Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced

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I love the non-skid Toezies I was given for Christmas.

ON TUESDAY and Thursday mornings I attend a Pilates class at my neighborhood community center. I’ve been doing this for over a year now, and I love it and our wonderful instructor. I like doing the exercises and I like what the exercises do for me.

As in yoga, with every Pilates exercise there is a beginner or basic motion or position, an intermediate position, and an advanced position. And, of course, for an exercise to be effective and to avoid injury, it’s expected that we master its basic form before engaging in a more difficult one.

Last summer I began to wonder if I could apply this multi-level approach to everything I do. In my day-to-day life, what are the essential motions I need to do to maintain my quality of life? What is intermediate, and what is advanced? What basics can I still execute if I am tired or sore? What intermediate actions can I take to stretch and strengthen myself? What advanced moves can I do to push beyond my current limits? And, as I get stronger and more flexible, how do these change over time?

In determining the best patterns for my daily and weekly schedule, I decided on some non-negotiable basics – essential activities that are relatively fixed, and that I commit to doing regularly. Once those are in place, I put the intermediate actions on my calendar, then insert a few advanced moves. The basics are those regular practices necessary to maintaining a healthy environment, body, mind, heart and soul, and relationships. Intermediate actions are more goal oriented – having achieved maintenance at Point A, these are the motions that get me to a desired Point B. Advanced moves are the ones I’m not sure I can do but try anyway – they are more of a leap than a stretch to a desired (but perhaps difficult to imagine) Point C.

As I said yesterday, I am continually surprised by how much maintenance a good life requires.  Once I have the basics in place, there is less room than one might anticipate for a lot of intermediate, let alone advanced, moves. Using this metaphor to plan my time has forced me to learn to choose carefully. What are my most important basics? What do I really want to work on developing? As a whole, do the motions I’ve chosen work well together; have I planned an effective “workout”? Or are the levels imbalanced in such a way that will leave me exhausted or even injured?

What I call the basics are what Jennifer Louden (I highly recommend her e-newsletter) calls “minimum requirements:”

Between surviving and leading a fully humming creative life lies the middle ground of determining your minimum requirements for centering self-care, a duded-up way of saying what you absolutely must have to stay in touch with your center. Basic needs, or minimum requirements, are different for each woman, although getting enough sleep, moving their bodies, eating fresh food, being touched, and connecting to something larger than themselves show up pretty consistently on women’s lists–but again, not on everybody’s. It can be easy to discount the importance of these basics, because getting enough alone time or napping when you are tired just doesn’t sound as sexy as realizing some fabulous dream. Yet without these basics, the dreams don’t always come true, or you can’t sustain them when they do, or, most tragically, it turns out that you are not following your dreams, but rather a script about what you should do. When you reach a certain stage of commitment to yourself, you find that you are willing to give the amount of attention and energy needed to your basics, because without them, it isn’t your life. You discover that you have less leeway to stray from what is essential than you thought.”

She’s right – the basics aren’t very sexy and, if poorly chosen, can become tedious and draining routines rather than the sustaining rituals they are. But in the repetition of certain patterns a transcendent beauty and sense of well-being can be often be found in the most common of activities.

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