In July 2023, I had the privilege to attended FinnFest 2023, and complete my Asahi Nordic Level-C Asahi certification. What is Asahi? It’s a health exercise method that was developed in Finland in 2004, and I came upon it online one day and my interest was immediately peaked. You see, my mother’s parents, Elmer and Maj-lis, immigrated to the United States from Finland in 1959. My mother, 100% Finnish along with both of them, and myself 50%. Growing up, I felt deep ties to my Finnish heritage and Scandinavian roots, but hadn’t spent too much time exploring on my own. In my grandparents home I was surrounded by beautiful wall hangings, rag rugs, Finnish foods, and prayers and phrases that we would say when spending time with them.
Movement throughout my life
I’ve been in the movement space my whole life, dancing since age three, playing soccer since age nine, working out since age twelve, taking Pilates since age thirteen, and exploring so many various movement modalities with great curiosity. I started teaching dance at age fifteen, and started my Pilates teaching journey at age twenty. My favorite thing about movement is my belief that movement is for everyone! Finding ways to make movement accessible to the largest amount of people feels like a noble calling for me. This is one of the main reasons I got drawn into the world of Pilates. It’s ability to help so many populations with its equipment to safely move and build strength in their bodies. To regain confidence in their identities as movers.
In over a decade of Pilates instruction I’ve worked with students ages six through late eighties, all with different goals and strengths. I’ve served students with neurological conditions, joint replacements, arthritis of all kinds, mental disorders, cancer, pre-operative, post-operative, pregnancy, spinal conditions, athletes, dancers, low self-esteem, caretakers, doctors, business owners, parents, grieving, soon-to-be-wed, and everything between. I always would make the joke that I’ve certainly heard of every single health condition and diagnosis at this point, but then the next week I’d have a new student with a new condition walk in the doors.
Asahi is for All!
When I first read up about Asahi I was most excited at its accessiblity for all. No equipment is required, its ease of learning with no experience needed to pick it up, its focus on breath as central, the mind-body connection it promotes, and the ability to perform it outside. Being able to workout and move outside has become a high value in my life, and I believe provides a deeper connection of self to the world around us. The word Asahi is actually a Japanese word that means “morning sun,” and this practice was named as such to signify the energy we can get through both exercise and spending time outdoors. The book Asahi – The Nordic Health Practice shares “the movements of Asahi are basically relaxing and are designed to gently increase muscle stamina, balance, coordination and concentration.”
One of my mottos and charges is to encourage more movement, varied movement, daily. Asahi fit the bill perfectly for this. From beginning to end, you can easily practice the sequence daily in 10-15 minutes depending on how many repetitions of each exercise you perform. I learned two Asahi series: Asahi #1 and Asahi #2. Each series has the same four sections: relaxation, neck and shoulders, back, and balance. Each section is comprised of three total exercises. So all in all, a single series has 12 exercises that are performed in sequence, with a breathing exercise to start and end each section. Though all can benefit from doing Asahi, the number one population that I believe this benefits is the aging population. The exercises were developed by exercise and geriatic specialists to ensure that risk of injury is super low and the outcome of benefits of performing the exercises is extremely high.
Sharing Asahi with others
At the workshop we led at the conclusion of our training, we had close to 100 participants join us for Asahi (see photos below). Everyone was able to do it. We had participants in wheel chairs, with walkers, people in their 90s, children of elementary age, and everything between. Staring out at the crowd of people all gathered to move together made my eyes glisten. This is what movement can do, it literally can move people.
I’m excited to see what doors having my Asahi Nordic certification will open. I am currently one of around thirty instructors certified in the United States. Being at the forefront of this training is an exciting way for me to connect to modern Finnish heritage and carry my roots along with me. For more information on Asahi, visit their website. If you’d like to host me to teach a class or know of places and spaces that Asahi might be a good fit, I’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
-Courtney Anne Holcomb, Asahi Nordic Certified Instructor, C-licence, Sheboygan, WI
When I arrive at seasons of my life that I feel disconnected from myself, I have to take a step back to reassess. The aimless, directionless existence can be exhausting and make the days feel lacking true purpose. I find in moments like this, leaning into discipline helps get me back on track.
Types of Disciplines
We may have experienced various types of corrective disciplines growing up from our parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and from ourselves. These punishments to correct disobedience may have worked to some extent, but likely left a sour taste in our mouth. But this does not mean that discipline has to be associated with a negative experience. Corrective discipline is just one of three main types of disciplines. Though often we need corrective measures to form disciplines, there are also two other types of discipline: supportive and preventative
Supportive disciplines help us build our own ability to self-regulate and have self-control. Things like the ability to recognize when we get off tasks and when we are feeling weaker and tempted to abandon our healthy disciplines and habits. Supportive disciplines involved building our self-awareness to take notice of what places, spaces, people, environments, attitudes, and exposures do not support the way we would like to experience ourselves in the world.
Preventative disciplines serve to keep us engaged and help circumvent the need for corrective discipline measures. When we are experiencing joy and engaging in our world with purpose, we feel empowered to be our best selves. So creating an environment that we want to be in and living in a way that brings us life can help curtail the need for any type of corrective actions. We are simply living in harmony, flow, and know how live out habits and disciplines to create the circumstances that will keep us in this state.
We often have to work from corrective first, and go backwards. After having corrective disciplines in place, we build supportive disciplines, and then when at our highest level of functioning we can maintain by living out our preventative disciplines.
