On moving your body, and relaxing your head

Yesterday afternoon, my friend Jess and I attended an acro-yoga workshop. (What is acro-yoga? You might well ask!) It was, among other things, incredibly liberating: I did not know, until yesterday, that I could handstand-walk backwards over the spine of a stranger; I did not know that I could support another person as she stood on my thighs and then flipped over into a handstand in my lap; I also did not know I could reverse-pike-straddle onto the legs of the talented Blox and dangle, effortlessly, in mid-air upside down. It’s amazing what our bodies can do.

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(Thanks Blox!)

Blox reminded me, as I attempted (and failed the first couple of times) that reverse-pike-straddle, that one of the keys to succeeding in the trick is relaxing your head. (Actually, what he said was: “relax your head. relax your head. RELAX YOUR HEAD!” Apparently, I was panicking.) Frankly, I thought later, this is amazing advice, applicable whether you are upside down in a yoga studio or not. And it’s perfect advice for right now, aka THE END OF TERM. If you’re a student, chances are you are in full-on panic mode: too many papers, too little time. If you’re a prof, you’re thinking “just three more preps! just two more preps!” while trying to ignore the stack of marking. If you’re a staff member at a university, you are probably looking at the coming exam period, replete with applications for clemency, mountains of paperwork, and appeals of term grades, and dying slowly inside.

In other words: now is a perfect time for all of us to relax our heads.

I wrote about this very thing recently on Fit is a Feminist Issue, one of my favourite crossover (scholars+others) blogging communities. (Though that post uses different language – thanks to Blox, “relax your head” has now entered my personal mantra bank, somewhere near the top.) The post is about exercise as a means of coping with extreme stress: how moving our bodies can support the unwinding of the over-wound brain. The link is here, for anyone who would like to read more; the context of the post is the personal trauma with which I’ve been dealing this winter (regular readers will know all about this already; if you’re not a regular and are curious, there are links you can follow in the post), but its application is wide. I think more than a few of us would class the end of the university school year, for example, as a time of extreme stress and potential trauma!

End of term is the time when we often tend to forget how to move our bodies; we are trapped at desks, our shoulders hunching into “scholar” pose, our guts pulled tight into low-level agony. It’s easy to say: too many papers! No time to go for a walk! But that’s the very reason we should go for that walk, or ride, or swim, or – gasp! yes! – massage. Because this time of year is so hard on our heads, it is also hard on our hearts, our lungs, our legs and arms. Cognitive stress is psychophysical: we ache in our bodies when we do not relax our heads, and the results can range from not writing our best term papers, to not doing our best jobs of grading, to sustaining musculoskeletal injuries like carpal tunnel, to getting really, really, really sick as soon as term ends.

So let’s do it, friends, together: let’s relax our heads.

Kim