Grace and Composure – moving with poise and power

“You cannot be truly and authentically kind to another unless you are first kind to yourself.”

With this in mind I’ll ask you to do something very simple right now that is an act of self care:

  • Take a very slow and deep breath through your nose – a very slow and deep breath,
  • Visualise the air flowing to the bottom of your lungs and filling from the bottom up like water being poured into a glass,
  • Hold this breath for a count of four – feel your ribs in your mid back gently expand.
  • Slowly breathe out.
  • Repeat this once more.

You have just completed a very simple act that has done something quite remarkable in your physiology. In breathing like this your Vagus nerve has been stimulated, and that has activated the parasympathetic part of your central nervous system, which means that you are now feeling more relaxed and calm.

Humans have a ‘fight-or-flight’ mode of operating, that was a very important part of our collective survival throughout the hundreds of thousands of years of our development as a species. Our brains have been tuned to recognise threats that could harm us or those we love. Unfortunately this mode, which comes in handy when there is a threat of attack by predators, is triggered very often by much less pressing concerns

Twenty-first Century life often puts us in the ‘fight-or-flight’ mode of operating, even though in essence we do not need to defend ourselves nor run away from danger. The problem lies in our often hyper response to the demands placed on us, both consciously and what also bombards our subconscious. Why does this happen? Overload. So you still want to continue your uber busy full-on life and not break down? The key is to be efficient, minimal output for a maximal result.

This is where moving with grace and composure comes in. By moving like this when you are exercising it will the permeate not only how you move out in the real world but how you handle what the world throws at you. Rather than approaching harsh challenges like a boxer taking on an opponent, to instead be the strong and graceful ballroom dancer taking on a feisty new partner.

So here’s how to do it. Follow these simple but very powerful principles why you are exercising:

  1. Begin your session with the two breaths as described above. At any time you feel like you are becoming distracted do these again. It will take your attention out of your head (overthinking) and drop you into your body.
  2. Move very, very slowly. The same speed you would see a person performing Tai Chi moves.
  3. Close your eyes (when you feel safe to do so)
  4. Breathe in and out your nose as much as possible
  5. Keep your face completely still. Avoid any facial movement at all. Make no noise, especially no grunting.
  6. Invite your whole body to participate in each movement, invite every cell to assist in your movement. For example if you are doing an upper body exercise invite all the cells of your legs to help.
  7. The overriding image to create is to ‘move as you would envisage a dancer doing the movement.’

By performing an exercise like this you will be moving deliberately, no longer on automatic. In doing so you will be able to be aware of imbalanced and dominant patterns of movement and change these without force. You will ultimately then begin to access strength you didn’t know you had because instead of using momentum to move your limbs when doing resistance training you will be using your muscles more; also your nervous system will become more still. After a weights session you will feel energised and alive, not depleted. And when you want to move fast you will do so with more power as you will have become more efficient.

Very important note: be conscious to keep your upper trapezius muscles soft. This is the big group of muscle fibres that run from your shoulder to your neck. I call them the ‘body guard’ muscles. They perform two main functions when needed to protect us:

  1. Shrug up (to protect the neck from attack)
  2. Turn the head side to side (Looking out for danger)

For so many people the upper trapezius are in a state of hyper-vigilance. This is exacerbated by poor posture ie rounded shoulders and head too far forward. The weight of the head creates further strain on these muscles.
So by being mindful to soften these muscles as often as you can will relieve neck soreness and pain, and can be a gentle reminder to move your body efficiently rather than is a state of excess tension.

One warning: doing exercises very slowly with no noise or facial movements and with your eyes closed can be extremely challenging, especially emotionally. One Olympic athlete that I trained said it was the most challenging training she had done, physically, mentally and emotionally. Any emotion that arrives during an exercise don’t fight it or resist it. instead, truly feel it and observe it. See it as just a reaction and that by moving through it with complete composure your load will be lightened.