Discipline does not have to be viewed as just a corrective slap on the wrist, or a consequence to our poor actions. It doesn’t not have to be seen as failure or rejection when we implement it. But discipline can be a gentle and loving hand, especially when we serve it to ourselves. It is the quiet whisper accessing in each moment “does doing this bring peace and harmony to my life?” “Does doing this bring vitality to my experience of living?”
How do we know what disciplines we want to have?
Self-discipline is different than just creating habits or abstaining from things that feel misaligned. It’s defined in Oxford dictionary as “the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.” And in a world where so much feels out of our control, self-discipline is an incredibly empowering tool.
So how do we know what disciplines to start or practice? You can start by asking yourself these questions:
What are you currently doing that doesn’t bring harmony?
What habits and behaviors do you engage in that no longer serve you?
What things bring you the most peace?
Where are you when you feel most connected to yourself?
What activities make you feel alive?
Only you can know your purest and truest answers to these questions…and you have to be honest with yourself. Dig in deep and get real. The overarching question above all of these is What bring you back to connection? Connection to self, others, and your spirituality.
There is something incredibly empowering about being able to overcome one’s feelings and pursue what feels right in my heart even when surrounded by temptations. For me, self-discipline is the ultimate self-efficacy. “I am capable and in control.” When I behave from my discipline instead of reactively or impulsively, I align to myself. The reward of the discipline is alignment or re-alignment. It’s reconnection to myself. And mostly, it’s the feeling that life isn’t just happening to me, but that I have the power to manage certain outcomes.
Losing versus letting go
When we think of the idea of abstinence or abstaining from something we often correlate this with the idea of missing out or losing out. We perceive the lack as something that produced a void within us. Loss is something that happens to us, letting go is something we actively do. Letting go provides us with the power and control. Letting go involves willingness. It’s a choice, not a happening. Distinguishing the between losing something and letting go of something provides a deep power to support disciplines. I have lost my grandfathers, I let go of my Pilates studio. Neither was easy, but only one was a choice.
When you think of a behavior or something in your life that is no longer serving you do you still view giving it up as losing? If so, change will be harder to come by. Instead of focusing on what you think you’re losing, think about what you gain by letting it go. Also, what parts of yourself are you losing by continuing that habit or behavior? Are losing those parts of yourself greater than the actual loss of that habit or behavior? We need to channel the willingness to let it go, and this starts with developing disciplines. Think of the empowerment that comes from making the choice to let it go in order to serve your higher self.
What areas in your life could you use some discipline?
Think or write on this question “what area of my life do I feel most disconnected?” This can serve as a great launching point. Some areas for developing self-disciplines may include:physical, mental, spiritual, interpersonal/relational, greater self or purpose.
Building a discipline can involve actively doing something or actively abstaining from something that misaligns. Start right there. Pick one area that you feel most disconnected. What is one thing you could actively do in order to bring more connection in that area of your life? Establish how frequently you’d like to do that thing. Then, what is one thing that you could abstain from doing that would support you feeling more connected? Work to build supportive disciplines to help you abstain from that. With time and practice before you know it you’ll be in a place of alignment that preventatives disciplines will support your newfound self-discipline in that area of you life. And a deeper connection to self awaits you around the corner, when you are willing to let go.
Discipline is difficult. Do not be discouraged. Discipline is not a one-and-done doing. Discipline is the strength to continually choose the habits that support your highest connection to self. It’s an active choice of letting go of that which no longer serves you, and engaging in world in a way that enlivens you most. It makes deep connection possible and invites us to be the purest version of our unique selves. And when you live your life in this deep connection, let me tell you…there’s no amount of losing that I’m afraid of…I’m ready to let it go.
If you had to describe the current pace of your life using one word what would it be? Frenzied? Peaceful? Panicked? Joyful? Never-ending? Mindful? Is pace something that is just happening to you? When is the last time you made a conscious choice about your pace?
Fast, slow, sprint, sneak, are just a few of the ways that kid play. Exploring the world around them and the various paces of being they can implement. Our pace is a choice we make. But do you find yourself falling into the same pace without giving it much thought or consideration? I have found that noticing and playing with pace has been one of the most powerful remedies for my anxiety.
Childhood Exploration of Pace
When we were kids we played with pace all the time. It was part of exploring our own physical body within the environment around us. It was part of interacting with others in the spaces around us. Curiosity and possibility at the forefront of our young minds. But when did the playing stop and at what cost?
Growing up, I used to play this game with my siblings. When watching a TV show during the commercial breaks (this was before the time of Netflix and DVR) we would run to our bedrooms and try to clean up as many things as we could and then try to sneak back and arrive the closest to the end of the commercial break without going over (think Price is Right). We’d experience the contrast and rush from sitting and watching TV, running and picking things up, and then sneaking quietly down the stairs to the TV without being noticed, all the while having friendly competition with one another. This also provided a way for us to feeling like cleaning our rooms was fun…imagine that? And playing with contrasting speeds made this feel all the more exciting.
Then we had the game “Red light, Green light” we would play with friends during recess. In this game a group of people stand in a line far away from one person, a caller, who is facing away. The caller exclaims “green light” and the group of people try to race forward and be the first person to tag the caller. At any moment, the caller can exclaim “red light” and then turn around to look at the group. The group then has to “freeze” in place, if the caller detect anyone still moving that person is out. The caller then turns around and says “green light” and the travel forward continues until they yell “red light” again and try to catch someone still moving.
