Putting Thought into Action

If all the people who told me how wonderful and important stretching was, regularly attended classes, the Amsterdam Arena would not be big enough to hold them all! So let us look into the gap between thought and action.

Over the years I have observed that human consciousness appears to increase and decrease in the same way as a wave on the ocean. This can be seen in the way the world (the collective consciousness) reacts in times of war and disaster. Dramas, insecurities, pain, sadness, 'accidents' and heartbreaks cause us to reflect on ourselves, our life and our relationships with others. When somebody dies ('leaves their body') we think not only about their life, but also the meaning and quality of life in general. Dramas shake us out of our comfort, our need to be fulfilled, gratified and entertained.

The numbers attending stretch classes increase each year in spring, September and January. A wave of people with the resolution to do something, change something or find something. Just as each wave on the sea returns most of the pebbles it washes up, back into the sea again, in a similar way, the majority of people drift in and out of the classes. These fluctuations reflect our link with nature (the surge of activity in spring, related to the liver energy) and our need to prolong the feeling of relaxation and balance after a holiday (related to the stomach and spleen/pancreas energies).

The way we live our lives can be stressful and demanding, or it can be balanced and inspiring. When we go away on 'holy-daysí we experience a new environment; being able to choose what to do, and how and when to do it; the feeling of having free time. Feeling unable to make choices can lead to mental and physical tension, to a feeling of being trapped. Our concept of time is related to how much what we do pleases or interests us. We are all conscious of time when we have to do something we do not like. Many people feel that a two-hour stretch class is too long, indicating that they have a preconceived idea of what a stretch class should be like; it can also indicate the degree of mental/physical resistance to what they are going to do.

The conflict between the one who wants to change something and the one who would rather let 'sleeping dogs lie' is familiar to all of us in one way or another. The mind, being made up of past recollections and pre-conditioned patterns of response, does not like to be disturbed, and seeks comfort and gratification.

A few examples of the way the mind shapes thought and action are:

  • A person who pays for trail lesson, saying that they would like to see how they feel during the week, before coming back again, can be compared to a person saying that they will take a shower, brush their teeth or eat a healthy meal once, then wait a week to see how they feel! Energy needs to move around the body. When it stagnates, "dis-ease" develops and the way we feel about ourselves changes.
  • Another person says that they would return to the class if and when they felt like it. Who is the person who feels and thinks? What are the factors that influence thought and feeling and where do they come from? Regular attendance in the classes will help to answer these questions!
  • The "garage mentality". Something malfunctions in the body, so the body is hauled off to be "repaired". Parts are taken out, things get changed around and the person is then able to continue their "unbalanced" life, until the next problem arises. Yet unlike a car, the body cannot be replaced (yet!). We have all been brought up to this way of thinking.
  • A person who stopped attending the classes years ago states that he has been "healed" and will return again only if something begins to malfunction. The whole medical system in the West functions on this principle.

Of course one aspect of stretching concerns the healing of things that malfunction in the body. Surely even more important is understanding why something goes wrong in the first place and learning how to prevent it going wrong in the future. Regular stretching enables us to study how we give 'dis-ease' a place in the body and the mind. This leads on to the study of who we really are and the awareness of who we think we are. This can change not only the way we act and think, but also the nature of our relationship with others.

Around 4,000 years ago, a famous yogi, Patanjali, listed the obstacles that stand in the way of regular and consistent yoga practice. These were:

  • Vyadhi - sickness disturbing the physical equilibrium
  • Styana - languor or lack of mental disposition for work
  • Samsaya - doubt or indecision
  • Pramada - indifference or insensibility
  • Alasya - laziness
  • Avirati - sensuality, the rousing of desire when sensual objects possess the mind
  • Bhrani Darsana - false, invalid knowledge, or delusion
  • Alabdha Bhumikarva - failure to attain continuity of thought or concentration so that reality cannot be seen
  • Anavasthirattva - instability in holding on to the concentration that has been obtained after long practice of yoga.
  • Duhkha - pain or misery
  • Daurmansya - despair
  • Angamejayatva - unsteadiness of the body
  • Svasa prasvasa - unsteady respiration

I would like to add one more - lack of faith in yourself. Without faith, continuity or further development in what you attempt will be greatly impeded. Regular stretching strengthens both faith in yourself and willpower. All human beings deserve the best. Yet our thoughts and actions often prevent us from achieving the best. If the times of the classes do not fit into your schedule, make space for yourself, for example by asking your employer if you can leave earlier to attend the class. Recently a few students were subsidised to attend the classes by their employer. It is in the interests of your employer that you remain healthy. A monthly stretch card costs much less than a number of years in the WAO !!

When I began stretching in 1983, I was very stiff and often had a lot of muscle pain after the class. My teacher (Jonathan Shaw) told me thousands of times that if I softly repeated the stretch movement that gave me the muscle pain, it would go away. These wise words went in one ear and out of the other for many years, until one day I did what he told me to do and the muscle pain was gone within 15 minutes! It was lack of faith in myself that had prevented me doing this many years earlier.

Mankind has achieved and is continuing to achieve fantastic, awe-inspiring developments in science, electronics and cybernetics, the likes of which would have astounded our ancestors. Yet looking around the world, the wars, killing in the name of God, country or ideal and the disgusting gap between rich and poor, one may ask if mankind has undergone any psychological change at all. The 'head' is being developed at the cost of the 'heart'.

The need for a different way of thinking and acting is urgent if we want to secure a healthy future, not only for ourselves, but also for the planet, which sustains our existence. The changes I see taking place in the people who attend classes regularly, their increasing mental and physical freedom, strength and balance, gives me the hope that our world, both inside the body as well as outside it, is beginning to change.