Moving with Intention: Life Lessons with Leo Oppenheim
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” - George Bernard Shaw
Leo Oppenheim is always on the move. I can say this with absolute certainty due to the fact that his arrival at Float HQ did not rely upon any of the usual modes of transportation. Slaloming through a sea of city slickers, standing head and shoulders above the rest, he had of course travelled in on his rollerblades, I mean why walk when you can just skate.
If you know anything about Leo this will not come as any great surprise, exuding energy and enthusiasm in all of his endeavors, the founder of Flowfit is convinced that movement lies at the heart of everything we do. For those of you who do not know his story, you are in for quite the ride. With Float Festival now less than two months away, we sat down with Leo (if you can believe it) and discussed his journey from skating to yoga, and everything in between, learning what his experiences have taught him about strength, self-belief and wellbeing.
Growing up in South Manchester, the skate parks of Macclesfield and Stockport were a regular haunt and much-loved home to Leo. The 90s were an incredible period for rollerblading, with the focus on fast motion, innovation and fun. It was common place for people to rock up wearing a pair of inline skates, not to blade, but because it was the place to be. Even when its popularity waned, Leo’s love and passion for skating did not falter, and when the question of university arose, he chose the road less travelled and enrolled upon a skating centred course in London, gaining his first of many accreditations.
And as they say, well the rest is history. Except, in Leo’s case, it would appear that skating was just the start of his love affair with movement and flow. Through his work as a skating instructor with Cheshire East Council, he was introduced to balance boards - a cylindrical pin with a wooden board on top of it, and later slacklining - which entails walking between two points along a suspended line of webbing. While the planes of movement were different, the nuances of core strength and stability perfectly mirrored one another perfectly. As was the case with rollerblading, Leo of course took to these like a duck to water, building upon his skill base and inspiring others to love motion and flow through his company Flowfit, which operates to make exercise as enjoyable as possible.
So far, so good,you might say, however, Leo admits that it was only when he was introduced to yoga did his perspective on movement with intention really start to take shape. Leaving male ego and athletic ability at the door, yoga taught him that cardiovascular activity did not necessarily equate to flexibility, nor did it give him the space to explore his own wellbeing. Undertaking his yoga teacher training in the rather atmospheric surroundings of the Rocky Mountains, Leo and his sixteen female classmates were asked to be completely open and vulnerable with one another, which Leo admits, did not sit so comfortably with him. Brought up to be the strong and silent type, Leo was now entering new territory, getting to grips with how his most intimate thoughts and emotions could affect his practice and approach to movement.
Training also incorporated yin yoga, a form of practice that is credited with quelling “mind chatter”, bringing stillness to the body and mind, and offering an alternative to the heating elements of yang yoga. While Leo wasn’t particularly keen to partake in yin, it was this crash course in yoga and its variations, that Leo credits with changing his perspective on the power of movement from both the physical and mental perspective. AcroYoga is currently Leo’s soup du jour, and involves a combination of yoga wisdom and dynamic acrobatics as you work with a dedicated partner to cultivate trust, synchronicity and connection. For Leo acro is like a dance, as you learn to move with another person and strive towards fluidity of motion; well it does take two to tango.
Rather than chasing personal bests and perfection, Leo’s practice evolved towards moving with intention; no ego or attachment, just working to your best ability. Speaking with Leo it struck me that this principle of no judgement, in favour of movement and flow was not only poetic, but telling in a world of social expectation. As many of us continue to live stream of our every movement, this sentiment is an important reminder that life is simply about being in the present, about having fun, without worrying about how many retweets or likes your latest cat doing yoga gif is going to get. Leo professes that people are too concerned with how they are being perceived, worrying about keeping up appearances and forgetting to just be and have fun. He asks if I can recall losing all inhibitions, pretending to be an aeroplane in the school playground, as this perfectly captures what is missing in our later years - our childlike sensibilities.
While Leo loves working with people of all abilities through his yoga and balance led classes, it is clear that his work on the skate parks and roller rinks where he teaches children how to skate with technique and skill, has brought him immeasurable joy. Seeing kids, who at first lack confidence or encouragement from their parents, then make skating their own passion, fills Leo with an abundance of pride. Having been a carer for a young boy with aspergers, to see him grow in confidence and skating ability, is one of Leo’s greatest memories and shows just how invested he is in passing on his own wisdom. It is clear that Leo loves to move, but he also loves to teach other how to move with fluidity and purpose. For those wanting to master the art of yoga, or obtain the ninja like balance required for slacklining, Leo understands that it takes both discipline and surrender to get the most out of our bodies. As Leo slips of his skates, bids us goodbye, and makes his way to his next AcroYoga session, I am no longer convinced that he never stops, but I am now sure that he always moves with intention.
If this piques your fancy, make sure to grab a ticket ASAP - you can find out about all our tickets here.