When I posted the July blog, I signed off with reference to a “short break”. This hailed a sense of freedom from the routine of thinking about, planning and executing the fortnightly posts. After 6 weeks – refreshed, invigorated and making my way back to the keyboard, I found that starting up again was not so easy. Lack of ideas, or fear of committing myself once again to practicing the very things from whence thoughts and ideas spring? A bit of both – as is often the case.
In our yoga practice we usually begin by exploring our breathing and how we feel in sensing our bodies. In this way we remain curious and open ourselves up to what is new. Crucially, we start afresh……
….Developing the ability to begin again is very important. To start afresh with an open mind In this way we avoid taking old thoughts and habits into a practice….
These are the words of the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “The Miracle of Mindfulness” (Random House pub) and they acknowledge the difficulties in making a start. My later- than -planned return to the blog was a result of having broken the habit but were other factors at play?
In a Radio 4 programme “Why should I exercise doctor?”., the presenter, Shari Vahl, acknowledges her poor fitness level and asks the question “Why?” , despite knowing that regular movement/exercise is not just a good idea but is crucial to health, she doesn’t do it. Why is it so difficult to establish such a useful habit?
Barriers such as lack of time and lack of interest are highlighted but the aforesaid doctor (Michael Mosley) felt that the main obstacle is fear:
“.people are scared of physical activity.they don’t know what to do, how to
Common sense points to the importance of us being as active as our individual circumstances allow. However, the term “physical activity” can promote all manner of fears and discomfort in those who are unused to …well. what do I call it? In an 2015 BMJ article, Dr Douglas Kamerow wrote:
……...There is much evidence showing that regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your health, better than any pill that we have.
Brief digression for a small rant: why do experts insist on the term “physical activity,” which sounds clinical and scientific, instead of “exercise,” which only sounds arduous and undesirable? (I guess I answered my own question.)…....
Dr Kamerow defines exercise as :
“.. anything that gets the skeletal muscles moving and that expends energy…”
The NHS site “Move More“, has some very practical tips on how to become more knowledgeable and thus more comfortable in starting up a regular exercise habit. The best tip is “start small”. We follow this approach in our yoga practice. We practice small, generally slow, functional movements that help to calm the nervous system and, with practice, helps to re-educate us in movements that are useful for the body. We don’t, for example, practice wide astride standing poses because these can create tension in the externally rotated hip and thence in the lumbar spine. We do repeat patterns of flexion, extension and rotation of the spine which, with practice, become very natural to us and lead us away from discomfort towards feeling comfortable in our bodies. I am convinced that this works.
At a recent workshop with Pete Blackaby, we were asked to describe exactly how we “felt” as we practised yoga. Interestingly, at first we all used language that was judgemental – “tight hamstrings; weak core..” etc. Pete encouraged us to use a vocabulary of sensation rather than use value judgements. I believed this to be a small but very powerful start in helping students to feel more confident and comfortable about their own practice. Being less critical helped some of us to perform the movements with less discomfort. By refocusing the mind on useful sensations, I practised with less effort. So interesting that the human tendency to focus upon negative experiences and traits also seemed to influence the way in which we described our practice.
Negativity tends to make us vulnerable to fears about starting up/ again. In thinking about this, I looked again at some Zen teachings and came upon a practices to beat the fears that cause procrastination. – namely, “shining a light” on the fears. The advice to run small tests to check whether the fears are rational or not, struck a chord:
…….Run a tiny test at first: do a little of the task, and see what happens. Was it horrible?
Most likely, a small test will give you decent results, but you still won’t trust that your fear is groundless. So run another small test, then another. By doing small tests, you aren’t risking anything really bad, and you can quickly get results.
So how do you run small tests? Some examples might include doing just 5-10 minutes of a scary task, practicing just the most absolute basic skill of a group of skills you don’t know……
So, the first blog back is a small start. I also re-read an earlier blog to remind myself that Practice makes for more practice Classes re-start next week and we will begin with small, probably slow, repetitive movements. We will also foster positivity because bodies do heal if we keep moving and as we heal we can begin to increase the range of movement.
If you are interested in the NHS online resources mentioned above, here are links:
The new Heart Health Quiz – a “heart age calculator” has received criticism from both users and some medical professionals. Some GPs are concerned that it tells everyone over 30 to go to their GP if their cholesterol level or BP is unknown. Oxford University’s senior clinical research fellow, Dr Ben Goldacre, just appointed as the chair of the government’s new health technology advisory board, said ; “The heart age tool was a nice idea, a fun gimmick, but it was poorly executed..” Other doctors are reported to say that the campaign which runs until 30th September, will have little effect upon patient footfall.
There are fears on both sides. This seems to be a “popular concept” at present. Fodder for another post.
The photo at the top of this blog is by: