Twenty minutes is a surprisingly long time when you can’t move.
Twenty minutes also happens to be the standard length of a life drawing pose. Sitting in one position for so long is remarkably difficult. First, it takes physical skill to remain motionless for the length of the pose. But there’s a mental aspect to it, too: what do you think about for twenty minute stretches, three or more hours at a time? What about when you’re uncomfortable?
If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. Choose any position that you like—you can sit in a chair or lie down on your bed. Then set a timer for twenty minutes and DON’T MOVE. Don’t worry; I’ll wait right here while you try it.
What did you notice? Did any limbs fall asleep? Did you get any muscle spasms or joint pain? How many times did you want to move and then realize you couldn’t? What did you think about? Did you get bored?
Now imagine taking a five minute break, and doing the exact same thing eight more times. That’s the equivalent of one drawing session.
* * *
I spent my first few months as a new model trying to fight against the mental boredom and physical discomfort of posing. I would make lists of things to think about to distract myself: I’d compose music, plot novels and blog posts, and review life list goals.
But no matter how long I made my “to think” list, I’d exhaust it quickly. I kept running out of ideas. I would either solve the problem I was thinking about, or get to the point where I needed to write something down. I’d ultimately still end up bored and uncomfortable.
That is, until one day when I chose an especially painful pose. (As it turns out, resting all of your weight on your elbows is a really bad idea). I’d run through my list of interesting topics, but I kept trying to think of something—anything—to avoid actually experiencing the discomfort I was in.
It didn’t help. So, I gave up: I decided to pay attention to what I was feeling, instead of mentally running away. I figured it couldn’t be as bad as being bored and fidgety.
Curiously enough, it wasn’t bad at all. Sure, I was still in pain, but I had been so afraid of feeling uncomfortable that I was creating something worse than actually being uncomfortable.
Instead of being bored, a strange thing happened: I felt peaceful. It was very similar to mindfulness meditation. I felt like I was existing in the moment. I was calm and enjoying myself—so much so that it changed my outlook on modeling entirely.
I started looking forward to posing instead of worrying about it. I learned to concentrate on my breathing, and feel what was happening to my body in the moment while my mind remained empty. I could just sit, and be mindful.
Sometimes things were painful. Sometimes a specific muscle hurt or I put too much weight on a joint. But it became easy to acknowledge it as pain without judging it as negative and move on. Besides, it was only happening to one small part of me.
Standing naked in a room full of people may not be what you picture when you think “mindfulness.” I’m pretty sure it isn’t a traditional way to learn meditation either, but art classes have become one of the most psychologically relaxing things that I experience every week. And now twenty minutes may not feel any shorter when I can’t move, but it is a lot more enjoyable.