Originally written by Zara M on 31 October 2013
Do you ever feel like your body is too stiff and tense on the dance floor? Last week, for some odd reason, my body was feeling decidedly ‘wonky’. One side of me felt tense and refused to move smoothly. It made certain dance movements decidedly awkward; my ochos, in particular were challenging as my body seemed to be battling against them, to the point of me not even being able to pivot naturally. The stiffness transferred to my embrace too and I felt off balance. It was most frustrating. The Yoga4Tango class focused on twists for dissociation. Talk about perfect timing!
I have also been a bit obsessed with posture recently, which may have had a psychological effect on my body. Being hunched over my laptop for most of the week resulted in a stiff neck on one side. I am always concerned that bad posture is causing me neck problems. Perhaps my obsession did something to my brain, because all week I have felt hyper aware of what my body is and isn’t doing. The problem is that when you focus too much on one thing it becomes even more magnified, until it completely takes over.
I remember in one of the earlier Yoga4Tango sessions being advised to distribute weight to other areas of the body in a more equal fashion, to help relieve unnecessary pressure on certain muscles and achieve better alignment for balance and grounding. I think that because in my head I have been focusing on my stiff neck, and trying to improve my posture, I was creating an imbalance in my body that translated to my dancing. I was reinforcing the stiffness in my body instead of letting go of it to allow for more movement.
The twisting yoga poses we did in the class felt so good! Sometimes when I think of posture and body alignment I am mistakenly thinking that my body must find a straight, upright position and maintain it; but actually, even the words I have just used to describe it are suggestive of stiffness!
I have discovered this week that good posture is not about standing up straight like a broom, it is just about extending the spine and opening up the body and chest, rather than closing it and hunching inwards or down. Yoga is wonderful for reminding you that you don’t have to tense up your body in order to remain grounded, balanced and aligned. In fact the more you can relax your body and calm your mind, the more flexible your muscles and joints become, and the more control you have.
During the class we were encouraged to take our poses a step further and try out a rather impressive looking twisted balancing pose that relied on strength in the wrists and arms, and an equal distribution of weight in the body. When the instructor first demonstrated the pose I think my mouth might have dropped open a little bit; yes was gawking at her. There is no way that I am going to be able to do that, I thought, without falling onto my head and knocking myself out! However, seeing as everyone else was giving it a go, I didn’t want to be left out. So off I went, slowly, ever so cautiously, tipping, tipping… No, no Zara, you can’t do it, come back down, don’t be suicidal…
Then the instructor explained that we just had to relax into it, and simply shift the weight over until the feet lifted naturally off the floor, and that all the strength was in the wrists, and the rest was balance. Something about the phrase ‘shifting weight’ flipped a switch in my head, and I realized that I didn’t have to be superwoman to do this; I just needed to focus, and to know my body.
Half the challenge is learning not to struggle against something. When it feels like something is too hard, you just have to calm your mind so that you are not thinking about it in a negative way, let go, relax and engage your muscles and find the right balance. When something feels like it is too difficult, you just have to think about how you can distribute that pressure you are feeling to release the extra tension in certain areas so that they don’t take over. I am discovering that yoga is more about release and adjustment than it is about forcing your body to hold on to a position that feels uncomfortable or difficult. If you can let go of something, you can do more.
I suppose that is why the resting poses are so important. They remind us to keep ‘letting go’. Towards the end of the class we were each given a rolled up yoga mat to place vertically underneath us along the spine as we lay down. It felt a bit unfamiliar, but I loved how it encouraged me to open up my chest, and feel my spine straighten out and extend. It was exactly what I needed to feel after a week of struggling with posture issues and stiffness. I lay with my hips wide open and the soles of my feet pressed together. I have recently acquired a yoga mat of my own for home practice; it is bright pink and I love it. I have a feeling that after working on my laptop for a few hours, that I will using this technique of relaxation to straighten everything out!
We finished the session with breathing. Our instructor soothingly told us to inhale bringing peace into the body and mind, and then exhale and smile. It felt strange to lie on my back in a gym, spread-eagle, inhaling, and then exhaling with a smile on my face. I have no idea why it felt strange to smile to myself, but it did. We smile when we engage with other people, but the body needs to relax and smile by itself sometimes too, so why not put a smile on your face when your body is smiling? My body had lots to be happy about