"So are we going to use those?" I asked, pointing at the huge green exercise balls on the floor. "Maybe," my soon-to-be-classmates said, laughing. "We never know what we're going to do."
What would we do for the next two hours?
Fitness is all about control, precision and habit for most people. We were about to throw all of that away.
A small group of us headed upstairs with Emory Moore, a self-styled fitness artist I'd met in the elevator on the way up to yoga class months ago. We were on our way to a beautiful room in Manhattan's Sal Anthony Movement Salon where we would spend the next two hours rolling and spinning and leaping ourselves to mental and physical freedom.
He calls it the Madness.
Formally titled Movement Conditioning, it's a blend of martial arts, dance, yoga, Pilates and self-massage.
Sweating Through Playtime
We began by rolling up and down the length of our spine, "pouring ourselves into the ground." Then we did a routine where we'd jump high as we could, then gracefully drop to the floor and roll in a ball along our spine. Aah.
Keeping our feet in place, Emory asked us to twist our torsos like corkscrews, letting our arms go heavy like noodles so they smacked against our bodies. This little self-beating was indeed therapeutic. Note to self: If only I could sneak away from my desk and do this a few times a day.
The skier's pose also felt great: Flat back, arms back and palms down, with feet apart and thighs parallel to the floor. Feet should be under the knees. We held this position and Emory adjusted us individually.
Whew! Haven't done couple cartwheels before
In a capoiera-based activity, we partnered up and war-danced across the room in a squat position, palm to palm, finishing each one in a low-level cartwheel. This required partner trust and silent communication with strangers.
Next, we dragged ourselves along the polished wood floor on our knees, butt back on our heels, pulling with our shoulders and arms to go the length of the room. This burned like hell. It was also delightful. How to explain that one?
Unless you live or work in the New York City area, you can't experience it firsthand, but the message is something you can bring to your personal fitness routine. "Master the basics," Emory says. "You never want to be playing over your head. You cannot skip steps or levels."
Ditching your rigid routine once in a while may sound crazy, but the Madness may be just what you need to restore your sanity. Movement Conditioning reminded me it's possible to feel like a kid as you sweat (and even moan with agony at times).
Now what is this "playing" all about? I'll do my best to explain.
The Power of a Guru
Emory has a childlike manner about him which is both calming and energizing. While he has studied all manner of disciplines for almost 20 years, he is not stone-faced or jaded. He radiates a freshness that makes you want to be a kid right along with him. (When I called him the other day, he was about to go jump on the trampoline for a while.)
That could be because he does not know what's on the agenda until the moment class begins. "I create on the spot," he says. "And you would never know it." That's absolutely true; the class had a flow and a natural rhythm. "We're artists. I don't study for 20-some-odd years to do the same thing over and over."
Some are better at this than others
As gym culture rose in the 1980s, frantic cardio workouts were designed to burn off fancy lunches; integrity of movement was nowhere on the list of priorities. Emory trashes this philosophy.
"You have to be present in every movement. People at the gym focus on mindless exercise, on distraction. The TV screen is what people are focusing on. Or the blaring music. Being on the StairMaster and reading a comic book while watching TV and drinking water is out."
A Touch of Whimsy
This creativity isn't the only ingredient in Emory's magic. There is a vibe that naturally develops with a true master as leader. He keeps a dialogue open throughout the class which fosters closeness, and that allows for vulnerability. We're not afraid to look dumb as we move in ways we haven't since we were 5 years old.
"Cool," Emory says after we complete each new challenge. He jokes easily throughout the class, bringing on tension-breaking laughter.
The best thing: You really didn't notice you were doing corrective exercise. Regressing is way too much fun.