The first time I met Kit Laughlin was at a Stretch workshop in Hong Kong in 2015. We were seating on our yoga mats waiting for our first stretching exercise when Kit stepped inside his mat and said, this mat is the territory that your body is living in at this moment. Any attempt to take a step outside that mat-territory would bring feelings: of PAIN, or FEAR, or both. However, if you persist with that little first step out until fear and pain goes away, the body’s ‘territory’ will then EXPAND to include that new spot.
I did not go to the Stretch workshop to stretch (even though I got a really good stretch out of it). What I really wanted was to learn to expand my body’s ‘territory’, and to stretch not only my body but my mind. And this is how it happened:
Kit was walking barefoot, both in the training room but also outside of the studio during the lunch break. When I asked him about it, he said yes, he walked barefoot everywhere.
- Outside on the streets in Hong Kong?
- (me) I don’t mind dirt on the ground but I am afraid of the man-made rubbish.
- (Kit) I walk around them.
- (me) And I am afraid of people stepping on my feet. In Hong Kong, they never watch where they are going.
- (Kit) I walk around them, too.
On the morning to the Day 2, still at home, I thought, why not walk to the workshop barefoot? It is only 20-25 minute walk from my place to the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. I thought that, once outside, I would take my shoes off and try, and if it were too painful to walk barefoot, I would put them back on. When I finally did get outside, I was running late and ended up running all the way to the venue – still in my shoes.
(There was no other excuse for my leaving home late that morning than my mind doing everything possible to avoid stepping out barefoot.)
On the morning of Day 3, I decided to leave home at least 45 min before the start. I also decided that I would walk barefoot NO MATTER WHAT. And I cannot describe how ANXIOUS I felt after I made this decision!
The first step out of my apartment to the lift lobby was the most difficult. Even though I knew that the floor was washed that morning, and was possibly cleaner than the floor inside my apartment. But it was located outside my ‘mat territory’ and hence stepping out there barefoot was extremely frightening.
I did step out, and in the end it was a smooth walk all the way to the workshop. I cleaned my feet before entering the studio. I went out barefoot during the lunch break, and walked barefoot back home in the evening. And the Earth continued to revolve around the Sun, and my feet continued to function as before 😊
In the weeks to follow, I would go for long walks barefoot around Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, the busiest shopping areas in Hong Kong. I wanted to see how many shoppers would step on my feet – NONE! Contrary to what many of my friend said, I did not feel vulnerable or exposed: I felt bulletproof.
I used that experience – not listening to my mind when it is frightened to get outside its territory – to do other things that looked frightening or impossible. On the last day of the Stretch workshop, I did stretches that I never felt were within my reach before. WHAT WAS NEEDED WAS TO OPEN MY MIND TO THE POSSIBILITY OF DOING SOMETHNG RATHER THAN LOOKING FOR EXCUSES TO AVOID DOING IT.
And when a friend said ‘you must teach me to do that stretch’ I replied, ‘you start by stepping barefoot outside your front door’.
At that first workshop, I used to ask Kit over and over, “But are you not afraid that this/that may happen…” And his answer was, “I am not afraid of what will happen; it is in the future and I live in present. If or when it comes, and becomes a reality, I will deal with it.” And one day I suddenly got it; it was like a switch went off in my head. Walking barefoot is an excellent awareness practice, better than sitting in meditation for hours: just try to step outside on the street without being fully present in your every step.
“Mind creates everything” is the first sutra in Pali Canon, one of the oldest Buddhist texts. Practising awareness and being in present is the way to start seeing how the mind creates endless strings of thoughts that may have nothing to do with reality.
Kit says that our bodies are more intelligent than our minds: they exist only in present. Most tension we hold in the body is protective tension, and it arises in the mind. To get rid of this protective tension we need to demonstrate the body that it does not need it, by becoming aware of that process of thought creation (in the mind) and by focusing on the present, on what is real.
And because of that (constant) protective tension, most people do not know what being fully relaxed means. Deep relaxation practice helps. I finally started it in the past months because I felt I needed it badly enough to invest 20 min of my day in it. It turned out to be the best 20 minutes of my day. I now recommend it to anyone who complains of being tired, tense, stressed. See the link below.
Finally. Our bodies are adaptation machines. They would adapt to whatever challenge we give them. If you sit for 8 hours a day in your office chair, followed by hours on a sofa at home, your body will assume the shape of that chair. That is why moving constantly and staying flexible is so important. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
If you want more flexibility and freedom of movement in the body, Kit has published hours of follow-along stretch videos for download. And you do not need to be interested in the workings of the body, mind or universe to start stretching :-).
Relaxation scripts for download (scroll down to the bottom of the page)
Or simply ask me for a stretching tip next time you come to a class.