Carrie usually flows into 4:30 yoga just as it starts. I overheard in the locker room that she is a teacher, so she just has time to make it across town from the middle school. With her loosely braided, long blonde hair, her complicated earrings, and her Heely high tops, I was sure she taught art or English, but no, she’s just the coolest math teacher you ever did see.
I’d seen her many times, but for the first time on a recent afternoon she slipped into class and unrolled her mat next to mine.
For better or worse, I find myself affected by the yogis and yoginis who are practicing around me. It happens during Nia class, too, that I am touched by the energy of the dancers around me. Depending upon what’s happening in the neighboring spaces, I can get distracted or inspired. If someone’s fidgety or anxious, focused or rock solid, it ripples onto my mat. I focus on my own movement, I do, but somehow I can feel the practice that’s happening near me.
When Carrie set up next to me, a graceful softness unfolded as she unfolded her towel. It felt like a flower had just bloomed next to my mat. She moved from posture to posture like a time-lapse nature film of a water lily. Opencloseinout. Her movements glided together with no sharp edges, only petals folding over each other and then unfurling again. Lovely to behold, it was.
Breathing in her gracefulness, I shifted my attention more clearly back to my own postures. And I was aware of a certain, how shall I say?, contrast. I noticed that I stopped and started quickly and sharply. Palms snapped together. Twist, shift, open, close. My first reaction was one of negative comparison which in my head was a whining 7-year-old, “Noooo, I want to be a flowwwer like Carrrrie!!” But as I watched my own crisp movements and sensed Carrie’s fluidity, I could see the gifts in both.
I was the dragonfly to her water lily.
In Nia, we train, condition, and heal the body with 5 Sensations of Fitness — Stability, Flexibility, Strength, Agility, and Mobility. Each sensation contributes in different ways to the health and well-being of the body. We all tend to gravitate toward some more than others.
For some people, one sensation comes to the fore. You might call it a “Signature Sensation.”
Carrie’s Signature Sensation appears to be mobility: the constant flow of movement around the joints. My Signature Sensation (in yoga, anyway) is agility: quick, crisp starts and stops. Both are essential for increasing fitness in the body. Mobility creates ease and relaxation in the muscles and nervous system, lubricates the joints, and activates supporting, intrinsic muscles. Agility strengthens connective tissue and large, extrinsic muscles, and sharpens the nervous system with its precision.
My yoga habit is to hang out in my agile dragonfly style, but practicing next to Carrie, I started playing with letting a little flow into my flitting. I stepped my feet more softly in and out of postures. As we moved to the floor, I let my hands gently float down to my sides instead of plop and firmly flip. I experimented with relaxing my eyes and breathing more deeply. I let the postures emerge and evolve more; sharply start and stop less.
Offering the body both mobility and agility creates balance and flow. Both sensations increase our fitness and well-being. And, of course, we can benefit from our awareness of mobility and agility not just in the body.
Notice if you tend toward dragonfly (agility) or water lily (mobility) in your physical movement. How do you move on your mat, in the studio, at your desk*, across the parking lot, or around the kitchen. Then notice your thoughts: do you flit from one thing to another crisply or flow seamlessly? Emotions, too: to you tend to swing sharp or drift fluidly?
Once you recognize your tendency, experiment with its opposite (if neither really feels like you, stay tuned, next week we’ll play with Strength and Flexibility **). Play with introducing more lily-ness if you are a dragonfly and vice versa. Breaking habits of all kinds create new pathways in the brain and new possibilities in everything we do.
Since she usually comes in after me, I just have to hope that Carrie will blossom on her mat near me again soon. In the meantime, I still like to scoot and shoot around on my mat, but I am enjoying letting my hands and shoulders flow more lily-like and softening my sparkly dragonfly eyes.
* In the midst of writing this post, my hand shot out across my desk, knocked my cup and spilled my tea on my keyboard. I zoomed around, cleaned up the mess, found a screwdriver and dried the inside of my keyboard. Dragonfly. Very dragonfly. And evidently, dragonflies swear like sailors.
** A Note About Stability: Stability is the first and last of the 5 Sensations of Fitness. Stability, defined as energy radiating out from center equally in all directions, is necessary for any of the other four to happen. As you notice mobility and agility this week, also notice how stability plays a role.