Mixing Eastern and Western Practices with Kris and Pavlina Rai at Joint Space.
The journey of postpartum recovery is different for every single woman. I’ve heard this before, but this time I felt it because my two births and recoveries after were totally different. After my first delivery having a water birth, I had managed my first good 30-minute slow and steady walk after eight days. When I compare this to my C-section delivery, I could only manage a very slow 15-minute walk after three weeks post-surgery and that was still a little painful. The moment I got the “all clear” from my women’s health doctor, after 10 weeks, I was ready to start investing in a gradual fitness plan to lose all the baby weight.
I was getting three to four hours of sleep a night, for the first six months, with two babies under two, and hormones all over the place. My energy and concentration were low. I was exhausted and I felt like I was going through some form of memory loss. I literally could not remember what I did yesterday. And that’s when I discovered newly opened Joint Space, in Alserkal Avenue, (which has some of the best physios and osteopaths in the city) were offering a unique ‘movement practice.’
Formally known as ‘Soma’ classes, this practice is created by osteopath and naturopath Kris Rai, and choreographer and movement coach Pavlina Rai. They’ve studied with many masters and teachers from the East and West and created something special, with an anthropological approach incorporating human physiology, biology, and neurology.
I’d discovered these two inspiring folks before on social media a couple of years ago and, I must admit, it felt a little intimidating to try at first because, from a distance, it looked like a fusion of dance and Capoeira, both of which I had tried before, loved very much but sucked tremendously at doing. But this time around, all ego aside, I was open to trying something new that would help me with my weight loss journey and give me a new lease of ‘postpartum’ life. I was looking for something to not only help my fitness journey but help improve my energy and mental wellbeing. I’m a big believer that wellness is not just about looking after your body, it’s also about balance with having a healthy mindset and feeling uplifted in your heart and spirit. I also think, emotionally if you are not healthy this can impact your body in a negative way, which could later be the root of any future disease or sickness.
Co-founder of Joint Space, Kris Rai suggests: “Body and mind are not disconnected. We are one singular entity that has no separation. One cannot be without the other. Our practice brings to life the idea of this connection, that as you build experience in the practice, it begins to permeate all that we do, creating the binding that brings things together, creating inspiration, purpose, communication, and connection.”
Each movement practice is always slightly different but in general it is a rhythmic medley of elements of Capoeira, yoga, Tai Chi, Wing Chun, and some core martial arts conditioning workouts. Kris and Pav are a husband-and-wife duo who have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to movement, health, and the human body. They have over 15 years discovering different movement forms and arts – all related to dance, martial arts, yoga, and sports performance. I think this is what makes their classes so unique. They are experts in the field of health and wellbeing, and they incorporate their medical knowledge to create some movement workshops that are like no other I’ve tried in Dubai. Think of it as fusing calisthenics, yoga, and martial arts with a backdrop of rhythmic beats in the background, whilst letting your body naturally flow and move through each class, for approximately 75-90 minutes.
If you want to know what happens in a class, here's my interpretation: You begin by taking a moment in your own space; you work with your breathwork – slowly inhaling and exhaling – as you flow with your movement. You’ll warm the body up with some yoga positions or Tai Chi-inspired energy flow techniques. Then your main practice will possibly begin with the horse stance and mountain stance, for instance, and elements of core martial arts conditioning will merge into this free-flowing routine, addressing mobility work, which also helps your joints. You’ll end up moving your body so much (to such a deep physical level), working with your lower body mainly, your core, your joints, improving hand-eye-coordination, using apparatus like a tennis ball, whilst working with a partner through rhythmic movements.
The result: I felt it really helped me with body awareness. Very much like how you pay attention to posture and your body positioning with yoga and Pilates, my posture and alignment was key. I was sweating so much that I felt the endorphins kicking in. After not being too active for so long it certainly helped me feel great. This is something that will help with weight loss, fitness, cardio strength, muscle memory, and stress relief. It’s helped with my mobility, reflexes, and my mental clarity too. It’s a fun and engaging dynamic group class. There are even moments of myofascial release. If you’ve never done this before, it’s so good for you. You will literally shake, move, and flow, as if nobody's watching. This can help your nervous system, reduce stress and anxiety, amongst other benefits for your body and mind.