Though these may be games from childhood, they offer me some insight. The contrast in these games is what created the challenge. We had to wield control over the pace in which we were doing things. How can I both quicken and then immediately slow or stop? How can I take control of my own pace within my body, my environment, and the world? We learned that we were capable of doing so…and then we grew up.
Play Outsourced for Productivity
Work, life, home maintenance, social schedule, responsibilities, relationships, all started vying for our attention. Making their demands of our energy, our resources, our time, and we default. The pace of life began to snowball, collecting more and more speed as it raced down hill. Making its demands bigger, louder, and faster and faster until inevitable, we get sick, depressed, anxious, overworked, on auto-pilot, and are forced to slow down. Benjamin Franklin said “There will be plenty of time to sleep once you are dead”,but let me tell you Ben, your body is not a machine. It is not designed to perpetually work on overdrive, overworked, overwhelmed, and over-committed. We shouldn’t need a health crisis in order to grant ourselves permission to slow down. And we don’t have to live as a slave to the frenetic pace of life that the modern Western world touts as necessary to “keep up with the Jones”.
There is a lot of space in between sprinting and stopping? There is a lot of bandwidth available. Do you operate in more than one bandwidth? Do you exercise the option to choose your pace throughout the day?
Anxiety and Speed
I often find that when I’m anxious, I begin moving at a faster pace, physically quickening the speed at which I’m performing my tasks. Sometimes I’m not even aware of my anxiety because I’m moving so quickly there isn’t time to acknowledge it. But the moment I stop to take an exhale, I can feel the rising panic: the dissonance, the dissatisfaction, the doubt, the fear. The fastness feels frantic. The frenzy leads to fury. And the fact that I’m “getting things done” doesn’t even matter because I feel so disconnected from myself and the world around me.
I believe we often move quickly because we feel overwhelmed with the amount that we believe we have to do each day. With a massive lists of tasks, chores, correspondence, responsibilities, we see speed as the only viable solution. Quickening as our only option. But what if I told you that slowing might be the solution? How would your day feel if you tried that?
Slowing as Solution
I like to use the physical act of slowing down to bring me back to myself. When my anxiety is high, my pace is typically fast. Just the act of noticing this and slowing down my body immediately makes me feel more at ease. Do I have to be moving that fast? Is hurry even helpful?
Author Mark Buchanan in his book The Rest of God reflects “I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all that rushing. Through all that haste, I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.” What lies in the wake of your rushing? What are you missing out on for the sake of getting that “just one more thing done”?
The physical act of slowing and yielding brings me into the present awareness of what I am doing. It makes sure that I’m not missing each moment of life that passes by. My life experience is more valuable than my output. Slowing my pace allows me to be an insider in my own life, versus an outsider looking in seeing my life pass before me as a line of outputs on a conveyor belt. Slowing helps me enjoy the moment and really notice the nuances and joy in even the most mundane and common tasks. I keeps me in the present and helps me to connect deeper to myself, my immediate environment, and the world around me.
Speed as Selection
Playing with speed and cadence of movement can be fun when we become aware of it. We are not a slave to the pace of life that we live. We have choice in how we move through the world. We can run, sprint, meander, crawl, leap, skip, or just be. We have more control over our physical experience than we often think. We are not fully slave to the feelings and sensations that we experience, and finding ways to manage them can be super empowering. Maybe pace is just one of the tools we can wield.
When we are anxious, we do not have to move fast or quicken our pace. When we feel tired or lethargic, we do not have to move slowly. When we are bored, we do not have to sit and sulk. Each of these options are a choice. And in order to change our choice, we have to first become aware that we can choose! It all starts with noticing.
Never Too Old for Play
Once we grow out of school aged, it seems our environment doesn’t build in as many opportunities to play. The memories of these games linger on as nostalgia, but we often do not recapture the essence of these games in our adult lives.
When we open our eyes to see pace not as something happening to us, but as a conscious choice we can use it as a super power. A way to play with our experience in the world around us. And I believe all of our lives could use a little more play!
Here are three games that I love to implement to explore pace in my adult life as choice:
1) A Snail’s Pace
I used to have a plastic molded early 1970s sign in my bedroom. I found it a local thrift shop, and it had a large cartoon graphic of a snail and in bubble letters the words “Slow is Beautiful.” A small visual reminder to slow, exhale, and see beauty. I started practicing A Snail’s Pace exercise when I caught myself becoming anxious from the pace I was demanding of myself. I also like to use it when I notice that I’m moving super quickly as a means to just “get something done”.
In “A Snail’s Pace”, make the conscious choice to move super-slow and see how your nervous system shifts. See how your awareness shifts. See how your presence in the moment shifts. Start by moving at 50% of the rate. Try that for about a minute. Then, see if you can again cut in half your pace, and decrease by another 50%. Sit with that pace for a while. How does that feel? What nuances do you become aware of? Can you decrease by another 50%? This may even feel like slow motion.
The slower we move, the more intentional we must become. Really sensing and feeling, how does my arm move? What are the micro-shifts happening in my body to maintain balance while I’m moving more slowly? This is a great one to implement when doing the dishes or folding laundry. It’s helps to bring interest to the often mundane. How does this fabric feel? What sound does the sponge make? Where is my body in space at this exact moment?
This exercise I often find myself performing out of need. When I catch myself in the pattern of moving too quickly, getting stressed and overwhelmed, or completely not feeling present in the activity I’m doing. I do this exercise as a personal prescription. It’s time for Snail’s Pace…exercise ensue.
