Friday, May 21, 2010

The Bodycation: Have an In-Body Experience

“Your body is a wonderland,” croons pop star John Mayer. Well, I hope so. Our bodies are the cheapest playgrounds I know of; where else can you have a totally in-depth experience without moving your car? Vacations are about taking in something new, letting go of working hard and refreshing our neural-wiring. They are also about being able to return to your life rejuvenated with a new perspective.

Everyone already knows about yoga, pilates and the numerous dance classes available in Houston. But there are more off of the beaten track ways to take an in-body vacation. Here are some of my favorites.

Yamuna Body Rolling, developed by Yamuna (she goes by one name, like Cher), uses different size balls that you rest and roll on, lengthening those pesky muscle and stubborn fascial tissues. Yamuna means “river,” so there's lots of flow. Joyce Yost Ulrich, a level three Yamuna teacher, a pilates expert and a former Houston Ballet dancer, leads us through a series of stretches for our hips, flexors, hamstrings and tight calve muscles. “Yamuna is great at getting at the front of the spine, which is often neglected,” says Ulrich. “And the work perfectly complements pilates and yoga. Plus, balls are fun and playing is part of the method.” So, not only do you get a little vacation, but you come back with more space. I left feeling dreamy, loose and very three-dimensional. Ulrich teaches at Hope Center and in her Treehouse studio.

The Feldenkrais Movement is all about going to new places in your body and mind. But the way you do that is by lying quietly on your back, on a soft mat performing tiny and delicate movements in a dark room. You gently re-pattern your body into more efficient functioning. That sounds good, but it feels even better. When you re-calibrate your effort, you feel as if someone took an elephant off your back. People mostly float away after class, or at least I do. “There's an old saying that 'a change is as good as a rest,'” says MaryBeth Smith, founder of the Feldenkrais Center of Houston. “People don't realize that the overall pattern of their lives is 'go go go,' and so even activities we usually view as pleasurable can start to feel stale and stressful. We seem to thrive when we have novelty and variation in our patterns.” Movements are unusual enough to be engaging, but comfortable enough that you feel safe and not stressed. Smith teaches at the C. G. Jung Center, Pilates Houston, the Caroline Collective and MD Anderson.

The Alexander Technique, founded by actor F.M. Alexander in the 1890s, concerns the relationship between the head and the rest of the spine. “Move the head up and forward, and the spine will follow,” is the now-famous motto of the technique, practiced widely by actors, musicians and dancers. Alexander was an actor who lost his voice. When he began to pay attention to what he was doing in his own body that was preventing his full use of his self, he learned how to inhibit unnecessary habits. “We are born with this upward instinct. We just need to stop interfering with it,” says Chris Lidvall, one of Houston's leading Alexander teachers. “Gravity is not the enemy; in Alexander, we move up into gravity.” Lidvall works one-on-one and in group settings helping individuals do whatever they do better, whether that is playing the piano or just getting up from a chair. In a private session, you may in fact just stand and sit while Lidvall gently places her hands on your neck, ribs and hips. You keep your clothes on and your eyes open during an Alexander lesson. Some table work is involved, so comfortable pants work best. Lidvall may completely take over the movement of an arm or leg. That's the vacation part. You get to feel, sense, and take a break from doing. “We are always doing,” she says. “In Alexander, we learn to stop, pay attention and find an easier way.” Plan to feel lighter and more at ease.

Gyrokinesis (the movement component of Gyrotonic) was founded by former ballet dancer Juliu Horvath while on the Island of St. Thomas in the 1970s, so you know it's gonna give you at thrill. Horvath calls his method “yoga for the dancer,” but you don't have to be a dancer to give it a try. Joseph Modlin, a pilates, Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis teacher, welcomes all levels of fitness to his Hope Center classes. Using a stool, Modlin leads us through a series of spiral-like moves that flow in and around the spine, which arches and curls continually. Then we hit the mat for more circular fun. The curves add flow, so you don't even notice that it's a bit strenuous. The easy to follow movements keep the class moving, while Modlin gives subtle direction and occasional flashes of his famous wit. The stool makes it accessible for everyone too. “Life, blood and our breath flows in circles, which is why the class is so calming and soothing,” says Modlin, who is also member of Hope Stone Dance Company. “I relate it to waking up in the morning; the class is like a fresh start.” Of all the in-body experiences, this is the most active. Expect to feel energized and very connected afterwards.

Continuum Movement takes the flow concept a step further and deeper, so consider a Continuum class your most exotic body-based excursion. Developed by somatic pioneer Emilie Conrad, Continuum is about restoring the vitality of our fluid systems. “Without water, there is no life,” says Patty Adamik, Houston's sole Continuum teacher. “On a cellular level, all processes within our body occur in a fluid medium. We are basically aquatic beings that carry our ocean within ourselves.” Through a series of breaths and easy to learn movements, elasticity is restored and vitality returns. There's also a strong emphasis on going to new places. You may find yourself hanging off a chair to re-acquaint yourself in gravity. No previous training is required, and Adamik welcomes people of all fitness levels. A Continuum exploration is called a dive that you can go deep into, to discover the depths of your watery birth. “Think of it as a fantastic voyage,” says Adamik, who is trained in several body/mind practices. “It's like shrinking yourself down to notice any tiny shifts and impulses that you are able to pay attention to.” For advanced students, week-long retreats feature silence and sometimes total darkness for a total restoration experience. Adamik introduces students to the premises behind the work at the C. G. Jung Center and Nia Moves Houston.

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reprinted from Absolutely in the Loop.