Our movement has been the driving force of our evolution. Our sensory world allows an interaction between our internal and external environments. You could say that the richness of this interaction, the trajectory of our ‘skyrocket’ through life, is decided by our awareness and our ability. The good news is that both these elements have a huge capacity for change and adaption, just like the food and drink we take on board each day. In short, if we have a well-stocked movement pantry and fridge, we can have a fun, varied and nutritious diet; sometimes a new cookbook and a trip to the shops is in order!
Before we start thinking about eating our plate of food, let’s mention the basics of table manners. Consider the state of your nervous system, the connection between your mind and body. Can we put ourselves in our best place to feel and play, what is our intent? (For more on this read ‘The Human Trampoline’ blog on my site.) If we’re protective with our movement for some reason, or if we’re too focussed on our goal, often the body will be overwhelmed. Here, if we had a chance to notice, we’d find our breath altering and our body falling back on its cheats and compensations to get the job done. Too hungry or too full, you might not taste your food so well…But you’d most likely just blame the cook!
To avoid the negative effects of stress and compensation when we try hard, we could say that encouraging breath awareness, a connection to our deep stabilising patterns and a positive mindset are the big three pre-requisites. Then we’re down to skill learning, tissue resilience and adaption for our chosen task. Each task has its own requirements, but mastery comes from dealing with variation, having a full repertoire of movement to deal with the unexpected and still perform. This could be preparing to anticipate a 250 km/h tennis serve or catching yourself from slipping on a wet floor.
Moshe Feldenkrais made a good point when he talked of first knowing what you’re doing before gaining the capability to do whatever you like. In other words, awareness of movement allows playfulness in movement. To some extent this is a two-way street if we’re in an open and relaxed state. Think about our first 5 or 6 years of life, daily play coupled with the intent to learn, imitate and move through a fascinating new world. Interestingly this is a time when our subconscious is at its most active, building patterns for behaviour and preference. The movement pantry is getting well and truly stocked up – our appetite is insatiable! We are building an instinct for what feels right, what tastes good!
Life changes our focus, ‘What if…,’ ‘But I just need to…’ The trick is to keep feeling and playing as we add load or adversity to our environment, keep variety and innovation in our diet. In movement, sport and exercise we can see that playfulness within a learnt structure leads to resilience and boosted performance. It’s not so easy to eat soup with a fork, so what would you do..?
Did you find a spoon or just pick the bowl up and slurp?! What would your mother say!!!
There’s a massive amount of research backing up exercise for health and wellbeing. We all have varying amounts of time and motivation which we can, or are willing, under our 'here and now' circumstances to devote to it. Unfortunately it’s often pain or difficulty with movement which grabs our attention! A basic diet would consist of plenty walking, keeping active even when you’re sitting, moving the bits that stay still too often. Start to make them part of your everyday actions, drive less and walk more...
But we thrive on variety and challenge, is there something that engages you, even better inspires you to do more? If not, start looking… Having someone take you through this process and guide your focus can be really useful, especially when you’re finding it difficult due to previous injury or persistent pain. What will your ‘protectometer’ let you do? How is it best to start and how to progress? Checking the available information on injury and condition management on the internet can be a traumatic experience in itself!
Making a start is what’s important here, sometimes the structure of organised sessions or classes can help with this. Think what suits you and give it a try, clinic sessions or group sessions…Over time we start to be aware of areas that need more focus, learn how to start brushing off the cobwebs. Easy, non-threatening movement calms the system, lets us pick out the detail and build a clearer picture of how we can move more efficiently. Nurture your curiosity, explore these shadowy rooms. We are going back to that movement pantry and starting with the things we commonly forget about: breathe, feel, play. New ingredients start arriving, the menu starts getting more interesting.
Movement therapy is this process, with a guide – there might be many on our journey, to cover our changing dietary requirements. Postural awareness, proprioception and balance, efficiency of movement, strength, flexibility, bounce: all good ingredients… Your guide might be a child encouraging you to dance in the kitchen, they could be a venerable yogi with 60 years of learning and practice behind them. Each appeals differently to our intent and value systems, each could be the right one at the right time…
Functional movements and loading come in many forms, they can be positive and negative forces, some common ones at the moment are sitting down and looking at screens! In this case we’d think about opening the structures that are getting locked short and invigorating the stretched and weakened ones. Let’s also think about great functional movements like squatting and lunging though. Find the pattern first, feel it, fit it into daily movements, vary it, play with it, make it more challenging… As we specialise and adapt, it can be useful to think of timescales. Sensory changes can change patterns quickly, but we also need to allow our neuromyofascial system to catch up too. Changes to muscle mass can happen over a period of 3 weeks of training, tendon and ligaments can start to see changes over 2-3 months, but the whole system could take between 6 and 24 months to gain full elasticity changes. Bear this in mind when recovering from injuries and operations too – keep the good messages coming!
As we’re working on increasing load, we’ll get the safest gains working within our elastic range and making sure we are well hydrated, ready to push. Ultimately the biggest gains for power come from overloading the system, putting in the message of a requirement for adaptive change and strengthening. If this message comes too quickly and without the back-up of good basic patterns we could be on the path to compensation, overwhelm and injury… Obsession does tend to breed perfection, those moments of flow and peak performance. This focus can also lose our awareness of the bigger picture. Rest well, make time to recover from big challenges, have regular moments to work on those ‘breathe, feel and play’ elements, change focus, vary loading and movement strategies. Learn your recipe to produce that flow more consistently.
It’s natural for our intent within movement and exercise to change over time, we might notice our drive for competition or result is replaced more by a love for the essence within a sport or activity; structure, joy, peace, nature, endeavour, shared moments… Whatever our reasons and choices, this is what hopefully extends functional movement further into our age scale and maintains our interest and enjoyment in life.
Good movement therapy should shine a spotlight of awareness around a mind and body, find the shady areas and brighten them up. Learning how to do this for ourselves should be the ultimate goal, to maintain wellbeing and inspire change. Find someone you trust and keep your journey going, boost that skyrocket!
Thanks to my own teachers:
My parents, my loved ones and friends, inspirations from the worlds of climbing, surfing, yoga, qigong, pilates, strength and conditioning, dancing, injury, loafing, physiotherapy, Be Activated, Anatomy Trains, my clients and those still to come…