2) Race the Clock
If you’re anything like me, tidying up the house is not a favorite past time of mine. But I find play, games, and friendly-competition (even if it’s with myself) super enjoyable. So, take a look at your time window. You have 15 minutes until you have to be out the door…set a timer for 10 minutes, and Race the Clock. How much can you tidy up and put away before the timer goes off? I love this exercise because it physically gets me moving faster with awareness. And after all, variety is the spice of life! We need movement variety and variance to keep us on our toes, and since I’m making the conscious choice about my pace and speed, it’s enjoyable to race around and chase the clock.
You will find yourself bending, jogging, reaching, lifting, ducking, and speeding around from space to space. Who knew you could accomplish so much in such a small time window by just challenging yourself with a timer. Maybe, you’ll even break a small sweat! And don’t worry, it will still leave you with 5 minutes before you have to be out the door and on to what’s next. When you’re done racing the clock, upon stopping, the world around you will feel slower paced. The richness of the contrast will stick with you for hours to come. And when you’re done being out and about, you’ll be able to come home to a more inviting space with less visual clutter and mess. Happy mind, happy body.
3) Interval Training
You’re likely familiar with the phrase interval training ever since H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) became popular within the last decade. But intervals don’t have to just be for high intensity. The magic of interval training lies in the contrast between one state and another. For H.I.I.T. it’s the high intensity exercises and then the period of complete rest. How could intervals be implemented into your daily life? Many runners do this through Fartlek running. The Swedish word “Fartlek”, which literally translates to “speed play”, describes this exact process of running at a quick pace for a period of time and then switching to a slower pace, and then repeating this pattern, quick to slow. But pace is not the only think that Fartlek running varies, it also emphasizes varying terrain. Changing our speed and terrain are both ways to add more interest to our work and our environment.
Next time you are taking a walk with your dog, with your stroller, with a friend, try and incorporate some interval training to bring more interest. Power walk for a few blocks, then meander for a few blocks. Take a new route to change your terrain. Walk on the grass in the median instead of the concrete sidewalk. Hike through a nature preserve on mulch instead of on the paved walking path.
Kids love this too as a means to make walking more interesting. Racing to the light post, romping through the grass, slow motion as you step over the sidewalk cracks, the variety is as expansive as your creative mind.
Power over Pace
Pace can be overpowering, or pace can be play. We must become aware of when we are hurried, worried, racing. Without this awareness we are unable to harness pace for its power. We can use pace as a choice, instead of allowing it to be a dictator. May you invite pace into your life as a playful partner to your day. Slowing and quickening with conscious choice.
I wrote this short poem below after walking alone along the Atlantic ocean shores in Myrtle Beach South Carolina last November. Taking notice of my relationship with speed, pace, urgency, and slowing. It’s a conscious practice, and maybe someday it will take me less conscious effort. But for now, I’m happy that I can acknowledge and note within myself when I’m physically quickening as a response to my mind’s racing. And with this simply acknowledgement I can then make a conscious choice to quiet the anxieties within me, and rest on the helm of slowing.
On January 1st, 2023 I woke up early and went out by myself to my favorite bench to catch the sunrise. I was back in Neenah, WI, the city I was born in, raised, and returned to for the first decade or so of my adult life. It was a cloudy AM, so no bright vibrant colors were seen, but I could see the light shift from a darker gray to a lighter gray. While I was there the song “Peace Like a River” came to my mind. The lyrics seeped in to my spirit and I was flooded with peace. I have been thinking of this song ever since, so this morning I brought movement to the lyrics to help build a deeper resonance in my body for this year, 2023. The physical embodiment helps me to really feel the lyrics. The movements are not complicated, it’s not meant to be performative, they are just there to embed the words into my body. When I find myself feeling stuck, frustrated, wanting encouragement this year, I will return to this movement phrase—to channel peace, joy, and love.
Have you ever created movement to help you find a deeper connection and resonance with a thought, phrase, or mantra? If your curious what this might feel like, I added verbal instructions to this phrase to try and move along with me. It may take you a few tries, but it’s not about perfection, it’s about flow, feeling, sensation, and embodiment. No care if you do the opposite foot, or your arms follow a different path than mine.
That which I do physically I more fully remember. To “feel and embody” the words brings me to a deeper connection. A physical practice is and can be more than just working out. It’s a way to find a deeper connection with the vessel that carries us through the world. It’s not something that we do outside of ourselves. Our arm is not a thing, it’s an extension of our being. This is why when I teach I’m conscious not to use cueing “press with the arm” or “reach the leg”. You press with your arm, and reach your leg. It’s not a separate entity, it’s a part of you. When we no longer identify or connect with our bodies we miss out on a greater embodied existence. We lack a physical expression of ourselves to the world and those around us. May you more fully connect to an embodied existence in 2023. If you’re curious about various ways to do this, reach out, I’d love to chat.
Let me know your thoughts down below. Keep curious and give it a try.
Happy New Year, and may 2023 be welcomed with peace, joy, and love.
Two things happened this week that brought me to these realizations. I did a headstand and my dad was approached by a former Pilates student of mine.
