rule like an old friend. I’ve seen enough injuries and strains that I learned the hard way not to ignore it and to work holistically.
The thoughts continue to form after my experiences of the last few weeks. I’m pondering what I’ve learned about speed. I’ve long held the opinion that too much speed is a very bad thing, the last few weeks have solidified that opinion. On my course, we were asked to consider the justifications for driving too quickly. In truth there aren’t any. But we were also asked to consider benefits from driving more slowly. These benefits, are relevant elsewhere, not just on the road.
Let’s think. Safety is the most obvious. If we take a dangerous or complex task, rushing it is a surefire way into trouble. You might be lucky, but not forever, a more measured pace is safer. I hold the opinion that a slower pace leads to better, more accurate results. Even better, you’re more likely to learn and absorb things; you’re also more able to savour things, enjoy the process. The thought of learning brings me back to the 70% rule. I first encountered this years ago in my Tai Chi years. In short, you never give 100%, but keep to 70%. The 30% you keep back is used to learn and improve; to raise your game. Eventually, your unstrained 70% is equal to what used to be your 100% and is still improving!
Much of this involves planning and preparation, in order to be taking your time you need to have prepared. This brings me back to my Tai Chi, but also forward to my current Yoga practise. Both these look unhurried, serene and graceful. Don’t be fooled, if you’re taking your time and moving gracefully, it’s the result of lots of practise and hard work in the background. It takes a lot of hard groundwork to look that peaceful.
I took up Yoga some weeks ago, it’s certainly a different beast to the things I’ve done before. It’s certainly powerful and I do recommend it. One of the things I noticed is the difference it makes to the practise when you take mental baggage into the class. The stresses of a difficult day might make old grievances rise. Before you know it, you’re tense and the Yoga doesn’t seem to flow. When this happened for me recently, it was easy to start being very negative. As we settled into Savasana at the end of the class, the meditation exercise that accompanied it cause me to reflect that I had things all wrong.
My idea of the class being a success or a failure was wrong. It’s truer that as long as you persist, there is only progress, only success. So yes, these things arise; you just have to work through them. Old tensions arise, old energies locked deep in the muscle get released, let them go and work through it. You might not get the Yoga or meditation session you expected or wanted, but you got the one that was the next bend in the stream for you. Part of this comes back to something I’ve previously about parts of the spiritual path being darker than others; just because the scenery isn’t so pretty on this part of the river, it doesn’t mean you’re not making progress.