Friday, January 29, 2010

Hers & His

Today I was working on the chapter in Run Like a Girl about the fraught-ness (if that's a word) of the relationship between women, men and sports. I titled the chapter, Hers & His, in homage to an exquisitely drawn, small Irish documentary I saw at the Sundance Film Festival a few days ago, titled His & Hers, a collage of interviews with girls and women, ordered chronologically by age, from two to ninety-two, each talking in some fashion about their relationship to the men in their lives, fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, sons. It was a gentle portrait of the complexity of our inter-gender relationships.

Put it on your Netflix list, because I doubt it will be showing at any theater near you!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Healing Properties of Kayaks

Paula's kayak got her through some hard times.

“Big Blue” was a “free” kayak, acquired through a credit card rewards program on a whim. The bright blue two-person kayak caught her eye and she imagined her husband and herself on a northern Wisconsin lake. They’d never kayaked before. When it arrived, her husband, who hadn’t known she was getting it, asked what she planned to do with it. The two of them would stare at it out the window, as they drank their morning coffee. It began to grow on them. Maybe they’d use it after all. Until, suddenly, quite out of nowhere it seemed, her husband developed ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Big Blue was stored and forgotten. And a year and a half later, Paula found herself a widow, sleepless, “roaming my house in search of a new life.”

A few days later, without intending to, Paula was researching kayaking. She found lessons offered 15 minutes from her house. The first day the kayak instructor asks everyone why they signed up. People say the expected, trips coming up, and such like. Almost everyone is part of a couple, planning a future adventure. “Suddenly I blurt, my husband died two weeks ago. I bought a tandem kayak for us, but we never got to use it. So I have no experience.” There was a long silence. No one responded. Paula was embarrassed for having cast a pall on the class.

A man, who had lost his wife to cancer, approached Paula later in the day and congratulated her on her courage. I do, too.

Seven years on, Paula has taken other kayak lessons, bought a “sleek and sultry single kayak” and generally spent far more than she thought was possible on the sport. She’s moved cities, changed careers, found new kayaking buddies, and, yes, even a new husband, who has his own single kayak. For seven years Big Blue followed Paula around, from rafter to rafter, as she built her new life. But the boat never touched water. Paula finally placed an ad. “For sale, Big Blue”—the boat had served its purpose, and more. It was time to find it another home.

We all have our challenges, when life throws us a curve ball. And when it does, remember Big Blue, think "courage."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who We Are Is How We Move

I met with two incredibly energizing women today, and am, incidentally, now in danger of taking up yet another athletic pursuit--karate. Here's just a tiny slice of what we talked about.

“Who we are, is how we move,” Michelle Gay, founder of the Society for Martial Arts Instruction, a former dancer and black belt in karate, as well as a Certified Laban Movement Analyst, told me. “Movement is somatic.”

In the dictionary, somatic is defined as being “of the body, as distinct from the mind or spirit.” But when Michelle invokes somatic, she is describing the deepest connections between our body and our minds, our reflexes, our instinctive movements (like fight or flight), the hard wiring of our system, as well as the developmental stages of movement. Her work, as a sensei and movement teacher, is to help others to understand and tap into the very sources of how they move, and by making explicit, what for most of us is implicit, and therefore unknown and not-or-mis-understood, so that we can find choices we didn’t know we had before—in how we move, but also, as it translates to the rest of our world. By bringing the unconscious nature of movement into the conscious, and then integrating it as a choice, a response, instead of a reaction.

If, for example, I can find my balance in yoga, then I can find my balance in the world. If I haven’t practiced balance in yoga (or in another discipline), then when I chance to find a moment of balance elsewhere in the world, it will be quite by accident. Until we understand things explicitly, they are not readily accessible to us when we need them, on demand, as it were. That is the work of practice, or training, in sports as it is in life.

Who we are, is how we move. It's not just about the movement itself, it's what the movement tells us about ourselves.

Donna, a ceramic artist and student of Michelle's for the past eight years, is a black belt. About three years after she started practicing karate, she was attacked, as she was walking, head in the clouds, to her ceramics studio. A man slammed into her, interrupting her reverie. Another woman might have been shocked into submission. And I should say here that Donna is not a woman who, at first glance, exudes tough-don't-mess-with-me. She has an enormous, gorgeous smile, and an unmistakable femininity. But Donna was not shocked, much less submissive. Her karate training, in only three years, had rooted itself too firmly in her fibers. She turned automatically to her 45-degree stance, a pre-fighting stance. She felt her feet connected to the ground. She felt the alignment and substance of her whole body, as she dropped her weight into the earth. Her arms hung loose and easy at her sides. She lifted her gaze and looked her attacker in the eyes.

He turned tail and fled.

Just as animals do, Donna had grounded herself and sent a message. Without raising so much as a fist, Donna had let her attacker know that if he was going to engage her; it was going to take a lot more energy that he’d thought the moment before. She hadn’t done any karate, at least not as we think of it, wham, bam, zow, pow. She'd merely looked at him, from a position of strength. Donna had projected her inner power, that composure that develops over the years of daily practice, of daily being in touch with her potential force.

Donna is how she moves. A force to be reckoned with.

We don't have to be black belts to access our inner power (early on in this blog, in fact, I wrote about Jo, who faced down an attacker on her morning run). Knowing our own strength, accessing it regularly, whether it's on a run, or a ride, or on the slopes, in the water, on the yoga mat; all of it can make each one of us a force to be reckoned with in the world.