Transforming the Soul Through Movement Metaphors

For many of us in the movement discipline spheres, we come to our practice with the hope to engage in a practice that overall, enhances our experience of life and of ourselves. We are in one place or stage, and want to initiate a process, that ultimately creates change of one form or another. What we seek is transformation.

It can be easy to think of these changes in terms of performance metrics, such as, is my hand stand straighter, am I increasing the amount of weight I am lifting, or is my range of motion increasing?  There is of course nothing wrong with this (with a lot of potential good) and ultimately external metrics can say something objective about internal processes, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves.

However, external metrics will probably reach a place of diminishing returns as innate potential in a particular movement is reached or as age erodes away what you are able to recover from.  


Longevity and Diminishing Returns

I am personally a stickler for longevity and the desire to be the best I have ever been when in my “geriatric” years. The improvement most of us are going to see is not in how much horse power we can release, though mastery of technique is certainly possible.

In the end the intention we come to training with is going to be a big determining factor in the results we get.

I definitely pay attention to these external metrics; they do however take a less prominent role in my perception of the effectiveness of my training.The biggest determining factor, I use to gauge how well my training is doing, is in the state of my “soul” and what “internal” changes I am experiencing at a psychosomatic level; of course healthy changes often take place with healthy "external form". It is even possible view the hormonal changes that can be created through training, through this lens.

I ask: how is my training changing me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually?  

Refining the Self through Training

The “soul” is a vague term, that is difficult to pin down objectively, and surely we all create our own meaning for it. To me, I experience the word as an all-encompassing container for the various aspects of self-culminating into one outcome: my truest self. It is similar to how many separate instruments come together and create a single “song”. Different forms of training can all change the “music” of who we are, but the focus in this article is on movement training specifically.

Approaching physical training attempting to transform our essence, is not a new idea, though it does seem less common in popular culture these days. The goals of refining the self, of deepening our level of embodiment and the healing of the whole organism are intrinsically suited to longevity and is adaptable to the different stages of life. Not to mention that it is likely immensely more rewarding over the long term than nailing a particular a weight or exercise for its own sake.

Of course, the attainment of a particular external metric, as mentioned previously can be used as a vehicle that we ride to the destination of certain internal changes.

How Training affects the Rest of Your Life

How well am I expressing what is within me and are my skills in navigating life growing? How are my social interactions doing, or how about my sense of purpose? What am I being called to engage with or ignore? Do I feel comfortable in my own skin or do I have burning desire to grind it into a pulp with my next training session? Do I wake up energized, sexually charged and ready for the day and night ahead?

It may be difficult to make that jump for some, such as, how is swinging this club, really affecting my relationship with my spouse or how is my squat training affecting my finances (roots & basic survival). In my experience and research it is possible to draw (at least some) parallels between how you engage with life and what is going on in your training to some degree. Training is a microcosm of the macrocosm of our life.

Swinging a Club as a Movement Metaphor

I want to use the example of swinging a club with the exercise commonly referred to as a Mill.  Can I stand in place, activate my core properly and propel the club outward and bring it back in? I propose that another way to ask about this same scenario from a psychosomatic lens is:

Can I remain grounded, while in touch my core needs, as I interact with the world by pushing things away and also reaching out and bringing things in?

I am going to hammer at this example, for the sake of simplicity, but it is ultimately just one small example in infinite field of movement training. As a club swings around you, it wants to pull you off your feet; a person who is easily moved in life and without a stable root, is probably going to struggle with the leg drive required to stay put. Chronic muscular tension in the abdomen (super common with undigested emotional material) is going to alter the ground forces moving from the lower body to the arm. 

The shoulder must be stable, and able to push and pull freely. Then this must extend to the hand, where it will strongly challenge the grip and if you simply cannot “get a grip in life”, how do you think that is going to feel?

Can these club exercises increase the intelligence of my hands and can this change, lead to a greater ability to “grasp the situation at hand” in all aspects of my life, or just in the gym?

Emotional & Tensional Patterns

Patterns of tension are patterns of feeling, and what we feel, determines how we choose to engage the world around us.

Ungrounded people, have a poor sense of their body, and especially their legs and feet. They cannot drive “energy” downward. It all likelihood, the inability to engage your lower body is going to reflect in broad ways in the rest of your psychosomatic experience, which likely has a lot to do with the life you have created.

If you are afraid of “reaching out and brining in” as you would with good things, lovers or friends, it is likely that you are not going to be awesome at pullups or that they cause latent pain to come to the surface.

If at a fundamental level, the emotional motor pattern of bringing things close to you is a pattern your emotional tensegrity cannot sustain, it is probably going to reflect in how well you pull during training.  If you have issues creating boundaries, and pushing away things that do not serve you, it is likely you won’t be setting any pushup records.

I have written about it before, and it is worth pointing out again, that it is totally possible to reinforce preexisting behavioral tendencies through training and as you imbalance your structure, your further imbalance yourself as a whole.

Some people are stuck in the reaching out pattern, and they are often the ones who feel like they give themselves too much during relationships; they are left with arms open wanting love to come. They may find them pushing capacity to weak, or that it causes them pain to perform common presses (this is something I have had to deal with personally).  

Where does refinement take us?

Developing a full, rich and balanced life, often requires knowledge of arenas not related to physical training, it can however, set the emotional and mental stage, which can be used to act out this knowledge.

Bioenergetic imbalances, chronic muscular tensions, disembodiment, a deficiency of wildness and a generalized lack of aliveness is rampant at the moment, even for many of us who consciously aware that this psychosomatic reality even exist. The above previous example, touches on the basic ability to engage these various movements/emotional actions, but does not engage the possibilities of transforming these qualities.

As we restore primary emotional competency and then expand beyond that, as we sophisticate, refine, and deepen our practice, what changes can take place?

Can our “elegance” in these psychosomatic matters infiltrate deeper into our competency and willingness for engagement in our whole lives? I leave you with some of these questions, as I am still asking them myself and will touch on them in future post.