Last night I showed my husband a video (see video below) of me doing movement and then going straight up into a headstand on the hardwood floor of our living room. After watching it he asked me “what if you didn’t make it up?” I appreciated his concern and said, “well if I undershot, I would have simply landed back on my foot, and if I overshot, I would have just somersaulted out of it.” I appreciated his concern as he was nervous that I would have hit the wall or our door and injured myself. But when I woke up this morning I was still reflecting upon this dialogue, and I realized the interesting part about it was that I had never considered not making it up in my headstand. I was purely confident that I would be able to, and I did.
I’ve spent my whole life (since age three) in the dance community and movement spaces. And at first, it provided me with a lot of self-belief and physical confidence. And then into my teenage years and beyond it started to diminish both of these things. As more voices came in, more comparison, more doubt, more frustrations, more insecurities, more pushing beyond my physical limits/fatigue, and an almost masochistic like punishment to myself for not being capable of what I wanted. I became rigid, I became tense, and I became fragile physically and mentally. It became easier to be disappointed in myself instead of proud. It was easier to focus on what wasn’t measuring up instead of the small steps and marked improvements I was making. I didn’t want to recognize or honor the process, just wanted the progress, or if I’m being completely honest, I wanted the perfection. I let my mind get in the way of my body. I let my mind control my body. And my mind then shaped my physical capacity. My thoughts became my beliefs.
One of my college dance teachers, Joan Karlen, actually said to me in my early 20s “Courtney, tension isn’t strength, tension is just tension.” This has stuck with me ever since and became a marked beginning of a paradigm shift in my life.
I held my body stiff as an armor. I believed that if I was just “strong enough”, “tough enough”, “held-together enough” that I could physically achieve what I was hoping I could become, and would be seen by others as a certain amount of strong. After hearing that from Joan, I remember a distinct moment a few days later where I released my belly, my stomach muscles, and just let my stomach hang out. And I swear to this day that may have been the first time in my over 20 years old life, that I let my abdomen relax. And back then I wondered why I had digestive issues? “Tension is strength, holding my belly in makes me appear thinner/lean, holding everything in and together makes me appear together.” I needed to move towards dismantling these beliefs. From that point forward in my dancing, I noticed a profound shift. I became stronger, more supple in my movement, more connected, more sensitive, and most importantly, more kind to myself. I made physical improvements in leaps and bounds.
Fast forward over a decade, I am still in the dance and movement space. And I feel incredible, resilient, strong, and capable. And I’ve done a lot of physical and mental work towards dismantling my beliefs about myself in the spaces between. And I know I will be constantly working on these things as long as I’m living in this world because of being surrounded by our culture and environment. It can be difficult to mute the voices, the ads, the dialogues, the comparison. But I talk to myself differently now, I feel different, and I am different, and for this I’m extremely grateful. And turns out, with theses shifts, I have more movement capacity, confidence, and connection that I ever had before with my old beliefs.
Going up into my headstand yesterday, December 21st, 2022, I was purely confident that I would be able to, and I did. This is a huge mark of improvement. I have spent years rebuilding up my self-belief and physical confidence. Deconstructing decades of thoughts and beliefs I let seep in, and reconstructing my most human instincts of curiosity, play, delight, confidence, and self-belief. And also…practice, a lot of practice, because movement is a life-long practice. But since we are in our physical bodies for the long haul I consider it an extremely important and essential practice.
You see, as infants, toddlers, kids, we tend to have this belief in ourselves and our abilities. We simply try things with a certain curiosity in the world and believe we will be successful. Or even if not successful, with a delight that it was fun trying and will be fun continuing to try. We aren’t afraid of failing or not being good at things. Into our teens and beyond, hesitancy, insecurity, and self-doubt become louder voices. Our physical bodies do not function as well with these thoughts as our primary beliefs. Not only are these the voices from ourselves, but we start to listen more to the voices of others—peers, parents, adults, coaches, dance teachers, media, doctors. And the doubts, they trickle in so slowly that we might not even notice them, but before long there is a chasm from where we started as a baby to where we ended on one side of a deep abyss. Comparison also becomes a primary way that we measure ourselves up to the world around us and in doing so the desire to even be curious and try new things begins to diminish. “It’s too late to start.” “I’ll never be as good at so-and-so at this so why bother.” “My body’s not as young as it used to be so surely I’ll injury myself trying.”
I see this especially happen in students that I’ve worked with that have been diagnosed with certain health conditions and considerations. These labels can become debilitating. “Don’t do this, don’t do that, never do x, y, z” to the point that basic movement of any type seem no longer possible. “Well, if I can’t bend my knee more that 90 degrees, no flexion of the spine, no lifting my arms above my head, then I guess I simply cannot move at all…” So movement becomes something to fear, something to avoid, and something stifling. Even when evidence would point to that any movement is better than no movement at all, these “hard nos” and blanket statements about our capacity cause an operating in the world with fragility and rigidness, which often in and of itself leads to more injury and increased lack of mobility.
Helping dismantle some of these deep rooted beliefs is the most rewarding part about working one-on-one with students. I’m realizing more and more this is what I actually do as a Pilates instructor and movement educator. It’s the primary way in which I can evoke change in people’s bodies. Students over the years have told me that I’m magic, or that I’m a healer, but I am neither of these things. What I actually do is I help people reframe the way they view their bodies and their mindset surrounding their capacity. After almost 12 years of training students one-on-one through the Pilates method and others movement modalities I’ve had the joy to see so many people with varying injuries, insecurities, physical conditions, health concerns, diagnoses, and disabilities have breakthroughs in their physical confidence. I’ve been able to be the trusting and supportive eyes to help them re-discover their true movement potential. To help provide the right conditions in which they could deconstruct their beliefs about their physical capacity. This is my greatest joy and a huge key to our overall wellness. This is why body education, re-education, and mental and physical conditioning is so important. It helps us create a happy body and happy mind.
