I recently had the pleasure of going along to the Sydney Opera House and taking in a modern dance performance. The work was "to a simple, rock 'n' roll . . . song." by Michael Clark Company and featured the music of Erik Satie, Patti Smith and David Bowie.
What I love about being exposed to the arts is the way it sparks so much thought, often in unexpected directions. There was a particular motif where the dancers swayed their spine lead by the pelvis that conjured a feeling of freedom despite the performers inhibited characterisations.
It was as I noticed the contrast within this performance that my mind began to wander. The choreography was fluid yet contained a sense of restriction. The dancers were strong and supple but it was evident that the choreography was demanding.
In order for the dancers to perform the piece as beautifully as they did- they needed to work physically hard- but at the same time, not admit this to the audience. The movement required immense precision that went beyond being well rehearsed. While it was obvious that the dancers embodied the movement there was also a very conscious element to it, especially in the elements requiring balance.
This question presented itself: when we perform any sort of pre-choreographed movement (dance, competitive solo or team sport) is it possible to move without conscious thought relating to the task at hand? There are times we need conscious thought to remind us to breathe!
When was the last time you moved without conscious thought? Commuting to work? On the dance floor? In the pool? Out in the surf? Was this a positive experience? How did your body feel afterwards?
For me, going out for a walk with my dog is a time when I can allow conscious thought relating to movement itself to dissipate. The two of us find a rhythm (until Ted needs to wee on yet another tree, pole or weed) and head down the street or around the park. My mind wanders off in many unexpected directions, it's like a moving meditation. Teddy certainly isn't consciously considering his gait, he's just enjoying the experience.
In Return To Life, Joseph Pilates comments on the instinctual way animals move attaining an "ideal rhythm of motion". We are invited to rediscover this through Contrology. Mary Bowen's comments at a conference I attended a few years ago spring to mind- to BE animal. It is an absolute compliment to achieve this, no thinking just moving, responding. When we reach this freedom in our movement it is intoxicating! It is joyful!
But then it gets complicated because you see, one of the aspects of Pilates I love most is that it is completely mindful. Cue head scratch.
Mr Pilates himself discusses the importance of balance between body, mind and spirit. Not only is the brain benefitting from the increased blood flow through our bodies but the concept of plasticity is brought up- activating new areas and encouraging further functioning.
I love that you can focus so intently on the happenings within your body, that everything else is irrelevant. We can let the stresses of our workday hibernate and only think about moving with precision and efficiency. We work on co-ordination and layering movement so that all of the different parts of our body come together like different instruments in a symphony. We try to count the repetitions (some of us more successfully than others). We work up a sweat in our brain often times more than in our body.
I'm delighted by the experience of purposeful movement. It is extraordinary to me that movement can be altered merely by changing our intention. The Roll Up can be about silken spine articulation one day, breath on the next and energy through the limbs on the day after that. It means that we can discover more about the movement each time and more about our relationship to that movement.
If we consider the four stages of learning, we would assume that our goal is to reach a point of being unconsciously competent/skilled. To BE animal. As I have thought this through over the course of the week since seeing the performance I wonder if this process is as linear as it appears on paper.
When we find ourselves moving joyfully without internal dialogue is that the end? That feels like a sad prospect, what will I do next? Our body is a dynamic structure affected by many variables. The learning process is only one part of the way we relate to Pilates and how our body feels when we do Pilates. If we move joyfully on Monday without conscious thought that doesn't mean that the experience will be the same on Tuesday.
So, what's the point Bezzina? I am contented with the opportunity to explore these ideas. How cognitive do I want my time doing Pilates to be? I would like to discover what brings the most positive experience to me as a person. I do wonder what is sacrificed in either perspective. Perhaps the goal of our time spent on the mat or in the studio isn't to be animal at all. Our opportunity to move with "spontaneous zest and pleasure" awaits us in our regular life. Perhaps the reward for one hour of completely mindful movement is 23 hours of moving with the joy of our furry friends.