1. How would you define your personal practice?
At the moment it is a mix of bodyweight strength training, weightlifting, hand balancing, and capoeira.
Other important practices are reflecting journaling, and breathing.
2. What turning points have you encountered on your movement journey?
I’ve always been active from childhood, as a competitive swimmer to hockey player into weightlifting. More specifically to the point where I am now, the biggest changes have occurred when I shifted from swimming as a solo sport, to hockey in a team environment. It opened my eyes to look outside of myself and around at how through the physical we can connect with those around us. This is still one my greatest joys when I pursue the physical – the connection I can build by relating in similarities to a practice, a perspective, a culture.
I decided to go on a 2 year bicycle camping journey across Japan and China. This transformed my perception of physical limitation and the role of belief and narrative in energy generation. When you’re out in the middle of the mountains with no turning back, you just keep going. There is always more in the tank. I cultivated an appreciation for my body, as if I couldn’t cycle, I couldn’t continue my journey.
When I started handstanding – I could at the time military press my bodyweight, deadlift double, and felt generally strong. But here was a skill which has opened the gateway to all else. The reframing from just trying to increase “lift numbers” to “learning a skill” – I think this has been the biggest shift for me. Exercising became practice, training became more about learning.
And the most important one – is whenever I’ve reached outside to ask for help. I now have a coach, I have peers. As time passes, I believe our practice becomes secondary for the relationships we can build by identifying into a collective.
3. What role has injury played in cultivating your current niche?
Pain and injury have been the main motivators to asking different questions and searching for answers. Without injury, I probably would have kept engaging in the same activities that made me feel good in my younger days – endless squats, deadlifts – with a lack of intention or awareness around how I was practicing.
Pain has been incredibly frustrating but has been my biggest gift. I would have never started researching and questioning what I was doing with my body. It lead me to look at other modalities, other practices, and to connect and ask strangers about their expertise.
I find this to be a common piece of the story when I meet other people in the movement culture. I don’t target injury specifically, but as a subject of study it allows me further discovery of the body and understand functions. I like to believe that health isn’t necessarily about the absence of injury but about the ability to create connection with your body and your surrounding environment.
4. Do you consider yourself a teacher? Why or why not?
At the moment, I’m not actively teaching, but I believe I play the role of the teacher, just like I play the role of the student. The teaching comes as I actively attempt to share any insights from my practice, and the learning I receive is framed with a view to teach.
I believe in a model where one should try to learn, practice and teach throughout all stages of their journey.
5. What has been your experience with physical education, both in the schooling system and sought out knowledge/ know-how elsewhere?
My experience with the formal schooling system was always that the teachers in the system were inferior to the ones that I sought outside of it. Just my experience. In swimming, my parents guided me to the experts. General physical education classes I enjoyed, but I don’t remember having any specific “a-ha!” moments. Maybe I was not ready for it.
As of now, I seek teachers through my own research, I am not so biased as to whether it is in a formal schooling system or they have no degrees… I trust in the person and their collective experience. I currently learn from a coach, but I also lean heavily on my network of peers (who are also teachers).
6. How do you involve your mind/ emotions into your physical routines?
In my strength training practice I don’t involve emotions as much as I try to invoke belief that I have the ability – as the ability is continually tested.
Something I’m looking to further incorporate into my practice is the facing of fear – as with trying to learn the handstand at first time, the fear component provides one of the greatest opportunities for personal growth and belief. As an example, as someone with no gymnastics background, going into classes and jumping/flipping is very centered on trust to the teacher, my body, the floor/environment.
7. What are your personal aspirations regarding movement? How do you hope to find purpose and use in the skills you have built?
I think I’ve always been inspired by old Jackie Chan movies. Here is a guy who seems to be able to do anything with his body, but also approach it in a very fearless way. I will find my own path, and ultimately regardless of whatever “skill” level I develop, I wish to help others in their own journey with the knowledge that I collect. This may be in more formal teaching roles, or via channels such as my current podcast, website etc.
8. How can people find/ contact you? Do you have a site or social media handle to share?
You can find me on Instagram, feel free to send me a message! @phaonp
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