I know everyone can relate when I say that we've all had one of those days. Those days when one thing (or a hundred) goes wrong and we start to doubt that we can actually do anything at all.
And then the mind games begin.
This happens at work, in our personal lives and, for those of us athletes out there, it happens in our sport too. A friend of mine from PDCS, an excellent dancer and all round genuine, amazing person, recently asked the following question of her Instagram followers:
...How do other #polers deal with those days where your head gets the better of you and you convince yourself and you are incapable of all the moves? When your focus is on what you can't nail and the transitions you can't figure out and then the mind games kick in?
I've had these days in pole before, I've had them in lifting before too, but I'm going to focus on how I handle a bad pole day for this article. My friend's question got me thinking and reflecting on what I do when it feels like the pole just doesn't want to dance with me today.
When I get stuck, my strategy is to just go all the way back to the beginning and practice my walks around the pole. Three steps takes me one full circle and add a momentum turn on at the end if I feel like it. I've done this a lot in practice time recently, as since I've moved up to Inters I've felt stuck as I need a spot for most of the moves and/or can't remember how to get into them without a demonstration. Last Saturday, for example, I wanted to practice something called a Rock-A-Bye, but could not for the life of me remember how to get into this pose once I had mounted. I sat there on the pole for a while, feeling stupid and ridiculous, surrounded by all these amazing women practising their tricks without a problem, and my thighs were hurting from hanging onto the pole but I didn't want to just slide down because 'oh-my-god-they'll-all-think-I'm-such-a-pathetic-wussy-weakling'. In the end I did a tuck slide down, and would have been very happy to keep sliding all the way through the floor and vanish to never be seen again. However, I stood up, looked at the pole and said, "Walk".
Because if all else fails, if every other trick deserts me, my legs still work and three steps will take me one full circle around the pole.
But there's another reason I take this approach when the mind games begin: because once I start moving I stop thinking.
It's the bane of human existence that we tend to overthink things and 1+1=2 suddenly becomes a genius-level logic puzzle! In pole, I know which tricks I can do and which ones I'm still learning to do (the Rock-A-Bye being one of the latter), but when I can't do something, it goes to my head and I start to question whether I can do anything. But once I walk, once my three steps take me that full circle around the pole, I find myself doing other things: like a momentum turn, then a quarter turn, then a back-grip slide, then I'm cat-rolling off the floor and bouncing up and down on my knees, rubbing my hands all over my body, feeling sexy and empowered, then, before I know it, I've done a tuck-spin from the floor, and then I'm spiral climbing all the way up the pole and the Rock-A-Bye be fucked because I can back-straddle, diva and stag-drop like a pro! In these moments, I take the philosophy of Matter over Mind (i.e. Body over Mind) and just go with it.
But I didn't actually learn this philosophy in pole, Hilal taught me about this a long time ago, before EP even existed and I was training with her at a commercial gym: your mind will give up before your body will. I believe, at the time when Hilal shared this insight with me, she was working with me on my planks and I said to her 'No, I can't,' and she said 'Your mind wants you to think that you can't, but your body is not even tired and I know you can do it!' Incidentally, I did it (I believe it at the time was a six second plank), but that knowledge, that you mind will give up before your body will, has stayed with me and been a source of comfort and inspiration on my bad pole days.
Interesting fact 101: Your body will actually never run out of energy.
What we think of as energy is, in fact, a temporary boost of hormones that allows us to perform at a heightened level for a temporary period of time. I'm not going to go into all the science-y stuff, but that's the kind of energy that give us a nice hit of endorphins once we've finished a work out, and that's certainly the healthiest type of energy to expend, but it's also heavily controlled by the mind. Your body does an amazing job keeping you alive every day, but so does your mind, and your mind wants to save as much of this energy as possible because it is the safest, healthiest kind of energy to expend and it likes to keep it in reserve. For this reason, your mind will tell you to stop at the point of mind discomfort because then you'll still have plenty of energy; this is a mental barrier and it takes time and strength to push through, but the point where your brain says can't is most often the point where the body is saying are you actually doing something?
You see, your body has its own kind of energy that is not connected to your brain (again, it gets really science-y and I'm not science-y, so I'm going to explain it all in lay-man's terms and you can Google later if you're interested in finding out more) and it can literally keep going until you drop dead! Not healthy, not safe, and absolutely not recommended! This is reality, your body will keep going if it needs to, to do what it does best: keep you alive. And it will continue keeping you alive until you're not alive anymore. Your mind doesn't want you using this energy because it's not healthy energy, it is absolute, life-or-death, emergency energy and the mind starts to get scared as you're pushing yourself through your 'good' energy that you might switch into this 'not so healthy' energy. In reality, you're never going to push yourself into this type of energy in any kind of healthy workout, but your mind doesn't know that (strangely, given how advanced our brains are, they can be quite primitive when it comes to keeping us alive) so it tells you to stop when you actually don't have to. Chances are high you are nowhere near any kind of physical or mental breaking point and you just need a push to get through a mental barrier.
My push is Matter over Mind. My body will keep going, it won't fail me, but my mind is my worst enemy. So, when the mind games begin on a bad pole day, when the voice starts to whisper that maybe I've had enough and I should stop and I'm a useless pole dancer anyway, I just start walking. Because walking reminds my body of what it can do, and once my body gets going, my mind stops talking and I remember what it is I came to PDCS to do in the first place: dance.
If you're afraid to fall it means you're prepared to brave the heights from which you might fly.
Me With No Apologies.