Stillness in Movement; Movement in Stillness. Part 1

Stillness in Movement

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

The class laughs at my instruction: “Don’t move the knee that we’re not moving”.

Yes, it’s funny when it’s put that way, but the principle of not moving the bit we’re not moving, or, put more poetically stillness in movement, is fundamental to yoga. And also to all other forms of our body’s movement through life.

Why is this so important?

  1. Working the “hard part”
  2. Bodily integrity
  3. Building proprioception
  4. Efficiency
  5. Letting go

Working the “Hard Part”

This looms large in yoga, because there’s often nowhere to hide in a technique. What do I mean by the “hard part” and having “somewhere to hide”, anyway?

So, by talking about the hard part I mean those parts of ourselves that we coddle and protect and turn ourselves inside out (literally and metaphorically) to not move. Like so much of engrained human behaviour, this makes sense on an evolutionary level as a solution in the moment, but not when it goes on for years. It might be the site of an injury (physical or emotional or both) and our body knows that place is unreliable and causes pain. So, we build a scaffold around ourselves to avoid having to rely on that part. It becomes so much a part of use, that after a time we don’t even see the scaffold anymore.

Wrapped in scaffolding long enough, we don’t even see the mish-mash of compromising support we rely on, year after year.

The scaffolding protects us in the short term, but in the long – medium term we need to work on structural integrity and stand on our own two feet (literally and metaphorically!).

Among my many injuries (which I consider part of the embodied Taonga of my 46 years on the planet) is a long undiagnosed chip at the end of my femur which ended up in my knee as a “joint mouse”. When the initial injury calmed down, I had ongoing knee pain for years and years as the mouse scurried around in the joint, nesting harmlessly some times, causing havoc other times.

My body learned not to trust my left knee. This is one of my “hard parts”. Coddling and protecting the knee, kept me running and working in the short term. Evolutionarily speaking, I could get away from a lion should I need to, but in the long term not working the hard part was doing me harm. It caused my right leg to over develop and the left to atrophy. My right knee has much worse arthritis than the left as it’s been taking all my weight for decades. It made my hips uneven, tightened the psoas and played all hell with my back.

Now, I don’t limp. I’ve become a master of compensation, co-option and disguise – a con artist, really. The rest of my body is part of the conspiracy to keep the hard part hidden.

But on the mat there’s nowhere to hide. Consider the technique I referenced at the beginning of this piece. When I stretch each side of the psoas, I only move the knee that is meant to move and do not move the knee that’s staying still. Practicing this technique, the hard part, the fragile part, that bit I do everything to hide away, that bit (the left side of my psoas) is exposed to the light. If I slide my foot around to protect it, it’s obvious. If I slide my body, my other knee moves in the air. The technique is set up so I can’t compensate or co-opt with other parts of my body. Any attempt at disguise is foiled.

Stretching my left psoas, only moving my left knee and focusing on the stillness everywhere else, forces me to work into the “hard place” of an old injury that would otherwise remain hidden.

This isn’t easy and I think is a large part of why yoga is perceived as difficult. But, really, what you need to do is work your own range of movement in the bit we’re moving, only and accept what that range of movement is today without some artificial, external idea of what it should be. So, it is part of why we need to approach yoga with self-compassion and put away competition. Because when we’re not piling on the pressure, we can make space to work on our more fragile hidden parts that lie beyond the scaffolding we erect around ourselves just to get through the day.

So, working the hard parts and having nowhere to hide by having stillness in movement is one reason why yoga is difficult. It is also one reason why yoga is essential.

Follow this blog to have the next post in this series delivered to your inbox – Stillness in Movement: Bodily Integrity

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