Last week, I wrote about my relationship with yoga as a practice that goes well beyond the physical. I didn’t mention that my current studio is actually called “spirit loft,” and they are less of a yoga studio per se and more of a “movement lab.” They are very focused on form and on mobilizing and activating your full body — which fits me.
I have done a few movement classes, but I don’t love them. I like the idea of moving in a more freeform way, finding new arcs in space, exploring the edges of my ability to crouch into a deep squat, reach into a starfish shape as I roll. But actually doing the classes challenges me in the wrong way — one teacher is sweet but too young to understand how to modify for aging bodies, and I hurt my shoulder when he had us helicoptering our arms too much. In another class, I dislocated my thumb moving it around a pole thingy. And in most of them, there is partner work where I always end up feeling clumsy, bad at following directions, and inept. That is not what I want in a fitness class.
But — I do like the concept at the essence of these classes — to go deep into the fundamentals of noticing how we move our bodies. There is a yoga fundamentals class I really like, where we can spend an entire class opening up our hips in a certain way, rolling a little hard ball miserably up and down our hamstrings, finding deep alignment.
This fundamentals stuff is more and more appealing to me because I’ve been struggling with some weirdness in my quads, hamstrings and knees. I’ve had odd knee pain in both knees, and my massage therapist has identified one part of my quads that is under-developed and therefore pulling me out of alignment. I’m hyper fretful about my knees — I already have some cartilage damage and I don’t want more.
Last week, I noticed that the person who teaches the fundamentals class was teaching a version of the movement lab for “midlife and beyond, though everyone is welcome.” I know that teacher (also one of the studio owners) is vigilant about precision and attention, so I scraped time in my Friday morning to go to the class.
So basically, we spent 90 minutes getting in touch with the hinge at our hips. Moving a rug around in different directions with one foot while keeping the other firmly on the floor, bending with a dowel held to our backs in three places to see our real range without curving our backs, working up eventually to picking up a kettle bell from the floor with a very specific range of motion.
So here’s the thing: it was fucking HARD. Twice in the past month — in this class and from my massage therapist — I’ve been reminded that just because I have strong legs and can do a lovely forward fold in yoga, pull my foot up onto the seat of my spinning bike to stretch — this really doesn’t mean I’m flexible. My hinge range is about 45 degrees, not 90 — after 45, I start to curve my spine (even when my knees are bent). That dowel thing was humbling. And I thought I was doing a great job with the kettlebell until the teacher came and gave me a little yoga block to help me out.
This might seem esoteric, but the point of the movement for life class is to put you in touch with how the way your body moves affects your quality of life as you age — we will need to pick up things off the floor until we die. Being able to touch your toes is great — but preserving true agility in your hips is even more important — for recovery if you start to slip on the ice, for support for your back when you pick stuff up, for strength and alignment for your knees.
I liked the class, though I felt like it revealed all of my illusions about my own fitness. I’m strong and powerful in many ways, but there are more dimensions when I go deeper inside. And that’s a whole new journey in and of itself.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works, and moves a blanket around with her foot in Toronto.