In the words of Will Smith, it’s ‘Summer, summer, summer time!’ There’s something about the summer sun that makes me want to stretch out and soak it all up. And it seems we’re not the only ones.
We recently had the good fortune of finding a kindred spirit in Tilly Berry of The Yoga Agency when she attended one of our workshops. As keen yoga practitioners ourselves, it was heartening to see Tilly’s excitement at recognising how attune some of our underlying principles were with her own understanding of yoga. And this summer a partnership was born! In honour of its birth, I found myself reflecting on the power and mystery of movement and the significant role it plays in our work, as performers and coaches.
A day doesn’t go by when I don’t move my body. I suppose this seems like a relatively unremarkable statement - I can guarantee that for almost all of us, this is the case. Just fluttering your eyes open in the morning, reluctantly rolling over and placing your feet on the floor involves movement.
What I mean is that 24 hours don’t pass without committing to at least half an hour of a sustained, focused movement practise. Truth be told, it’s become something of an obsession for me in the last few years. Moving. My current movements of choice? Yoga, Capoeira and Pole Dance. But I’ve explored the full gamut of practices on offer over the years - from tai chi to parkour, ballroom dancing to rock climbing. I’d like to say now that I have never been physically gifted, no genetic predisposition, a favourable limb-to-torso ratio or athletic physique. Far from it in fact - I inherited my mum’s sweet tooth and the Arabic woman’s slow metabolism and ‘softer silhouette’ from my Dad’s side! I have never been termed ‘sporty’. And yet, when I think about it now and look back for clues to my current obsession, I can find traces that suggest I was always intrigued by the idea of being a skilful mover, even from those early days watching Fed Astaire and Gene Kelly on Christmas-time TV. In the absence of natural talent, it seems curiosity was enough…
“What has this got to do with communicating?!” I hear you ask…Everything!
THE BODY SPEAKS BEFORE WORDS
Let’s look at the stats. You may already be familiar with the this idea - numerous studies have been conducted, including those by Albert Mehrabian in the 60s and 70s that concluded that only 7% of communication was verbal (the words you say), with 38% being tone of voice (how you say it) and 55% body language. These statistics are frequently mis-quoted and aren’t applicable to all modes or contexts of communication, so their implications can be misleading. However, we have all been in a position where a person’s non-verbal cues (i.e their body language or expression) convey more meaning than the words they say. When you ask to have the last slice of pizza and your friend says ‘Of course!’, its clear from her body language what she’s really saying…
So the body communicates before words. But do you know what yours is saying? We can either remain unconscious of the messages it is sending or choose to develop an awareness of, and eventually control over, those messages.
But how can we hope to do this if we can’t speak our body’s language? Our bodies are talking to us all the time and unless we make the effort to understand them, how can we hope to understand what they are communicating to others?
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self” - The Bhagavad Gita
Both Peta and I have followed a yoga practice for several years now. Mine began with a book from the charity shop when I was 15, which I quickly abandoned, until I encountered a period of depression whilst at university. During this time, a friend invited me to a yoga class with her. I went and touched a moment of internal calm that I had started to believe I’d lost forever.
Moving my body brought me closer to myself and as I used up all my cognitive energy in focusing on lunging into Warrior Two, the white noise of incessant thought faded and I began to hear my body speaking, and over time, to learn it’s language.
And just like learning a foreign language, the more your vocabulary grows, the more you can understand and the more you can say. At first, it’s just ’Hello’, ’My name is…’, and perhaps you can name some fruits and vegetables! With a little more study, you progress to making connections - linking together parts of speech and understanding the patterns of grammar, so that soon you are contributing to the conversation. And it takes even greater fluency and more time invested in learning before you can hope to start directing the flow of conversation, picking up on subtleties and subtext, hidden meanings, colloquialisms, specialist topics even.
In my experience, the body works in just the same way.
If your physical vocabulary remains limited to the pedestrian tasks you accomplish each day, you can never be privy to the more complex and powerful levels of physical communication others may be engaging in around you. You can neither perceive the physical messages from others or control those of your own.
PRACTICE DOES NOT MAKE PERFECT
….unless we are practising the right things in the right way!
We live in our bodies and voices every day. Surely they get plenty of practice, why should they need extra attention?
Because we are creatures of habit. It’s true, our bodies take us everywhere, helping us to complete each daily task, but those movements are within a very narrow range and most of them are completed on autopilot (texting while walking to work, avoiding pedestrians and drinking your morning coffee…anyone? Just me…?) In repeating these patterns mindlessly, we work ourselves into a groove that we soon can’t get out of. In contrast, a conscious, purposeful movement practice demands your attention - it keeps you present and when you are present, you are aware. Over time, you can develop not only proprioception - an awareness of external gestures and positioning of the body - but also a more sophisticated sensitivity to the internal shifts and changes that are occurring alongside these.
‘You move to be moved’, as a great capoeira teacher of mine says. Moving can change your internal state and therefore affect your emotions (read more on the affects of altering your physiology from the master, Tony Robbins).
A movement practise can also take you out of your comfort zone, challenging your ideas about what you are capable of (see our March bog post, Take Up Space). The first time I balanced in headstand or managed a handspring on the pole, I felt superhuman. And I was! I had achieved the impossible. Or at least, there had been a time when that movement had not seemed within the realms of possibility for me and my body. In that moment, my reality had to shift - the impossible wasn’t so absolute after all. ‘Know your limits’, they say. But only so that you can break through them…
These moments gave a new meaning to the term ‘body confidence’ - one that was so much more than a narrow focus on physical aesthetics. As you learn to trust your body and realise the extent of it’s capabilities, you can start to become more confident in ALL your abilities. After all, you are your body! The Sanskrit root of ‘yoga’ means ‘to yoke’, to unite mind, body and spirit. Anything your body can do boosts your understanding and your confidence in what you your-‘self’ can do - whatever the ‘self’ means to you.
Or at least that has been my experience. Moving my body has been the greatest gift I could have given my-‘self’ and one of the most powerful tools I have for living a more present, connected and energised existence.
Whether it be yoga, trekking or line dancing, I urge you to take that first step and see where it could lead. Have courage to stretch yourself - quite literally - and you might end up reaching others in unpredictable ways!