Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the practices of both yoga and pilates. I enjoy the increased flexibility and strength they both provide. I love the meditative quality of yoga. I love the way moving through a series of yoga poses can help me focus my mind which is all too often noisy and chaotic. I know that many dancers use pilates to build the strength they need to perform. I relish the way my body feels taller and more graceful after a pilates workout.
Over the last few years I’ve been studying pilates with the gracious and patient Maria. Coming from a legalistic background creates problems for me when I look for someone to coach me in learning something new. I’ve spent many years overcoming the consequences of being told too often that what I was doing wasn’t quite good enough and that I just needed to buckle down, be more committed and try harder. Placing myself in a situation where a “coach” is trying to motivate me by telling me I just need to dig deeper and push harder is, frankly, counterproductive for me. Maria is wonderful, encouraging without being a task master, pointing out where something can be improved while never letting you lose sight of the things you’re doing well. Really, I wish I could clone her for other areas of my life!
Lately Maria has been working to help me understand the “release” phase of pilates moves. When you’re moving in and out of an exercise, there is the extension, muscles engaged, portion of the move. When she calls out the release phase of the exercise, like most of the members of my class, my instinct is just to let everything go and relax. She patiently explains that this isn’t what is meant by release. To release means to move out of the extended position back to the starting position, prepared to begin the next repetition. It requires engaging the opposing muscles to what you’ve just been using. Your body is never passive, never just giving way and allowing itself to flop around without purpose.
As a Christ follower, I’ve heard many teachings and sermons on the concept of surrender. We’re big on reminding ourselves that God is the only one who knows everything and has all wisdom. Because of that, we’re told over and over again that we need to release everything to God’s plan. “Put it all on the altar” as we used to say in my pentecostal days. We even made jokes about how God supposedly laughs at the plans we make for ourselves because He knows all along that He’s going to do something different and so, somehow, our plans are futile and we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t turn out. But what if following the way of the Divine One isn’t based on a joke about passivity? What if surrender is really more like a pilates release?
I’m tired of dancing with the fear that anything I reach for will ultimately be taken away from me as a sacrificial “release,” either by a petulant God who needs to prove He’s smarter than me, or by the whimsical fates of the universe. I want to reach and extend myself, pursuing dreams and goals, knowing that whether I succeed or whether I fail, I’m actively engaged and prepared to start again. I’m not there yet, but that’s where I’m heading.
Note: This is one of a group of posts that are a result of prompts and activities that are part of a writing course I’m currently taking. Today I’m writing in response to the prompt “inhale, and reach – exhale, and release.”