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.