FOR my first year at USC, I struggled with a lot of the movement that was casually yet seriously demanded of us from the very first days. I had no idea what a physically challenging program I had been accepted into! Tiger leaps, full backbends from standing, forward and backward rolls, headstands, peking opera jumps and a general level of flexibility, strength and stamina was expected and encouraged from the first week and throughout the first year.
At times, I was stunned by what was asked of us -- and after repeatedly failing, I felt exhilirated when I finally was able to do something I thought impossible. Succeeding required me to talk to myself differently. I was on new terrain. Though I thoroughly enjoy dance, yoga, and subtler movement practices like Feldenkrais work and frequently try out new things at the gym and like to move freely as much as possible, I hardly have a gymnastics background and wouldn't have dreamed of the things I am doing or practicing regularly now.
It seems that a huge focus of the last year has been on my legs. I've never really depended much on the larger muscles in my body -- instead using a flexible torso and back and my arms to do most of my movement. So, a big focus for me my first year has been getting into my lower body and moving my center of gravity lower down -- finding my "animal" body. I actually had a teacher tell me I was dead from the waist down. I felt horror in that moment! It was the oddest feeling because obviously I had two perfectly working legs.
Over December break I remember looking at chakras -- especially the root -- and realizing how interlocked the parts of the body are with certain ways of being. It seems I had an overactive heart chakra (open, empathetic) and under active in other areas...After that, I spent a significant portion of movement / physical acting rehearsals pretending I was a jaguar. On all fours, of course. I even visited the zoo. Really. And all the cliches about graduate school (pretend you're a tree, etc.) aside, it was a deeply thrilling and liberating experience, giving my full body back to myself through different techniques and feeling like a more complete human being.
Feeling even more alive and understanding the primary home that we all have to live in -- our body -- is an amazing achievement and something that requires consistent attention. At my best, I feel connected from head to toe. We have many brilliant teachers at USC and our movement teacher is pretty much stamped with the mark of genius. I was surprised at the amount of progress I made under his expertise and so pleased when he observed that there had been times when I had spontaneously revealed myself through my movement, in the moment, from head to toe.
To make ourselves wholly known -- this was something we were encouraged to explore through our bodies and space. The other day my boyfriend casually remarked to me as he contemplated his toes, while lying back in a huge armchair, that his "feet were just as much himself as his head." It struck me, this little observation from a "civilian," because such a big part of my growth thus far has been coming to this same conclusion in a more immediate, visceral way than thinking it -- my body knows it -- my body has a mind that is located elsewhere than my head.
As I move forward with my physical work, I'm concentrating on strengthening my muscles so that they can work closer to their full potential and give me more strength to anchor myself. I have had some pain in my ankles and feet this summer and the cause is likely overuse of my joints -- hypermobility of my ankles and knees which is causing instability. The effects travel from my hips all the way down to the soles of my feet. Turns out I'm able to do yoga poses without using much muscle which must mean there is too much pressure on my joints, which won't be great in the long run.
So, one of my goals this semester is going to be to continue to strengthen my foundation -- I find that when I'm in my lower body I'm grounded, connected to what is beneath me, calmer and clearer. When we talk about digging deep, we mean to use all of the resources available to us, even the ones that are not on the surface or easily available. It takes courage to dig deep and by digging deep, even when it's physically or emotionally uncomfortable, we find strength. So, here I go with the quad workouts!
-- Pia Shah