But the getting there... the cold sucks out my breath and seeps into my joints. Everything is stiffer than I'd prefer and warming up... well, it takes a bit longer to feel in my body. (Like my joints are well oiled and my muscles are limber and strong, my spine and the muscles surrounding it are ready to twist, undulate, rock, and roll. My body is ready to contract and release, fly and dive without fear of injury and with trusted abandon.)
And you know what really helps? Breathing.
Although I feel like it takes more effort to breath when it's cold outside, directing my breath to certain parts of my body (my low back, for example), allows the space that I need and the time that I need to open up. The movement is gentle (which is what I need as I'm getting older and it's getting colder), but it's preparing me for the most aggressive movements that will follow at the end of class and during rehearsal.
Rewind a few years. I knew breathing was important, but I always would breathe high in my chest. I learned to hold in my lower abs and core, which didn't allow for effective, full-body breathing. I craved gross-motor movement followed by fine-motor movement (give me lots of push-ups, crunches, swings, and tendues!). On a particularly chilly day, in a particular class, I turned to my dear friend Erin (now a beautiful performer/ choreographer/ yoga guru in NYC) and said, frustrated, "Man! I can't get warm! I can't jump now. Aren't you freezing?" Erin, the wise soul that she is said, "No, I'm good. The warm up didn't get me warm, but I really focused on my breath and that did." Erin was ready to fly.
Recently, a new friend who teaches yoga to cancer patients was telling me about the benefits of breath. Each inhale takes in new air, and each exhale removes toxins from the body. This is particularly important for people undergoing severe forms of treatment. But it also makes so much sense!
Tai Chi, Yoga, Kung-Fu, Pilates, and yes, running and gym-related exercises all focus on the breath... not just to warm the body but to aid the body. Release tension and make movement more efficient and effective.
And so does Kun-Yang's process.
Stress, tension, specific training all constrict the breath and without a full body breath, my full body cannot dance. I'm learning that I hold tension in my intercoastal muscles (the muscles of the rib cage) and that allowing those muscles to release and allowing my breath to deepen, I in effect, have more control over my body. Because I have more space. I am longer, wider, more expansive because the breath fills me. Warms me. Creates an ebb and flow from which I am ready to contract and release, fly and dive without fear of injury and with trusted abandon.
Gross-motor movement followed by fine-motor movement has been demonstrated as effective warm-up techniques, so please don't eliminate them or think that I'm discounting them. I still love (airplane) push ups, crunches, swings, and tendues. I'm just sharing new, different, more effective ways to engage the body while being supported. And warm.
And if you're interested in seeing Kun-Yang's work, check out our March home season: http://kunyanglin.org/one.htm