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  1. This is a letter that I emailed to Kit yesterday, three weeks after his Into the Stretch workshop in Hong Kong that was my first direct experience with Stretch Therapy. This is my second time writing about it; the first article was written immediately following the workshop, and can be found here - or via the Stretch Therapy Facebook page. I address this to Kit, but also would like to share this with the Stretch Therapy community. Something like an "open letter". Dear Kit: The changes in my life continue beyond barefoot walking. This Tuesday morning I was on the way to teach my first morning class, sitting in a taxi in a traffic jam and not knowing how big the traffic jam was. I raised my hand to rub the back of my neck - as I usually do because my neck is usually tense and likes being rubbed - and my hand felt SOFT skin and NO tension at the back of my neck. Perhaps, for the first time in many, many years. As a Pilates teacher, I cannot remember a lesson when I did not have to teach my client the right alignment of the head, neck and shoulders, and not tensing, or over-using the Upper Trap and neck muscles (the usual tension area). I always watch my own head and shoulders position and usually find them flawless - yet my neck often feels tense, and tired at the end of the day, and no stretch can release that tiredness. I kept wondering why. I now have the answer; at least, the answer that makes sense to me. At the Hong Kong workshop you said once “most tension we hold in our body is protective tension”. I wrote it down. Then another time, when I asked you one of my favourite questions “Aren’t you afraid that…”, you simply answered: “I am not afraid.” And you talked about staying in present and not being afraid of a future incident that may never happen. And so, when walking barefoot, I started paying attention and staying present. And the fear that I carried on my shoulders about something potentially bad in the future had been lifted. And since there was nothing I feared, there was no longer need for protective tension, and that tension was gone. It happened suddenly, a switch was turned off in my brain and just like that my neck felt soft. “I am not afraid” is my mantra now When I tried to figure out what I was afraid of, it came to two things. Being late for the class (I make my living from teaching classes and these are always time-specific); and not meeting my client’s expectations. Now then, I have almost never been late for the class; and my clients love my teaching and keep coming back. And I was still worrying that, one day, I will be less than perfect! Something to do with the way I grew up trying to be perfect, in everything? (In the workshop, during one of the tea breaks, you asked us, “Who wakes up and can’t wait to go to work?”. No one, except you, said yes. And I started thinking, why can’t I say yes? I love what I do and yet I don’t look forward to my first class so much as you do. And I think the answer is, I am (or rather was) worried - worried not meeting the client’s, or my own, expectations. That worry brought tension that was in the way of really enjoying what I do.) I can now tell myself, this is very unlikely to happen; and if this day comes, I will deal with there and then. Right now, “I am not afraid”. The feeling of relief was so overpowering that I could not help sharing it with everyone; especially my clients. To those with tension, I now keep talking about fear, protective tension and staying present. I try to illustrate this via the way I teach exercises. I remind them of the days when they were children (or make them think of their own children) and ask them not to think about the outcome, about potential failure, but just go and do the thing, and see what happens. I ask them not to try to be perfect but be playful. It is such a joy to see them overcoming their mind-driven restrictions and doing things that they did not believe were possible. And I bet they enjoy playing kids again. Doing things without committing themselves to a perfect outcome, without fearing failure allows my clients to remove their mind’s protective cocoon, and to let their bodies play. And, as you said in the workshop (and as I wrote down), “our bodies are less fragile than we think they are”. And, as long as we stay mindful, fully engaged in what we are doing, there is little chance of an injury. I hope that that tension free practice that they learn with me they can transfer back to their lives outside my studio. Other important insights came about once I started to pay attention. (I cannot tell you how many times I tried to set up a regular meditation practice in the past 10+ years to develop mindfulness. Nothing stayed, and I did not become more mindful than I was ten years ago. Then, starting to walk barefoot for only a few days made me more mindful without my even trying. I now feel that I need a regular intake of it, the way my body needs good, nutritious food on a regular basis.) Becoming more mindful, more observant made me see more clearly how we modern society people are bullied into feeling fear and worry – by media, by advertising industry, by medical profession. Adverts for the latest flu medicine, new health insurance package or back pain relief - all of them want us to feel afraid of potential future pain and to want to buy protection from this future pain that may never come. Hong Kong people are particularly susceptible to worrying about the future. OK, go ahead and buy the insurance - but then stop worrying about the future disaster! But they cannot, cannot stop worrying. Their all time favourite words towards their children, parents, friends are: ‘Be careful’. No wonder my poor clients walk around with permanent tension – they are being terrified about potential future dangers that media disseminates around them. And I can help them, via stretching, ball rolling or – better – via showing that there is nothing that they should fear now. You must be getting such emails all the time. At least I hope so! If you read mine to this point, I want to thank you for reading it till the end :-). Feel free to publish it as a whole, or any parts of it, anywhere, for discussion or use as a testimonial to your method and yourself as a teacher. After the Into the Stretch workshop, after meeting you, I am also rethinking of the Pilates I teach, but that would be a different story. One day… Olga Novikova Pilates/Yoga teacher based in Hong Kong http://www.facebook.com/olgavnovikova
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