I recently completed a Strala Yoga training course, which has both solidified principles I have long embraced and at the same time challenged me to find more freedom in life. Strala was created by Tara Stiles and is a style of yoga that integrates the principles of Tai Chi with a flowing almost dancing yoga. Tara, with her husband Mike Taylor, have provided a very natural form for helping people release stress, heal, and approach all of life’s challenges with more ease and grace. It suits me very nicely, being a dancer at my core, and a lover of the marriage between the inner work of yoga and the movement wisdom of Tai Chi.
One of the “mantras” of Strala is that “the way you feel when you get to where you are going is the way you felt all along the way. In other words, your being and feelings while in process and during your work towards a goal, will be exactly the same when you reach your “destination”. If you want to know if the grass is greener on the other side, just ask yourself how you feel right now. It will be no different. What you will find on the other side of that fence is the same person: you! This is a big one for me. I’ve spent more time than I care to count trying to get to a place, expecting to feel amazingly different once I get there. Very often I was seeking a place of rest and ease. Let me share with you how you can find more of what you are looking for in the here and now.
I grew up like most kids of the 70’s in America. We were taught about the importance of hard work. Responsibility was taken very seriously and set as probably the highest priority of life. Strong discipline helped us to assume more responsibility, the “responsible” ones were greatly admired, and so the ladder of progress was set. I loved this structure. My innate ambition for learning and growing was happy and trained well in this structure, except for one key piece. I believe the American work ethic has mislead us as people and removed the reality that we are human beings and not machines. I have no problem with work itself, it is the way we have been told to work that I take issue with. You can generally program a machine to do what it is designed to do, without consideration for the schedules and impact of work load (apart from the standard maintenance required). You don’t have to take into account the Way that a machine is working, because there is only one way it was designed to work: perfectly. As people, the Way that we Work is incredibly important!! I still remember the saying from my youth, “Work first, Play later”, or even the phrase used as compliment for high achievers who had supposedly found some sort of “balance” in their lives: “Work Hard and then Play Harder”. So, how do we work? Are we striving and pushing at 125% force and effort to accomplish our day’s goals and agendas, ignoring ourselves and others in the process? I can remember as a dancer in training, pushing my physical body as if it were some sort of enemy to overcome, resulting in defeat when it wouldn’t perform to the imagined standard I had created in my mind. I had no concept as a young dancer of how to breathe effectively while dancing, or of the best way to truly care for my body. I worked on a survival mode of getting through, especially the most challenging roles with the end of the performance being my time to finally rest. The time to pause and nurture my body was half-hearted at best, and more in frustration as I dealt with an injury.
You see, the ideas that we have guiding our daily lives will direct the way we structure our days but even more importantly the way we walk through the moments of our days. There is a better way to believe and think about Work! There is a better way to live out our work. That way is to be aware of the fact that we are human beings. We have physical, emotional and spiritual needs, that if ignored for the sake of “producing work”, will surely suffer!! Also, why and when did work and play become opposing activities?? One of the Strala & Tai Chi principles I love most is an endeavor to bring “Play” into everything we do! Work and play can actually go together! Without playing in our work, how will we try out new ideas and bring a fresh creative mind to the table? Without play, how can realize when we’ve become too serious and overwhelmed for real progress to be made. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but by bringing some play and ease and slowing down our work arena, we will become smarter and more productive in our work!!
From a physical standpoint, bringing literal “Play through Movement” into our work environment will benefit us greatly!! One of the definitions of play as a noun is “free or unimpeded motion, scope or opportunity for action”. As a physical therapist, I would assess the “joint play” of someone’s knee or shoulder to evaluate how much freedom for movement was available to help the joint to function properly. On a wider scale, I wonder how much “body play” we have throughout our bodies. Do we sit immovable for hours and then suffer the consequences of losing mobility in our muscles, connective tissues, and joints. I say, “Yes!!!” You could really apply the same train of thought to our “mental play”. How constrained are we in our thought processes. Do we rely on repetition and status quo, walking through our work on autopilot. Or, are we leaving space for questions and trying things in new and creative ways. If we have decided there is just no time for invention, if we are overscheduled in our duties, without time to explore and ask, “Why are we doing this?”, then true progress and I daresay success eludes us. And while we are throwing questions around, we may as well ask, “How do you define success in your life?” This is a great dinner party starter for those who want to skip the small talk and dive right into deep conversation! A follow-up to that question may be, “Does your success flow in a direction from outside of you towards you, or from the inside of you towards the outside”?
The answers are for you to discover. It takes slowing down and asking honest questions. It takes be willing to possibly change some ideas that we adopted long ago. It may mean making some practical changes to your lifestyle and habits. It will hopefully take you a step towards embracing the reality that you are a human being. You require care, attention and rest. What you believe is important. The decisions you make chart your course. And, some of the best news that I have found, as I begin the second half of life, is that it is never too late to change. In fact, all of life is change, so we may as well jump on in.
Co-owner of Arts & Wellness of Edenton