I've trained with Jonathan Angelilli for over a decade, and with his help and support I've gone from having chronic low back pain and minimal core strength to running four marathons, enjoying spin class, and even doing pull ups. Jonathan has found any number of ways to help me understand the connection between the body and the mind, and that understanding has changed the way I feel about myself and the importance of physical activity in my life. And not just to be “physically fit.”
Case in point:
Over the last six weeks, my weekly training sessions with Jonathan have included about 30 minutes of boxing, a physical activity I never thought I'd do. I'm not actually in a ring sparring, but I'm learning punches and combinations that make for a very good workout.
We've been working on a right cross, and throwing that punch benefits from a pivot on the right back foot, a "putting out the cigarette" motion. I can throw the punch, but the pivot gives me trouble. The reason? Not enough weight on my back foot: I tend to lean into the punch, too far forward, and then I’m off balance and more susceptible to getting knocked down. My weight isn't centered on both feet, making the cross less effective because there’s less strength behind it. I'm getting better with each session, but more importantly, I'm starting to make connections beyond the act of throwing the punch.
Leaning too far forward when I try to throw the punch functions as a larger metaphor for many things in my life. Over the last two years I've worked to embrace the concept of "less is more," that sometimes what feels like less effort actually yields better results or greater progress in the end. I saw this play out first in my running, where fewer training runs translated into a less painful marathon. I've also seen it in weight training, where less visible struggle (scrunching up my face, grunting, "performing" my exertion) yields smoother and more efficient repetitions.
I've also started to notice a difference in my teaching and art making. Less time pounding away in a rehearsal translates into more focused creation with stronger choices based on instinct rather than on overthinking. When singing, if I relax and allow my jaw to drop rather than tightening up all the muscles in my face and “winding up,” the note comes out with a much clearer tone. If the assessment techniques in my teaching are more efficient, I have more energy in the actual class itself to engage with students.
I came of age as an artist and a teacher, really as a human being, thinking that “more effort” always equaled “better results,” and I’ve come to question whether that’s always the case. That said, I do understand that my hard work has brought me lots of success. Yet as I grow older and hopefully wiser, I'm learning that my "hard work" can sometimes be like throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks. That's what the leaning forward represents for me. Sometimes the lean forward is an overcompensation, an unnecessary effort that repels rather than draws in. The leaning forward takes me off balance, opens me up to get knocked on my ass. By maintaining balance on both feet, my right hook has more power because my right foot pivots and throws more weight behind the punch. Maybe if I stay centered with my “weight” equally distributed and concentrate my effort when I make art or when I teach, I can strike a stronger metaphorical blow, have greater impact, deepen an audience's understanding.
Less effort can be different effort; it is by no means lazy. Throw some hip into it. It feels really good. Especially when there's balance.