I often explore the idea of ‘tension’ in classes.
I have seen too many injuries, struggles, and discouragements that could have been avoided. As human beings, we often think that we thrive by trying too hard and pushing our limits- we end up not getting anywhere and failing our practice.
The dictionary definition of ‘tension’ is the state of being stretched tight or under mental and emotional strain.
But we must be aware that this definition can be wrongly interpreted and portrayed physically, emotionally, and mentally during our movement, breathing and meditation practices.
It means that for an efficient, safe, intelligent and pleasant practice (as it should be), our different bodily and mental tension needs to be understood and felt to be tamed or increased to receive the best results.
I have two different definitions for ‘tension’: one is positive, and the other is negative.
One serves us well, and the other is unnecessary and harmful.
We need positive tension to move, express ourselves, survive, thrive, and grow. It is a primal tension in our tissues and at the cellular level, and we are born with it. All our systems and functions need positive stress to work well and to be healthy.
It is a tension that doesn’t express itself through force or strain but comes to us spontaneously, unprovoked and naturally – it is within us and part of us.
Provoked negative tension is unnecessary and, if constantly applied, can create resistance and damage us. It usually comes from wrong understandings and eagerness to achieve quick and forcefully without self-control- physically, it provokes injuries; with the breath, it dysregulates the respiratory and nervous system, and negative mental tension causes stress, annoyance, disbelief and rejection of the practice.
When we practice, we must be attentive to recognise the difference between those two tensions so that we make the right choice – here are some tips that I offer to my students:
- How do you feel on the day of your practice? The answer will make you decide the intensity of your work on that day.
- Listen and respect the body, the breath and your state of mind – The body is intelligent and will send signals when something is wrong. Learn to slow down when you need to.
- Don’t strain and push – do less and see how you feel – move forward only if you are allowed by your body.
- Stay in your comfort zone – growth and improvements are not in a stressed and tensed body, breath and mind but in a place of self-control, acceptance, and self-compassion.
- Be patient and take the time to focus, and have a felt sense of your body, breathing and mind state when you practice.
- Don’t compete with yourself.
So the point here is, are we using a positive muscular or mental activity necessary for us to practice pleasantly and at peace, versus are we using excessive tension that makes us mentally and physically tense and stops us from practising appropriately?
It is about finding the right balance, and when we find it, this is when we are at our healthiest and happiest.