Do you ever catch yourself thinking about your movement goals or training program as linear? That is how we seem to talk about movement and acquiring skills or strength: there is the beginning when you are “untrained” and then you build up to “intermediate” status and then “advanced” levels. The assumption seems to be that this all happens in a tidy unidirectional trajectory. If you are trying to build muscle, the common proposition is that you lift heavy weights frequently enough to induce physiological changes and eat enough nutrient dense calories to support the effort and BOOM, just like that you have bigger muscles and are stronger. I am imagining the phenomenon like those little foam dinosaurs that come in a capsule: just add water and watch them grow…when I was a kid I used to love those things!
The problem with this mindset is that most movement practices don’t necessarily happen this way. Even the most disciplined athlete who follows a strict schedule of training and has an excellent coach will not progress in a linear fashion. There are just too many variables to control and at the end of the day, we are not robots. People get injured. They quit going to the Pilates class that they were in the habit of going to. They meet a significant other who encourages them to start lifting weights instead of just doing cardio on the elliptical. Whatever it is, life happens and how we move changes. Some people speak of the alternative to linear thinking as a circle: with things happening cyclically. Though this is somewhat more attractive to me, I tend to think it is still a bit too simplistic. The best way I can put into words, or geometry, the process of learning and movement practice in my life is that it spirals.
What I have found interesting lately is not just the idea of nonlinearity in movement training, but that it is actually a good thing to have this circling or spiraling back to places you’ve been in movement practice. When I get stuck in thinking linearly about movement, I tend to think more negatively about what I am doing and where I am going. For example, I have been practicing yoga and tai chi off and on for the couple of years. But, the past few months I had not made it a priority and felt too busy with work and school to attend any classes (I tend to enjoy these practices in a class setting for the guidance and community aspects). My linear brain analyzed this “gap” in practice as a relapse or moving backwards.
However, with a more circular way of thinking, I was able to reframe the experience as really positive. I recently had the chance to attend a yoga class again and showed up with an open mind to take the class as a “beginner” again. The change in thinking worked and I ended up engaging deeply in a few of the cues that I had not necessarily paid as much attention to when I was regularly attending classes. I was able to experience certain poses in better alignment and felt stronger and more stable then I had when I was practicing yoga consistently but with less attention to these details! For me, the circular approach to movement and thinking about my movement practice has been freeing and allowed a fluidity that I haven’t had before. I also find this approach of circular movement more intuitive to what draws me to move in the first place. A recent backpacking trip reminded me of this. I would much rather hike a loop trail when I backpack then do an “out and back” type hike. In thinking about it, I am not sure I have a very good reason for why this is true. Interestingly, my friend that I hiked with has the same strong preference for choosing loop routes for hiking or backpacking trails. Is this just a desire to see new territory or is it representative of a more natural way of moving, doing, thinking?
I’d love to hear how you view your movement practice and if the concepts of linearity or circular/spirals underlie some of your thinking about movement.
Check out my post on embracing the circles of practice: The Circles You Move In: Part 2- Practice.