My father told me earlier this week he was approached by a former Pilates student of mine. I have since moved away so she is not longer a student, but I trained her 1-2x a week for about a year. When she saw my dad, she made sure to track him down and told him that “your daughter Courtney saved my life with Pilates.” After hearing this sentiment I smiled and knew this is exactly what she’s talking about. It’s not me, it’s not Pilates, it’s the support and belief that I could extend to her, to believe in herself and her capacity. Sure, there was movement education along the way, understanding dynamic alignment, exercises to help with imbalances, a specific curated program to help aid in getting back to the activities she loved dearly, but mostly, it was helping her make her own mental shift. To become purely confident that she would be able to have her life back, and she did.
How can we be both sensitive to our own bodies, but also believe in our capacity? The less we believe we are capable, the more we will tip-toe around our physical existence and be hesitant to move at all. And the movement we are doing (or not doing today) affect all of our future movements and movement potential. Movement is a necessity of life! The moment we stop moving, we stop living.
Where do you stand when it comes to your self-belief and physical confidence? What barrier to movement do you perceive and do those perceptions measure up to reality? What conditions would help you feel safe, secure, and supported to challenge your beliefs about what you are capable of?
Courtney Anne Holcomb is a professional dance artist, movement educator, Pilates teacher, choreographer, creative, and nature enthusiast. She currently lives in Sheboygan, WI and teaches various modalities surrounding her passions of movement, nature, creativity, and self reflection through her community “Move and Yield.” Through her work she aims to impart a genuine connection of body-mind-environment, share what a fully embodied existence can feel like, instill personal kindness to one’s body, and evoke genuine expression through movement.
Now, I realize that this is a very millennial thing to say, but I cannot deny the truth of it. And if I’m being transparent, before the RV trip it started with the pandemic, panic attacks, and having pursued and fulfilled a childhood dream of opening a Pilates studio. After graduating college with a degree in Dance and Spanish, and simultaneously pursuing my Pilates education, I moved back to my hometown of Neenah, WI where I swore I’d never live again…I made an original business plan for a Pilates studio in entrepreneurship class back in high school. I saw the need in my hometown local community and felt I would be remiss to not use my skillset to meet the need in my community. Spring of 2016 I opened Waveforms Pilates, specializing in highly-specific one-on-one training with bodies of all abilities. We owned a beautiful 1941 mid-century modern house, I spent years creating beautiful gardens, expanding my business, and building a movement culture throughout the Fox Cities area. On paper everything was amazing, a thriving business, sharing my passion for movement, building community, and a lovely home. But looming in the background, anxiety and panic began to consume larger portions of my days.
Starting around August of 2020, I began having a series of small panic attacks. The chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic, balancing the needs of myself, my students, and my family, and my growing anxiety started to make life more debilitating. On top of that, my husband had just received a pretty big diagnosis that gave him more insight into why over the past 2-3 years his health and physicality was deteriorating. I have managed minor anxiety throughout my whole life, but the panic attacks were new territory. Intellectually I could talk myself out of the anxiety, but it was always background noise even in the environments I felt most safe and in control (the Pilates studio and my home). The sensations of a panic attack coming on I felt no control over. This was terrifying for me. I lost weight, I lost sleep, I started to avoid making plans, and I began to feel like a shell of myself. Stress had taken over and my body and mind were fighting a constant state of fight-or-flight, with no sign of thriving even though from the outside view everything looked amazing. Rationally the business had never been busier, our finances were incredible, my husband super supportive, and I had great relationships with friends and family, where was the dissonance?
Fast-forward to January of 2021, my husband and I both came home from work with the same thing in mind. Is this what we want the rest of our lives to look like? A successful business, beautiful home, comfortable life, but our mental and physical health suffering? Sometimes in life we are called to say goodbye to things, even when they are good. Just like the lyrics from The Fray’s song “All at Once”, “sometimes the hardest things and the right thing are the same.” There are seasons to life and a boldness often required. A braveness to look within and continue to ask questions what might be best for oneself? Even if it’s not easy. We didn’t want to be people who stuck with something that was good, even though it no longer felt right. We wanted to step into a life design that could include prioritizing our personal health and wellbeing. We felt confident that there was a new place, a new chapter, and a next iteration of what our future could look like to be explored. My family and I entered into the great unknown with a lot a bit of blind faith and a whole lot of trust.
After our conversations together and a few months of getting some affairs in order, May 2022 we sold our home and most of our possessions, and June 2021 we sold our successful brick-and-mortar Pilates studio to our dear friend who had been an instructor at the studio for over two years. We wanted to hit the road on a year-long sabbatical to take time for pause and re-evaluation. Spending part of our thirties to rest and restore our personal health and wellbeing, and look deeper into what we wanted our future life design to not only look like, but feel like. Cherishing time with one another and re-discovered what makes us come alive. We started by living in community with some dear friends, transitioned to the road traveling full time in an RV, and then bought a condo and settled into the beautiful lakefront of Sheboygan, WI.
Move and Yield Emerges
Move and Yield emerged out of this journey and the self-discovery of what I found provides me with the most fulfillment: movement, yielding, nature, creative expression, and community.
