It is understandable that we might choose a class of meditative movement, such as Qigong or tai chi, for relaxation and soothing sanctuary from busy lives. Being able to switch off for 1-2 hours a week provides an oasis of calm in a stormy world. It seems that, in modern society, giving ourselves permission to ‘do nothing’ is one luxury we don’t have.
Relaxing in a class has great value. Relaxation instigates beneficial changes in both body and mind BUT, for many of us, we need more than 1-2 hours/week to change chronic health conditions or unhelpful habits. Long-term health improvement requires long-term health management. In other words, many of us need improvements in well-being not only during the weekly class but also when we are NOT in class—we need to feel well outside of class.
To achieve long-term improvement, we need to be working on some kind of change or transformation. A certain type of physical transformation can come from any fitness regime of exercise. A different type of transformation is achieved via mindful movement in which mental and emotional states are included as part of the process. But our choice is not one of sweaty effort vs soothing relaxation. Mindful bodywork can be sweaty too and is not always relaxing.
Even the gentle mindful movements of Qigong, tai chi, or yoga sometimes require uncomfortable and challenging work during class. We may be challenged to move our body in a new way, or to think in a different way. We may have to notice how we respond emotionally to some of the movements. Some of us may perceive the teacher’s adjustment of our deepest habits as a personal affront. Change is often resisted. The class itself might not be relaxing or soothing. It might be tiring or cause a flare up of an old symptom. However, the tools and techniques we learn about our body and mind can be applied outside of class at any time, in any place, making the time between classes gradually better. The more we practice, and the longer we commit to our transformation, the better our results will be.
Can we continue to do the same thing but expect different results?
Change is rarely comfortable. Most of us (myself included) would like to become healthier and happier without changing anything about ourselves. Unfortunately, it does not seem to work like that. Since having a mental and physical breakdown in 1992 I have had to work consistently and fearlessly at optimizing body and mind given numerous limitations. During the early years, when looking for helpful classes, I found some offered pleasant sanctuary while others offered rather more difficult transformation. I dipped in and out of both, according to the strength I had at the time, but eventually committed to a transformative process as it delivered the long-term changes I needed.
Transformative bodywork classes may or may not be relaxing. The primary aim is not so much for us to feel good in class but for us to feel as good as we can for the rest of our lives.