Active Movements

Last week I had an excruciatingly sore knee. It had been bothering me for a few days and escalating in intensity when I arrived, with some misgivings, at my regular Saturday morning yoga class. I went straight to my instructor, Roman, before the class and explained the problem. I showed him the stretch I did to try to relieve it and he was horrified. He remonstrated that I should never, ever do what I had just done. I explained that my physio had recommended that particular stretch, so it was ok.

“No, no,” he said. “It’s not the stretch, it’s the way you did it. You have to make it an active movement. Raise your leg slowly, start the stretch, and then use your hand to assist very gently.”

Thinking about it, I realised I had tossed my foot up, caught it with my hand, and initiated the stretch with my hand, rather than my leg. I had more or less collapsed into the stretch, leaving my knee unprotected.

Roman assured me that all I needed to do yoga was a pulse, and he showed me how to modify the postures to protect my knee. At the core of every movement was conscious, active control. By the end of the session my knee felt much better, and the next day the pain was gone and a light had gone on in my brain: I spend a lot of my time collapsing.

When I sit down, I fling myself into the chair as though I have no strength left. When I crouch, I fall into it, rather than controlling my descent. And when I go to bed, I hit the mattress like a dead thing. (Sadly I don’t sleep that way – I am an inveterate doona thief and an extremely active sleeper. I have been known to play volleyball in my sleep – my husband is quite wary of my serve.)

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.

Simon & Garfunkel – The 59th Bridge St Song (Feelin’ Groovy)

I’ve been reading about positive psychology recently, and it fascinates me how we can reinforce positive pathways in the brain with the simplest of tricks. Like a ball rolling downhill, the negative stuff can be easier to believe. When we dwell on it, we score a groove in our brains that makes the ball roll downhill faster the next time. By forcing ourselves to think about the positive, we can lift the ball back up and create different pathways – alternatives to that downhill slide. In essence, we tend to collapse emotionally, but we can use active movements to lift ourselves back up.

We have been building some of these emotionally active movements into our daily lives, in the form of the thankful thing, meditation, and affirmation.  Of course when it’s most needed meditation can be hard to achieve. In the middle of a frantically stressful day, the last thing I want to do is stop and be alone with my thoughts. We have managed to keep the thankful thing going under extreme provocation, but meditation is a little harder to maintain. I keep trying though, and each time I do it meditation deepens the positive grooves in my brain, and makes me less likely to collapse into the negative.

Like my knee, my brain needs conscious protection. Rather than accepting that life is a bastard and making me miserable, I am choosing to try to train my brain to use active movements to protect itself. It doesn’t always work. We all have days when we want to kick a hole in the wall. But it is something to work towards, and it gives me a little control over where I am heading.

Even when life gets me down on the ground and is kicking me where it hurts, I don’t have to be a passive victim. I can train myself to focus on the positive and remember the good stuff. Sometimes Feelin’ Groovy is hard work, but it’s got to be worth a try.

I’ve got no deeds to do,
No promises to keep.
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep.
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me.
Life, I love you,
All is groovy.

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