As one might expect, learning pole is a physical challenge. The further you go, the more you ask of your body. But what some might not expect is the emotional and mental challenge that comes along with it.
When I first began my journey, it was in a class that was a mix of erotic movement and life coaching. It was taught by a friend of a friend (who later became my friend), and I have to be honest – my first reaction to the idea of it was negative and judgmental. Each time my friend brought up the class, I would have this reaction. One day, one of the voices in my head (let’s face it, there’s a chorus up there) piped up and said, “Why are you reacting so strongly to this?” I thought about it, and it hit me: I was SCARED.
So, naturally, my next thought was, “Well, I guess I better do it, then.”
The class incorporated some pole – basic spins – but it focused more on recognizing personal blocks, moving through and releasing emotional trauma, and getting in touch with oneself as a woman – accepting ALL parts, loving ALL parts, celebrating ALL parts.
It was tough. It was scary. But it changed my life.
Some years later, I returned to taking pole classes at a new studio (my coach had long moved away), looking to feel more connected with myself and to get in some kind of decent shape. A recommendation from Natasha Wang brought me to my new pole home, The Pole Garage, where I started classes in late 2009. Over the last year and a half, I have found myself challenged physically in ways I couldn’t imagine, but I do catch that my emotional demons pop up from time to time.
I see it when I can’t get my mind around a trick that, for all intents and purposes, I should be able to do. I see it when I have a night where NOTHING seems to work – everyone is better, or thinner, or progressing faster, or more flexible, or whatever bullshit I conjure up as “truth” that evening. I even see my general aversion to commitment pop up from time to time.
And, what I often struggle with the most is the tendency to be really hard on myself. I am not gentle. I am not often kind to myself. I have to actively sit down and say, “Back up. What did I do well tonight? What can I take pride in?” I have to remind myself to reward myself for doing even the smallest thing. Because that is what progress is built on – the small things. At least, that’s how I see it.
Today, I went in to practice and felt off. Right from the start, something wasn’t working for me. I did an extended stretching warm up, then set about doing some conditioning, and nothing worked quite the way I wanted it to. The pole was slippery, or I couldn’t get the right grip, etc, etc, etc. I was frustrated. I began picking apart little things, like, “Why couldn’t I do this today, when I could do it Sunday? Oh my god, my stomach looks huge! I’m never going to be any good at this. What was I thinking?”
I stopped working on conditioning and set up a playlist to do some freestyle, figuring maybe that would snap me out of it. Um. Not so much. I was down some dark alley in my brain and no amount of Santigold was pulling me out of it.
After eating my feelings (Thank you, Wendy’s, for that delicious Frosty) and getting on with my afternoon, I realized that I was being an absolute shit to myself, and that it was old stuff coming up. I also realized that I had overwhelmed myself without realizing it, and the best thing I could do was start simply with a plan.
In my non-pole life, I’m an actress with a very specific way of working. I love my training – LOVE IT – and it works so well for me that I barely have to think about it anymore. However, when I started, I would take every scene and character and break them down in an almost scientific manner, based on our technique. I did it every time, and over time, it became so smooth that I no longer had to write it out, I could just think about it for a while, maybe make a note here or there. It’s to the point now that I can do so much with often very little because I’ve simply trained my brain to find the shortcuts. To say the least, I adore my technique (and my coach – miss you, Adam – he’s off in Africa right now, and we’re all impatiently waiting for him to return next year). I love acting. I love the feeling of being in a scene, of knowing and inhabiting and BEING a character. I’m proud of what I have the talent to do with it.
What I realized while sitting in traffic today was that it might behoove me to go about breaking down what I need to do each practice and follow that list when I go in, so I feel less adrift and more goal oriented (in a positive way). I’ve had general things to work on, i.e. hold this pose for 30 seconds, but I think that having a list to work from may help me feel more rewarded in the end. I’m a big list maker. I love crossing things off my to-do list for a day. Reminds me that I got stuff done. I think taking that route might help me be less critical of myself during this training period. I also think that, just like acting, breaking it down into the simple elements will help it add up to a whole that could be pretty impressive.
For the moment, while the goal is obviously to work hard, train hard, and get better, I have another goal that is related to my emotional and mental well-being: to be gentle with myself. I gotta stop being a dick to ME. Instead of focusing on all the crap I didn’t do, I have to really make the extra effort to recognize when I’ve done something well and acknowledge it. Even if it means coming home and writing down every good thing I did in a practice (or even in the day), so I can see it in black and white. (For what it’s worth, I found that writing down positive achievements on index cards – no matter how small – and putting them on a cork board is a wonderful way to have a constant reminder of the fact that I don’t actually suck at life.)
As far as practice went, like I said…not my best practice. But, I am working on “dancer hands” and doing better with remembering that type of poise/those type of lines. I hit one shoulder mount, after trying off and on – and I did it with my eyes closed, oddly enough. 🙂 also broke down some of the things I need to clean up with certain moves, so that’s good, too – gives me things to be mindful of for tomorrow!
By the way…obsessed with this song right now. 🙂