Move and Yield is a community initiative that was born out of my own need to slow down and find joy in all aspects of my life. As an entrepreneur and small business owner I found myself full of purpose, but lacking in fulfillment. The fast-pace of modern society left me feeling worn out, full of anxiety, and with little time and space for listening inward to what my body and mind truly needed. I longed for delight, connection, and expression.
The focus is on encouraging people to move more, connect to the natural world, find creative expression, invest in community, and spend thoughtful time in yield. When we race through life it passes us by, and joy gets lost in the spaces in between. Slowing down the modern pace of life is essential for helping us connect to self, build meaningful relationships, and contribute to the world. Nature provides a perfect backdrop to take us away from the many distractions and stressors of modern life and helps connect us to the vastness of the world. So many of the movement meet-ups and events will exist in outdoor spaces.
Move may seem obvious, in our modern sedentary-laden culture, but what do I mean in terms of yield? In life we must slow and listen in order to know what our bodies and minds truly need. When we stay “busy” we are robbed of the ability to tap into self-awareness and connection. When we are disconnected to self it’s extremely difficult to connect with others, and to sense our connection to the greater world around us. This in turn makes our purpose feel lacking and our lives feeling empty. The feeling of life in a “hamster wheel” is not an enjoyable outcome of our efforts. Yielding is a process of slowing to help us tap into an embodied and full existence, and to help us discover what our true inner desires in life consist of. Slowing down to take notice of all life has to offer. And savoring and prioritizing the experiences that bring us alive.
Move and Yield is a community that provides curated content and classes that balance moving more and yielding to reconnect and slow the modern pace of life. All of these things encompassed and focused on the themes of both moving and yielding more in our day-to-day lives.
Drawing Inspiration from:
Pilates, functional fitness, intuitive movement, dance, and play
Building variety, frequency, and awareness in our movement practice
Connecting to nature and spending time in outdoor spaces
Teaching compassion, capability, and kindness to ones body
Thoughtful introspection and turning inward to discover our inner desires
Moving the spine in all directions and exploring movement possibilities
Beauty that surrounds us in one another, nature, and within ourselves
Simplicity, sustainability, and minimalism
Curiosity and creativity about what our artistic expression is in this world
Daring to play to access joy and delight in life
A holistic approach to wellness that considers mind, body, and spirit
Setting intentions in our movement practices and lives
Online Pilates-informed movement mat classes
Bi-monthly book club meetings on themes surrounding Move and Yield
Small group movement series
Movement Meet-ups and classes in natural settings
Instagram inspirations and content @courtneyannemoves
A newsletter with articles, musings, tips, and upcoming events
Adult modern dance/embodied movement classes
A combination of virtual experiences and in-person experiences for people to join from near and far
We are being called towards movement and yielding.
Emerging from sabbatical with fresh insight
This is my next iteration of life and I’m certain it will not be a final one as I value the importance of continually looking within and reassessing. Does this no longer serve me? And then the bravest part of it all, being willing to exercise boldness when the answer to that question is “no”, but the road to change looks insurmountable. The big steps that each have a hundred little steps required that feel like they’ll never end…but the risk of staying put feels all the more mountainous. What helped was not looking at the situation as loss, but an act of letting go. Loss is something that happens to us and is not within our control. But the act of letting things go is a process that we exercise purposefully. A willingness that we cultivate within ourselves and do with permission and recognition. I’m letting this go because it no longer serves me, and freeing myself to the future possibilies that await me. Move and yield is full of possibitilies, aligns with my values, and I believe has a lot of value to offer to in these modern times. I cannot wait to share more with you in the months and years to come. Stay tuned. <3
-Courtney Anne Holcomb
Follow the instagram account @courtneyannemoves to join the dialogue and find access to classes and offerings here on courtneyanne.org and by signing up for our free newsletter here.
To see adventures from the road on our RV trip, check out my page @moveandyield on Instagram.
I am standing on the road in a moment of yield. Imagining what lies ahead while simultaneously sensing all the residual energy behind me, guiding me. I think of the physical movement forward that lead me to being here, now, in this exact moment of pause at the center of the road. As I turn my head to see where I came from, I recall that in movement is always where I found and felt my sense of belonging. A group of others I felt a connection to, spoke my embodied language, and understood me at my core.
I’ve always felt different and unable to connect with what seemed most valued in our culture— wealth acquisition, competition, consumerism, productivity, climbing corporate ladders. All I wanted was to move, create, contribute, and to be seen. To truly feel seen beyond the surface. I wanted to feel connected and understood. Going through much of life not feeling understood carried a weight with it, a disconnect. It made it hard for me to relate and understand the strivings of others. This went both ways whereas I may not understand things like the desire to upgrade to the newest smartphone, they may not understand my desire to dance barefoot in the forest. Over the years taking a deep dive into movement has been a process of identifying a place for me to belong and somewhere that I felt I could contribute and add value to others. This is where movement revealed its potential as a powerful mediator.
Body and Movement as Common Language
The physical body and the experience of movement hold powerful tools for connecting and belonging. A physical body is something we all share, a common denominator. We exist in it everyday and none of us can escape it until death. We can chose to try and hide our body, neglect it, beat it down, outsource its work, ignore it, but it will always be with us. We need our bodies for expression, to connect with others, to connect with self, and the beauty of the moving body is that no words are required to express oneself.
