Students often demand “harder” classes. That’s fair. Most people want to be confronted by a real challenge. The feeling of moving towards a higher bar than what they usually meet is important and can be a fun and rewarding experience. That being said, it would be nice if we were all better at contextualizing what a “harder,” “more advanced,” or “difficult” class is. For example, a class that explores primal movement patterns can be really difficult for someone who doesn’t have a strong connection to some of these more basic patterns. A class that is full of plyometrics (jumping) can be very difficult for someone who has does not have strong aerobic endurance. Weight lifting can be hard for someone who hasn’t done that before…etc. You get the idea. This understanding is important for people to create a physical practice that supports total body wellness. In that philosophy:
Mel (of SMARTer Bodies™) has great aerobic endurance and can jump/run till the cows come home. But her strength needs development, because push ups still suck way too much. Conversely, Kim (of SMARTer Bodies™) has typically displayed more aptitude in the strength department and needs to work on the cardio/aerobic endurance. (Please note: things change as Kim is now riding her bike about a million miles a week and Mel has recently given a 180lb. man a piggy back ride for an impressive distance.) So we are sure to practice in the areas we have identified as weak in comparison to our other abilities in order to create a more balanced picture (for our individual fitness goals). This is the philosophy in which we try to work with our clients to help them do the things they need to better.
Recently, one of us taught a yoga class and was asked to make it “really hard.” Obliging the students’ request the class was filled with kick-ass combinations of movement and asana that left people shaking, sweating, huffing/puffing and generally exhausted, but very satisfied with the difficulty level, because there was still room for play (all torture is not necessarily the best way to teach). That’s wonderful and everyone was happy. But then a student asks, “That was really good! That was harder than the last time…right?” See that’s the kind of question that raises a small red flag for us. You should know what’s hard for you, not what is dictated or defined as more difficult by a teacher in a class. Especially in NYC, people want to work hard and fast otherwise they feel it’s not worth doing at all. Those who apply this standard to a daily movement practice/workout are typically the ones who are so proud of the calories they’ve burned, but:
- Still can’t balance as well on one leg versus the other.
- Don’t know how to articulate through the spine (You wouldn’t believe how challenging a slow roll up is for some people).
- Can’t tell the difference between the sensations of muscular effort or attachments tearing and joints crying/screaming.
Those three points of weakness mentioned above all share a common thread: not enough body-mind practice. Imagine how much better everything else would be if someone didn’t have such strong discrepancies from the left side of their body to right side, or didn’t get totally confused or lost when asked to perform subtle and fine movements in the body, or get frustrated when asked how something feels. Many times people say, “I don’t know! How does it look to you?” Yes, even though, as teachers we can look from the outside in to help guide you wouldn’t it be better if you could also do this for yourself? When outside observation isn’t available you need to be able to rely upon powers of proprioception (observing/sensing from the inside); this can apply to all aspects of life from working out to performing well at work!
This is why it is so important to incorporate practices that get you back in touch with your internal landscape and strengthen the body-mind connection. That’s why yoga is an easy go to for fulfilling this purpose. Let’s be clear, we are not talking about yoga that is taught for the purposes of seeing how far back you wrap your leg behind your head or how many chaturangas you can do before dying. The yoga we’re describing is the kind taught by teachers interested in the EXPERIENCE you are having while moving. We want to help you find out what is happening on the INSIDE, so that the next time you do something like weightlifting or running or ANYTHING you can do it happily and safely.
So we ask that if you are caught up in the pattern of, “every time I take a class I have to work out hard and burn as many calories as possible, sweat as much as I can and push myself to the edge,” we support that, but know that there is a whole other way of thinking about movement that you can practice to support what you usually do and help you to perform better. Go to a class (like a yoga class) that is about slowing down and exploring the spaces inside you haven’t yet. You’d be surprised at how nicely your other movement practices and daily activities will improve when you take the time to reconnect and just play with sensing and feeling what’s going on inside of you.
This is also not to say that yoga is the only way to do this. There are plenty of ways to enhance the connection to your insides. It really all depends on the teacher. But we have found great results with yoga as taught by the teachers we list on our site as well as awesome training programs like M.E.T. that are based on neuroscience. All these practices are intent on teaching you the ability to stay connected to what is going on in your body while progressing. Not in an obsessive, “What is happening to my spleen while doing this dead lift,” kind of way. (Although, some people might benefit from that if they could properly manage the experience.) But we’re talking about a connection that allows you to work and play without hurting yourself. So don’t be afraid to try the movement without the weights to correct your form and make it solid before you move on to grabbing the weights. And don’t be afraid to slow down and reconnect to your breath before you move into vinyasas that have you turning purple and almost passing out. Ask yourself if you take enough breaks from performing to allow yourself space for experiencing. Can you find subtle connections in your body as well as you can run that treadmill?
REDEFINE WHAT YOU BELIEVE MAKES YOU AN ADVANCED STUDENT.