Be a body detective

“Oh, heck! I’ll never get.” “I’m not built right for this.” “I’ve always been too tight.” Versus, “Hm, I wonder why that happened?” “How come it was different that time? How can I do that again.” “How else could I do this to make it easier (or harder!)?”

One of my favorite jobs ever (and I’ve been blessed to enjoy fun and reward in all my jobs, especially Argentine tango), was as a user consultant for The University of Texas Computation Center. We fielded problems from every academic department on campus, helping people solve problems in their programs, often in programming languages we didn’t even know. By careful questioning we would help them explore what they wanted to happen and what was actually happening. Sometimes we’d have to suggest ways to instrument and test program behavior, or how to go about creating a fix. But just as often during this guided questioning they would discover the problem themselves!

It was rewarding detective work, with no messy crime scene (well, some of that spaghetti programming . . . ). It brought a great sense of satisfaction, spending time with a person, learning about their thought processes and intentions, and helping them discover a way through to what they wanted.

That lesson about acting as a detective, exploring, discovering, and applying information, has served me well in my own mind-body work, in business, and in teaching.

You do know that judgments are your way of making excuses for yourself, right? They act as a pass to not do the work, both the mental work of figuring out what is working, what is not working, and what you might change to produce better results, and they act as a pass to not do the physical work of helping your body to learn how to move and use itself.

Here are notes about how real detectives work (and how that can apply to our practice).

  • Some of the work is not exciting, it’s even boring. (Just get going. Getting started each time is the hardest part, from there you can continue with the help of momentum.)
  • Some is hit-and-miss. (Trying different things to see what happens.)
  • Most serious crimes are solved by information from the victim. (The detective can guide, and *you* have the information inside to help yourself.)
  • A lot of detective time is spent reviewing files and making reports. (Do you have a process for documenting the results of your practice? Do you have an objective measure of where you were two months ago versus where you are now in your results?)
  • Despite the image of detectives as having special reasoning skills, much of their results comes from ordinary people doing routine work in a conscientious manner. (In other words, mindful practice.)
  • Some detectives do role-playing as a way to discover possibilities. (I am Gustavo Naveira, I am Noelia Hurtado, I am …, and I am moving to this music!)
  • Detectives develop ‘profiles’ to lead to a result. (What do you know about the characteristics and important points of a specific result you want to achieve. How will you describe those to another person?)
  • Detectives recognize patterns. (What happens routinely that I don’t (or do!) want? What happens just before, just after? What am I feeling, and where in my body? Where am I sending my attention during this time?)
  • Detectives value creativity, coming up with different ideas when old ones aren’t working. (How else could I do or think about this? What would change the outcome?)
  • Good detectives know not to seize upon the first possible solution that arises. (That’s good, now what *else* can I observe?)

We want to ask a better question to get a better answer.

Oftentimes, when we leap to an answer (an excuse?) we short-circuit the possibilities for creating new understanding and awareness, and for seeing new possibilities, and for realizing new capabilities.

Our human minds have evolved and are trained by life to seek and create answers. Our brains automatically respond to questions. We can use that to our advantage! When we pose questions for ourselves our mind begins working to discover the answers for us. When we allow ourselves the time, the breathing, the relaxation, the respect for our body and mind’s need for time to process and assimilate, then we begin to grow beyond our dreams.

Slow and steady wins the race

Aren’t our bodies are the most incredibly wonderful, complex, and interesting systems? Now when we say body we really mean mind-body, because it’s all but impossible to separate the influence of the mind and nervous system on the body, and vice-versa!

Oftentimes we’ll hear a teacher or coach tell us to “Work slower!” Why should we listen to them? How will working slowly help? What if I want the capabilities that I’m working on available at high speeds?

Among the amazing things our mind-body does for us is try to make it easier to accomplish what we “think” is our goal. In Argentine tango, for example, we might think our goal is to balance on one foot, or maybe we’re working to pivot 180 degrees. But our goal in tango is NOT to achieve any particular end position or movement, rather, we seek to use our body is a well structured, smoothly coordinated manner, such that any particular outcome is readily, simply, comfortably, and quietly achieved.

When we work at speed we obscure so much of what is going on. Our mind can’t take in and assess what we are doing, what is working well versus what we might do differently to make it work better. Furthermore, we may be making accommodations that make things easier now, but which will limit us later.

Are we pushing off with the other foot?
Are we using momentum with our free arm or leg?
Are we tilting to use what seem like easier muscles?
Are we turning as a block, limiting our results?

Importantly, we are not *judging* our performance, instead, our mind is like a curious observer, taking in all the dials and gauges, wondering what might happen if we tweak this or that control. Vitally important is what kind of self-talk our mind makes with us. What we *don’t* want is absolutist judgments about our capabilities: “I don’t have good balance,” “I’m not as good as these others,” “I’m a slow learner,” “My body isn’t built for this.” What we DO want is a highly active curiosity about what is going on, what others have called a “Growth Mindset.”

Why am I feeling that muscle?
Should I be feeling this muscle?
What if I activate these muscles?
What if I do this with less, or with more, tension there?
If I do this, will that make it easier or harder?
Who can I observe well and model?
What do I see others doing with less desirable results, that I might also be doing??
How can I get more out of that?
What needs to happen, and where, in my body for this to start?
How did that one feel?
What do I feel in my body when it is working well?

Let’s return for a moment to that concern, “What if I want the ability to actually do this at high speeds?” Right! If you only practice at slow speeds you will actually inhibit your ability to perform at higher speeds. The slow speed work is to groove in your neurophysiology, i.e., the mind-body connections, to perform the movement in a coordinated, well structured way. From that point you can begin adding complicating factors to challenge yourself.

Can I do this on my toes?
Can I do it while my free leg is doing boleos?
Can I do it for one full turn, two full turns?
Can I do it with this preceding or following movement?

Always we will be ready to drop back, taking it more slowly or simply, to regain our solid performance, as we continue pushing for ever more complicated or simple, fast or slow, controlled, dynamic, and beautiful movement.