Movement gives understanding without needing language. Movement is required for every second of every day, and this alone ties us together. This alone helps us relate. It forms a connection. It’s no longer just me, it’s we. Body and movement highlighting our collective humanity. “Hey, I have a body too. I move too. I desire to be seen too.” As soon as a movement is witnessed by someone else, then that moment is shared. Movement provides us with a sense of belonging and relating, not just to our own body, but to a greater sense of connection with others outside ourselves–beyond our kinespheres. Our bodies are just waiting full to the brim with movement possibilities. What if you let your movement be witnessed? Your physical body be witnessed? How would that feel? Is that thought terrifying? Would it be worth it?
Enter the witness
I think movement is richer and more meaningful when we have a witness. Sometimes this witness is a friend, a lover, a teacher, a classmate, and sometimes it’s the trees as they quietly take in CO2 and create oxygen around us.
This level of connection is why I love teaching students one-on-one, to play witness as I curate and facilitate an environment that a student feels safe and seen. The growing trust as session to session the student sees themselves building their movement vocabulary and expanding their capabilities. Challenging their mind to what’s possible with this vessel they’ve been entrusted with for their lifetime. This is why I enjoyed the relationship building element of teaching a deep movement practice that demands mind and body involvement. It’s never just “giving a workout”. It’s a dance in and of itself requiring listening from both parties. The student tuning into themselves. Me, reading the student as they walk into the room, sensing their energy, making a quick assessment on what they may need today, and guiding them as a focused witness ready to pivot at any point when I can sense that may be necessary. Remaining sensitive at all times to the ever-changing landscape of the moving body. Having someone entrust me to bear witness is never something I take lightly. I become the audience, and being seen, feeling seen, is a vulnerable thing for the mover. It takes time, investment, trust, and willingness from all participants.
Movement with Mindfulness
No movement is ever the same, so there cannot be a prescription. You will never be able to recapture the feeling of a movement you’ve had in the past. This ephemeral quality, the movement happens and is fleeting, requires you to be present in the first place or the experience is lost. You’ll never get it back. You’ll never feel it again. It can never be witnessed again. And if you don’t do the movement to begin with you’ll never get the opportunity back. This is what makes the experiences I foster and create feel so important.
How do all of these ideas translate to my personal fitness and movement experiences? What makes one experience feel different from another? How does this influence the way I teach? This is what lacks in “just taking class” or “working out.” This is often why I feel so lonely when I roll out my mat at my house and follow along with a DVD: the level of connection and the shared experience. Though my body may be moving, my sense of belonging is absent. This has been a profound reflection for me as I think of the type of work I want to do going forward, both personally and professionally.
This past year I’ve been traveling with my husband, listening to my own body, bearing witness to my husband’s health conditions, and taking life day by day willing to pivot whenever necessary—even if that means big life changes, again. After having almost a year off from regular teaching, what I miss most is the relationships and togetherness. Helping and guiding others in their self-discovery. To make movement belong in their lives and in their bodies. For them to feel a deep sense of belonging. Competition and comparison have no space in my movement practice or my instruction. I’d rather teach ownership, compassion, capability, curiosity, and kindness to ones body. To help students abandon the fear of feeling seen—just as they are each day.
If you’ve ever allowed me to stand in as witness, thank you for entrusting me. Your vulnerability and courage is one of my life’s greatest teachers. I hope you felt seen and encouraged. I hope you left with kindness towards your vessel and increased confidence for the paths ahead of you. I hope you found that along the way you were more capable than you imagined, and that being seen and putting yourself out there in the world did not have to be scary. You as you, just as you wonderfully are each day.
This is just a small glimpse as I look over my shoulder and what I carry with me as I start to look to the road ahead of the types of experiences I want to continue to offer. What movement opportunities I want to curate, how I want to contribute, and the type of world I want to witness and share. What I know for sure is that I will continue to move, create, contribute, and be seen. And I hope to continue to have thousands of opportunities in the future to be entrusted as a witness.
In honor of Earth Day, I decided to release a video dance short. This piece, “Spring Thaw” includes all that Wisconsin Springtime has to offer. Tulips, sun setting, green grass, and that charming snowfall. Music is “Unforgettable” by Sundae + Mr. Goessl .
It’s been an odd year to be a performing artist. It’s also been an odd year to be a human. I’ve had more available time that ever this year to reflect on what my artistry is, what my personal aesthetic looks and feels like, and how I want to continue to share myself with the world. Enter this new work, created in these times, from these times, for these times.
A new camera dance work was in the making. This video dance premiered November 25th, 2020, and can be viewed here. Excited to share with you what creating has been like over the past 9 months.
The project was created by me this autumn, in true isolation fashion. No crew or other dancers, just me. My husband synthesized the music for the piece. All the video footage was self-shot using my iPhone, and the video clips edited and composed at home with iMovie. The setting, my community garden plot in Neenah, WI. The sunflowers, vegetables, plants, all grown and tended by my hands. A true, homemade project, that just is a reflection of our current realities, and that I hope speaks to you.
Creating is the part for me; the sharing is the part I hope feeds you. I hope you enjoy my new work “resisting phototropism”. Thank you for taking time to view. Consider messaging me to share any thoughts, reflections, or feelings on what comes up for you after viewing. This provides me with creative fuel.
For more insight into this work, you can read about a brief reflection I wrote and published in FSM. Magazine in the November 2020 issue .
I am so grateful to have been featured in the 920 Feature of the Appleton Monthly Magazine. This feature highlights people in the area that have unique jobs, passions, and interests. Learn more about what brought me to becoming a movement educator and Pilates instructor at the article below!