Using My Mind to Improve My Movement: Exploring Mind Body Training
My Mind Is
my mind is
a big hunk of irrevocable nothing which touch and
taste and smell and hearing and sight keep hitting and
chipping with sharp fatal tools
in an agony of sensual chisels i perform squirms of
chrome and execute strides of cobalt
feel that i cleverly am being altered that i slightly am
becoming something a little different, in fact
Hereupon helpless i utter lilac shrieks and scarlet
To me, EE Cummings’ poem describes the way that his mind is changing and becoming more himself and this change is difficult. It is as beautiful as chrome, cobalt, lilac and scarlet but communicated as shrieks and bellowings while he finds his way. This speaks to me at the moment as I approach my movement in a much more mindful way. I am changing my mindset, my thoughts and my understanding of how I move - and it isn’t easy.
In my cloud swing practice the thoughts: “achieve this trick,” “don’t get it wrong” and “the audience won’t know if my technique is off” have dominated my self talk for almost twenty years. I am no longer a professional aerialist but I have a weekly class for my mental health and for my happiness but very often I am down on myself for my slow progress. I compare myself to the gorgeous twenty year olds who also train in the space and I baulk at new tricks because I am “an old dog.” I am learning how to change this approach to my movement with a mental toolbox of tricks taught in my Franklin Method Educator Training.
Now, before class when getting changed I remind myself “swinging brings me joy” “I am here to challenge my body and my spirit.” After my warm up I visualise everything that I will do in my session, I walk back and forward as if in the swing rehearsing my tricks. I take special care with tricks that I don’t quite understand and try to get a feel for the movements by rolling about on the floor or on a low piece of aerial equipment (in circus we call this ground training or floor-ials).
Then to wake up my proprioceptors I tap my entire body from top to toe, I rub myself down and then have a good shake. I give my brain a very clear map of where every part of my body is before I start whizzing about in the air.
Then when I’m in the air I swing. I try to notice my body, not the people in the space with me but tune in to me. I aim to be present in my body. I feel my position in the swing, is my body leading or trailing in the swing? Am I breathing? Where am I breathing from? Where am I holding tension - can I release it? How is the quality of my movement?
Then I start a warm up sequence with movements at the front and back of the swing, rotations around the rope in both directions and a back balance. When swinging a body needs the right amount of tension, not too much, not to little. I use the mental image of a sapling blowing in the wind or seaweed flowing with the waves. I visualise my alignment as being one with the swing, my body in line with the rope I am standing on.
Then I move on to trickier sequences, here I need to move smarter. I run through the next tricks in my head, as I swing I imagine releasing at the right time I imagine the line of my body, the beats and the rotation in real time executed with beautiful technique. I might look like I am doing nothing but I am warming up my nervous system and the neural pathways of the movements to come, I am a swan; serene from the top of the water but my brain is paddling like mad under the surface.
I use images of my heavy toes reaching away from the rope, my body is a pendulum around the rope, I think the words: fluid, smooth, easy, light. Then I repeat the sequence for real this time, and try to replicate the same timing and technique as I mentally rehearsed.
I remind myself that “swinging brings me joy” and try to keep in a positive frame of mind when things are not executed as perfectly as I had anticipated. “I enjoy the challenge to my body and spirit” I say when things get a little scary. I also care less about getting a trick now, I am interested in the process of perfecting my technique because moving efficiently in the movement means that I will be able to keep swinging for longer. I am breaking down skills into smaller chunks and trying to find levels of incremental improvement. I am trying to shift my focus to the process not the outcome. In life there will always be challenges. How we approach the process will determine whether we overcome them or not.
Combining physical training with the mental tools of imagery, anatomical knowledge, visualisation and positive mindset is not a new thing. I have been visualising my routines since I was a competitive gymnast thirty years ago. The shift in focus from success to process is very new for me and my new (attempts at) kindness to myself make for a difficult adjustment too.
i cleverly am being altered that i slightly am
becoming something a little different, in fact
As part of my training I need to practice teaching Dynamic Neurocognitive Imagery to other people so if you think that your movement might benefit from some mental tools do get in touch.