Mind and body arts like Yoga, Tai Chi and Systema can sometimes be complicated to teach because often there is so much going on with the movement people forget the bigger picture. It is difficult enough to move and remember to breathe, let alone focus on the correct alignment and posture, but when you talk about feeling it becomes even more difficult.
The feeling is often ignored because it is really hard to explain and is unique to everyone. We all feel things differently and there is no universal way to present this information. We can use words in Tai chi like ‘growing roots and feeling the ground’ or in Yoga about ‘extend the stretch’ or in Systema saying ‘feel the direction and go with it’, but in the end these are just words and do not really portray the information adequately.
In many ways the arts of Yoga, Tai Chi and Systema, although different in focus, are arts of feeling first and the rest comes second. Yes, all the facets are important, especially breathing, however, what is of equal focus is how you move and the feeling you get when you do it. The body contains millions of nerves and they all feed into the brain information about how we are standing, lying, balanced or how much discomfort or comfort we are in at any one time. Often if something is not hurting we do not consciously feel the sensation of being comfortable unless we tune into the sensation intentionally.
So, try and feel more when you train! For example, when doing Tai chi tune your mind into the soles of the feet as the body moves and feel the ground as your weight is transferred from one foot to the next. Focus on the knee joint as the muscles contract and relax and the leg straightens and bends, whilst also being aware of any tension in the joint and stiffness or tenderness.
When doing Yoga and standing in Warrior 2, don’t just push the arms forwards and backwards, focus on the shoulders as the arms lengthen away from the torso, whilst at the same time extend from the fingers and feel how this action increases the stretch in the arms.
Whilst training in Systema and working with a partner, instead of trying to exert your will on the situation, feel what they want and go with it allowing them to be where they want to be in the position that suits them. Feel their tensions and get a sense of their intended direction so that you can guide them to a place of their imbalance.
All these things take time and yes, the focus should always include breathing, posture and mindfulness, but do not forget the feeling. This too is important and is what separates the good from the amazing.