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?
Let me know if I can be of assistance.
-Courtney Anne Holcomb
Movement Educator – Pilates Teacher – Dancer – Creative
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.