I can’t remember what year it was that I started teaching fitness. I know I got certified by AFAA in 2000 and waited two years to teach. I wanted to make sure that I knew my stuff before I stood up in front of a crowd and claimed to be knowledgable.
The joke was, of course, on me.
Because while it’s entirely possible to get up in front of people with lacking or scientifically unsound information (and make no mistake, this happens in gyms everywhere every day) it’s not possible to really know anything for certain when it comes to the human body and the way it moves.
We can make informed decisions based on years of research. We can also draw on the wisdom that years of engaging with other people’s bodies can bestow.
But the fact remains that our understanding of the body, the mind, and the interplay between the two is fluid. This constant state of flux infuriates some – “Just tell me what I need to do to be healthy and I will do it!” – while it energizes others – “The mind-body connection is a largely unexplored frontier, ripe for discovery.”
While I love the ethereal and pondering all the body-mind stuff, I face the practical reality of needing to guide clients through movement at a minimum of twice a week. I thought I’d share some guiding principles that I’ve developed over my years of training and experience.
I cannot tell you what is happening in your body.
The thing about instructing people in how to use their bodies is that I have this huge obstacle to fair and objective judgment – my experience in my own body. I can never live in someone else’s body. And my own experience of embodiement is the only one I can ever know.
It’s a lot of baggage to carry.
And, over the many years I have taught, I have gotten so much better at seeing and listening what other bodies are telling me.
That being said, the responsibility for your body resides with you. I need you to be watching how your body reacts to the movements it makes. I need you to judge whether what you feel is fatigue or pain. I need you to observe both your internal and external states and make informed decisions about what to do with your body in class and outside of it. I can guide you, I can support you. I can offer possible explanations for what you experience based on my study, experience and observation. But I cannot ever know what is happening in your body or why.
The uniqueness of each individual’s body can have dramatic effects on how that body moves.
My clients and I are in constant dialogue.
“Where do you feel this?”
“Watch yourself in the mirror and tell me what you see.”
“Did you see that arm go up when you shifted your foot? Why do you think that happened?
Sometimes I worry that I have brought the Socratic method from my legal education into the big box gym and that the students hate me for it. Surely some would prefer to quietly occupy their space, get through their workout and leave.
But I cannot pretend that a “workout” is a one-size-fits all proposition.
Look at the human beings around you. Compare the length of your forearm to that of the next person you see. Look at your friend’s knees. Are they higher on their legs than yours are, even though your friend is shorter?
All of those sorts of differences in how we are put together impact the ways in which we move. Even as I am guided by the alignment points that I learned in my Restorative Exercise training, I recognize that no two people’s execution of those points will look exactly the same once we start moving and interacting with our environments.
Human movement is as much art as it is science.
While still thirsty for knowledge, my however-many-years-I-have-taught years of experience have convinced me that human movement is as much art as it is science. And while I understand that can frustrate some, I hope that for most this mindset can evoke more playfulness, more experimentation, a deeper exploration with less concern about doing things right or following the rules and a joyful experience of living in our bodies.