Friday, 9 May 2014

On 21:34 by Victoria Stanham   2 comments
However, I forgot to mention a very important fact: when we set out to learn something new and totally foreign to us, we need to have an open attitude, an attitude of listening with our full being (body and mind), without fighting beforehand with the stuff we hear. Perhaps we’ll understand little at first; perhaps some of the things we learn will be so different from the way we’ve conceived them up until then that at first we might instinctively and reflexively reject them. But it’s worthwhile taking the time to listen, to accept that we don’t see the full picture and that some things will become clearer with time, and to acknowledge the fact that I can open up to the new experience little by little, by degrees, and only up to the point that I feel I can manage and integrate the new stimulus.
Let me give you an example from my past week that illustrates this point rather well.
Last Tuesday I went to a CrossFit lesson. I confess I was petrified. It’s been years since I practiced any sort of physical exercise that did not include the word “consciousness” in its description. But the point is I’ve been told I need to build up some muscle mass to achieve more stability, stamina and character strength. If we accept the concept of the psychophysical unity, the latter makes a lot of sense: I have a rather “ethereal” constitution, with a pronounced tendency to “take flight” towards higher planes of abstraction. Therefore, getting a more solid rooting to the Earth through body mass is something that I can understand as necessary, in my particular case. I already do Pilates training 4 times a week and have a fairly good and even muscle tone; but the philosophy and attitude behind the Pilates a practice is all about precision, care, fluidity and consciousness… and what I was recommended was little bit more of blood, toil, tears and sweat.

So there I was at the Box, at 9am, trembling and semi-convinced that I wasn’t going to last more than 20 minutes into the whole routine. But I was open to listening what they had to teach me; I was of course going to put my own safety and health first and foremost, but I was anyway open to experimenting the system without judging it negatively beforehand. The training has a definite “military” flavor to it, and it is taught and coached from that mindset. So to really dive into the experience, and sustain the demands it made on body and mind, I had to get into the spirit of the thing, into the right mindset, and go to that place within me that has something of the warrior to it and who could connect to what was (literally) written on the wall: “You don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when you’re done.”
What does all this have to do with learning propioception and ‘psychophysical language’ that we were talking about last week?
A lot. Let me ennumerate the most important things.
To really learn a new language it is necessary to:
1) Become involved with and internalize the culture of which it is a fundamental part: Only thus will we ever grasp the subtleties of the language, and thus be able to go into the particular state of body and mind that it produces. The language that your body and mind speak to each other is part of a culture too: it is based on homeostasis, on the dynamic equilibrium between opposing forces, between stimuli and responses. To really ‘get’ this language and be able to speak it fluently, we need to understand it from within its own culture.
2) Know how to listen, see, feel the “natives”; that is, know how to perceive them in their totality: Only then will we be able understand the psychophysical attitude (the attitudes of body and mind) that is required to live the experience “like a native”. The language your body and mind speak has its rhythms, vocabulary, timings, cadences and intonations: it is based on this game of balance and counterbalance. In order to hear this language we need to open ourselves up to perceive this game of constant adjustments.
3) Open ourselves up to the experience, without believing that simply because we know other languages, or because we’re experts in grammar and linguistics, we automatically know everything about every other language: Every language has its wisdom which can only be acquired if we allow ourselves to fully live the experience it offers, without pre-judgments about how things “should” be. Needless to say that knowing about grammar and linguistics helps us learn a language faster, by understanding its underlying structure, but it does not make us fluent at it.
Returning to my CrossFit example, thanks to my study of the Alexander Technique, my training in Pilates, and my fascination with anatomy and physiology, mental processes and body-mind interactions (neuroscience and philosophy) I do have a good working knowledge of the linguistics of psychophysical language. However, this does not make me an expert in other body disciplines; I do have a working advantage when it comes to learning them, but I still need to be willing and open to learn.
This is the attitude with which you should approach the exploration of the language your body and mind speak: willing to allow yourself to be surprised by what you discover, trying not to assume you know what you haven’t experienced yet in all its facets, and giving yourself time to discover things, try them out and embody them.
See you next week.



  1. Victoria! You are one brave woman! Love this! You describe what I feel about going through my Alexander Technique teacher training! Cheers, Rena

    1. Thanks Rena! I'm not particularily brave (I had nightmares about my session the night before!) but once I was there and allowed myself to get into the flow and mindset, I had a lot of fun. And as you mentioned in your blog... everything works better with a smile (in the case of CrossFit, it's an inner smile... because my face was definitely set in a "gonna-do-this" grimace ;) )