Here's a quick Q&A with the creators Kris and Pav Rai at Joint Space:
Q: Tell us about the 'movement practice' at Joint Space?
Kris & Pav: The philosophy of the practice we teach has deep roots, with knowledge extending from ourselves and the many teachers we have learnt from in our lifetime. However, the practice is also like a cloud, shapeless and formless. Like us, the practice is constantly changing. When the practice looks like it’s becoming something, it disappears, only to reappear as something new.
Despite the continuous evolution of the practice, the constant underpinnings are anthropology and human development, art and science, western and eastern philosophy. We take principles from a wide array of movement and martial arts such as the body contact practices of Greco-Roman wrestling and contact improvisation, to the hand and footwork drills of boxing, the cultivation of energy from Eastern martial arts to the rhythm and musicality of dance. We implement philosophical practices from our anthropological roots, Eastern and Western philosophy, and combine them with art, modern science, medicine, and athletic performance.
Q: How do you think it benefits women during pregnancy and postpartum?
Kris & Pav: An important part of the practice is the understanding of who we are. Who we are changes, from the person we once knew to the person we are today? Pregnancy is an evolution in our being, we create life and our body transforms, and as such, our practice transforms also. The practice encompasses many elements such as exploring how our joints move and how they are interconnected, how we (re)distribute our weight and understand how our body weight centres such as our head, thorax, and pelvis balance above our feet, how we communicate internally and externally within and through our body.
As with any movement form during pregnancy, there are modifications that may need to be made as we progress during the pregnancy and after pregnancy. Carefully adapted parts of the practice such as our spinal movement practice, balance work, coordination serve to enable a woman's body during pregnancy to maintain the movement quality, strength and flexibility required during pregnancy for the birth of child.
Q: How would it benefit those that are suffering from pains in the body, like back issues?
Kris & Pav: Pain can be a complicated issue. A person’s injury history, movement quality, overall health, stress, can all play in any given pain presentation. However, walking through the door of learning how to move better and learn about the body that you have only serves to move you along the path to understanding who you are, understanding your injury and how to become injury and pain free. Getting to the source of pain requires first taking ownership of your health, realising the extent of your physical capacity, and understanding what you need to do to get to the root of your pain.
The physical element of the practice itself provides an environment in which you can explore movement variability and variety, learn the interconnectedness of our joints and musculoskeletal system, and under our supervision, push the limits of your physical capacity as much as you feel comfortable.
Many approaches to injury look at the human body as if it were a machine, when in fact it is an interconnected ecosystem, much more like a garden. If you fail to look after the garden, the garden will eventually die. If you only plant one tree, it can take only one fungus to affect the entire forest. However, if you maintain variety in your garden, plant different plants, plant these plants at different times, attend to those plants at the right time in the right way, your garden will be resilient to pestilence and ultimately thrive. A movement practice needs this same type of variability and variety for the human body to thrive, to resist injury and age well.
Q: Is this practice good to do at any age? What age is good to start and how does it benefit those that are older or suffering from something like arthritis?
Kris & Pav: A key focus of our practice is adaptability. Not only do we as people have to be adaptable, but the practice itself must be adaptable. The practice is suitable for everyone, young, old, injured, sick, there is a place for everyone. The practice can be adapted to meet somebody where they are regardless of age or condition.
Q: What can regular practice do for your body and mind?
Kris & Pav: Life today is very complicated and can often lack inspiration and purpose. Our role as teachers and students is to inspire as teachers and as students to continue to be inspired, to constantly learn and develop. It is this inspiration we want to share with our students, to create a sense of inspiration, intrigue, and purpose for them.
Join the practice every Wednesday and Friday at 8am at Joint Space.