Happy new year to you all. I have a new Pilates video to share with you on my vimeo account. The practice begins with 10 minutes of simple yoga salutations to ‘wake up’ the body before diving into a 30 minute Pilates mat workout. The practice is a perfect practice for the morning, especially when you are not at home and have the luxury of space. You can expect to stay on your mat from start to finish…no side lying leg kicks here.
The one instruction I give, sprinkled throughout the workout, is “Breathe into your back body.” The back body is beneficial to be aware of, not only because it gives you a cue or reference point from which you create more inner space, but also because it is symbolic of the universal energy within us. The front body on the other hand is symbolic of our ego or of a more singular energy. Although both are necessary and good, the back body is the unseen energy and therefore more of a challenge to be aware of, making it easier for our ‘egos’ to take center stage.
The practice of Pilates is all about taking a step back and softening our egos in order to connect us to our back. This concentrated physical effort to balance our front with our back (ego with universal), I believe, can also indirectly connect us to something ‘bigger’ than ourselves. Clearly a strong and tall ego will allow us to move forward and reach for our desires. However, too much ego, without the consideration of the unseen and universal back energy, could surely deplete and exhaust us. Balancing the two, with a slight edge to the back body, will allow for something better.
Personally, I have experienced both extremes! I have had too much ‘ego’ with too much discipline and rigidity in my practices, without considering the current situation and others involved, making for an unhappy ending. Also, in my physical practice, most of you know that I have a love affair with backbends. I love them so much as I feel invigorated every time I do one. However, I have learned that if I do not take the time to also balance my practice of backbends with something to bring my back and me back to neutral, all the back bending or emphasis on opening up my front body, is like drinking too many cups of coffee. We all know too much coffee, although oh so good, can lead you to feel anxious, jittery, and just not well. That said, it is valuable for me to also incorporate some basic forward folds (as I breathe in my back body) in my practice of backbends.
The practice of Pilates encourages us to connect to our backs, both physically and metaphorically. It’s a beautiful and humbling practice that hopefully reminds us all to soften more, let go more, yield more, forgive more, be okay not to be “right” more, all without losing our capacity to love ourselves and stand tall in who we are.
As I sit to write this post, it is 2 days before Thanksgiving, and I am reflecting on ALL that I am grateful for. There are so many things that I am grateful for, where do I begin! Of course all of you! I so miss seeing and connecting with many of you in person.
In todays post I will share with you, someone else that I am grateful for, and that person is John Friend. He is not an immediate friend, nor do I see him regularly and last saw him in Park City, Utah in the spring of 2009 for one of his Anusara Yoga trainings.
John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga, helped me realize and understand how “more return” was possible to experience in my Yoga practice. I believe this idea is true for every aspect of life. In other words, it is very possible to get more than you give! I also know that nothing is for ‘free.’ At least there is nothing worth doing for free. I have to work if I want something and that awareness brings integrity and steadiness to all my practices.
John Friend essentially taught me the 3 A’s. They stand for, Attitude, Alignment, and Action. These 3 A’s act like a recipe. Essentially, if all of these A’s are integrated in your practice, you have created a profitable experience for yourself. Time and time again I remind myself of this lesson. It has opened my eyes and given me more insight into why some of my experiences might not be the best and how I can help myself next time around.
Although all 3 A’s are all important, I feel the first A, Attitude, is the most valuable and allows the other A’s to integrate to their fullest potential. I call this aspect, the “je ne sais quoi.” “Je ne sais quoi” translates to “I don’t know what” and is essentially an expression of a quality that makes something or someone attractive, distinctive, or special in some way, but is hard to put into words. In other words you can think of the “attitude” of what you do is the heart quality or intention/feeling behind why you do what you do. This, in my opinion is the most powerful of all 3 A’s because it can make the physical body come alive and shine out with pure satisfaction and delight. This simple enjoyment cannot only uplift and transform us it can also be an inspiration for others in our life to delight in what they are doing. The attitude/intention can be simple too. Just an intention to feel more joyful or at ease, for example, could do wonders for your inner state if you carry it with you throughout your practice. Although there is nothing wrong if there is no attitude/inner purpose, as a practice can still be physically beneficial with the alignment and action, it is lacking in inspiration, and in my opinion, can set one up to experience unease.
My practice has not always been connected to my “attitude.” I have definitely “practiced” to practice and have not been connected to how I wanted to feel or what I was hoping to achieve. I simply needed to work my body. Although there is nothing wrong with this as I have stated above, my experience was not as rewarding as when I integrated an intention, and I believe, this set me up for trouble on a few occasions as well. For example, I have ‘invested’ in intense postures and movements that were not good for me at that ‘time’, thinking the postures themselves would yield me more reward. Looking back, the ‘reward’ came with no internal benefits and sometimes left me feeling more uneasy and in a general state of stress. I was paying more than I received. Having experienced many set backs from not connecting to my heart and staying connected to it by listening to what my body was telling me during my practices, I have grown insight and refined my practice to respect my inner, subtle desires and experiences instead of focusing on simply what I was performing on the outside. This commitment to turn inward first, has interestingly enough, created other external benefits I wasn’t expecting.
How do you start your practice? Do you have internal or more external intentions? Maybe take a moment to observe how you are feeling inside before you practice. I hope that awareness will motivate you to invest in things (joy, peace, calm, connected etc..) that yield you the most profit in return whatever that is for you!
We all know that simply working hard does not always pay off, you have to also be very skilled. I love the saying “working hard at doing nothing.”
John Friend would teach us how there is the alignment of
outer gross physical body
Inner subtle body (one must respect and pay attention to their asymmetries within…organs etc)
The dynamic play between inner and outer body. This element of alignment requires us to pay attention and observe how our inner and outer states affect each other and how this plays into our inner experience/attitude.
Paying attention to all our ‘Alignments’ is important! I learned that too much effort in the wrong places or generally not keeping a balance between inner and outer bodies could lead to negative outcomes. I know that when I was not respecting my subtle inner asymmetries in my body, I have had to pay a lot more, figuratively and literally to get me in the clear! I, therefore, remind myself that listening and stepping back sometimes to receive and allow more space and support will help my efforts in staying connected to my practice and ultimately feeling the most reward. That said, not enough effort can also get me into trouble too! The body is not strong enough to move itself into alignment, it takes a conscious effort. There has to be a balance between effort and surrender, or the ability to listen and observe when you need to soften and let go to stay in balance.
Last but definitely not least is action! I saw a Sting & Peter Gabriel concert at the key arena back in 2015(i think), and I remember Sting and Peter were discussing how they both loved practicing Yoga. Peter comically said, ”I am still waiting for Yoga to help me loose my belly.” Sting then asked, “how do you practice?” Peter responded, “oh like this,” and he laid down on the stage floor in savasana. The crowd, especially I, got a huge kick out of Peter. Essentially, you cannot just sit and meditate
for things to change and get better (loose the belly), you have to actively participate! Action is fueled by your desire or your attitude. The stronger your desires, the more powerful your action. It pays to invest your time in having a clear and beautiful intention(s) before you practice.
I hope this post will inspire some of you to think of the 3’A’s (ATTITUDE, ALIGNMENT & ACTION) before you practice! Give yourself a little moment and reflect on what you need and carry that with you as you move. The how and why of what you do, is just as important as the knowing what to do and the necessary act. “You get what you give,” in my opinion, is not all that simple. In fact, if you integrate the 3 A’s, it is possible to receive more than you give! I believe that receiving more in your practice(s) is a pursuit worth having, and I hope you do too.