Improving strength and/or flexibility can be challenging. One of the reasons I focus on teaching my students to feel their body (and control it) is that it makes it easier to work towards strength and flexibility with less effort. But in addition, it also makes the journey more enjoyable.
For a while I was deeply into learning Tai Ji. I thought that once I’d learned 24 style then I’d practice it forever because it looked so cool. But I didn’t. I went on to learn 37 style, and 108 style and 99 style and various other styles. The fun at the time was learning and imagining that I would continue to practice them. But once I’d learned those styles, what kept me going was a focus on feeling the body while doing tai ji. And the same applies while doing yoga. With the ability to feel the body (and working on improving the ability to feel it and control it) I can continue to learn because I can search for easier ways to do a movement or I can search for the position or technique that feels the best.
After I’d received my drivers license one of the tricks my dad taught me was how to drive smoothly over long distances. Rather than suddenly using brakes or accelerator he would use his toes to gently adjust accelerator pressure to keep speed constant or to make speed changes smooth. And he’d look at the road ahead. If a hill was coming up he’d adjust foot pressure so that speed remained constant even as the car started to go up the hill (or down one.)
I use similiar principles when feeling and controlling the body. Moving slowly and sensing as much as I can I work on smooth transitions within poses but I also focus on doing those transitions with minimal effort or with a focus on effort in key places to make it seem less effortful.
Perhaps a bigger reason for focusing on feeling is that it feels good. One of the reasons that I still do tai ji now is that I can focus on feeling my body within the move. I’m not just doing the movement I’m feeling my way within the movement, much like when driving a car or riding a motorcycle we watch the road and all that is on it so that we can thread through traffic while staying on the same road. In this case the tai ji movement is like the road, and feeling the body allows me to make the slight adjustments that make the movement smooth but more importantly make it feel really good.
Whether doing yoga, tai ji, driving a car or bike, when we focus on using our senses we are able to respond to whatever is happening now. Driving or riding we sense the outer environment, what is going on outside of our body. Doing yoga or tai ji we sense the inner environment, what is going on inside of our body (at the level of bones, muscles and connective tissue). In both cases we respond based on the idea of what we are trying to do, the strange attractor that is known to ourselves. In both cases we become present, not thinking but sensing and responding to whatever is happening now.
And one of the best things about getting into this state, presence or flow, is that it feels great.
I still do tai ji, or my variation of it, and the reason I still do it is because I focus on feeling my body while doing it and as a result it feels good. The form looks cool and all but the focus on feeling my body while doing the form is what makes it feel really good.
I said that what used to get me excited was learning a new tai ji form. With the ability to feel and control my body, I can continue to learn even after I’ve learned the form. I make changes to the way that I do the movement based on feel. I can experiment with small adjustments so that I can feel which way feels best.