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So we are in the midst of the UK in/out of the EU debate and I’m hearing the word “freedom” banded about a lot. In our culture “freedom” has most often come to mean the “freedom to do” ....to go where you like, read what you like, say what you like, wear what you like. I grew up in the 60s/70s era of “free expression” and was lucky enough to live in what is, for the most part, a tolerant society.
I first saw the title quote in a song by by Arthur Lee of the 60’s band Love and later also the Bonzo Dog Band (look them up on Youtube!). I later found it it was originally from Marat / Sade a play by Peter Weiss set in an asylum during the French Revolution. All of these were played out against the backdrop of Civil Rights work in the 60's America. It’s an interesting statement. It’s main implication to me is that freedom is a natural state for us – something we yearn for if it is taken from us.
So, the freedom to do “whatever you want”. However there is another angle to consider - “freedom from”. On a physical level, freedom from tension, injury, disease and restriction. On a psychological level freedom from stress, worry, illness, oppression. Of course the physical and psychological are very closely related, each influences the other.
Yet what do we see in the modern world? In our society people are materially richer than ever before. There is easy access to clean water, food, medical aid and every type of entertainment, toys, gadgets and leisure . Yet people seem to be more stressed and full of tension than ever. The total number of UK working days lost due to stress condition in 2014/15 was 9.9 million. In 2014/15 stress accounted for 35% of all UK work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health. There are many other examples. Could it be that in our movement towards “freedom to”, we have sacrificed “freedom from”?
What is the solution? People often don’t know where to start. So they put off starting, or get a annual gym membership in January then only go twice. The thing is you can start with very small things and don’t need a gym in order to train. You can start very simply by learning some basic breathing techniques – inhale and tense slightly, exhale relax. Even that simple procedure can help release stress and tension.
It’s also good to look at your overall posture – many problems manifest externally and of course if one part of the body is out of whack it affects everything else. The less unwanted tension in the body, the greater our freedom of movement. As children we run, jump, climb, fall over, splash around in puddles, all with a simple uninhibited joy. As we grow we become more inhibited, social convention forces us into patterns of behaviour that can effectively encase us in stress and tension. So do some movement – swimming, dance, let yourself go! On a psychological level our current society is set up to run on aspiration and fear. These are the two prime motivators in almost every form of mainstream advertising. Watch carefully and you will start seeing the patterns and methods used, from newspaper headlines to TV ads to political broadcasts. None of these methods are designed to bring you good mental health! They are designed to make you envious, fearful and selfish. If you can get freedom from these things your life will improve immeasurably.
I remember watching a “celebrity” quiz show recently. There were celebs alongside “normal” members of the public. I noticed s how at every opportunity the celebs laughed hugely, gurned at the camera, made exaggerated movements and practiced postures and gestures. This kind of attention-getting false behaviour is what is touted as “normal” in today’s media world it seems. Tension gets attention!
Contrast with someone out for a quiet walk , or sitting quietly and fishing. Getting back to nature is a powerful antidote to modern life syndrome. Even a few hours outdoors brings benefits, a chance to re-connect and recognise true priorities. It is interesting that every good Systema group runs training camps that do just that – in fact I would say that getting out into nature is an integral part of Systema training.
There are plenty of exercise methods and activities that will help. From a Systema perspective all of our training should be beneficial for all aspects of health. Anyone who trains themselves to get damaged or injured is trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it. More specific health practices include breathing, free movement, posture work, massage, dousing, fasting and so on.
If you would like to learn more about these practices we are running a Health Day on Sat 2nd July at Tempsford. Click here for full details. We will be covering some of the basics but also moving into deeper work, including some specific psychological exercises. You will learn exercises you can practice on your own as well as partner training and will hopefully leave feeling a lot better than when you arrived!
That aside, if you do nothing else, then get hold of Vladimir’s Breathing book or DVD and start on the simple exercises there. Even a few minutes a day will set you on the path to what you will find a transformative experience. This is also an experience you can share with friends and family, truly a gift to be shared