Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Why hacking your self may not provide the long term results you want in movement goals
There are so many aspects to somatic movement education worth a more in-depth discussion. Here, I share a common approach used for raw beginners that illustrates a different viewpoint than what commonly makes headlines for how to address stuck movement potential, discomfort, and pain. This idea makes somatic approaches to movement, in my experience, a really unique way to develop skills.
Typically movement cultures rely heavily on what I call the "magic fix." Magic fix shows up very early as a means to learn a sequence of movements. I have seen this approach utilized numerous times over the years, couched in different guises. Ultimately, every one boils down to what I refer to as "magic fix" thinking. And to be clear, I have certainly used it, and it does have some merits.
Mostly, magic fix thinking asks the following kinds of questions, "What is the one movement, technique, muscle group, etc., necessary to learn or achieve a particular movement goal?"
This is the magic fix reduced to its central core. Although it may have benefits and appropriate use, it is the antithesis of the way I approach somatic movement education because it reduces complexities down to simple workarounds that may be helpful in the short term, but don't address systemic views or goals. If there is one thing I know, movement and the bodies that perform them well, are seldom simple arrangements of parts.
I encourage what I call the somatic pyramid approach. Before I describe what it is, let me explain what it offers differently than magic fix thinking.
The pyramid approach to movement starts from the basis that all conscious movement requires or establishes:
* An emphasis on health and wellness
* Pain & stress neutral learning environments
* Yields systemic ease and comfort
* Builds on itself exponentially
This is to say, with patience, the body will unfold as intended naturally.
Unlike a magic fix, which supposedly hacks you into shape quickly, you start where you are. You generate and build movement currency that, in time, develops whatever movement wealth you wanted in the first place. This is typically not an instant fix. The pyramid system may appear simple, but it is not necessarily easy for most to execute. None of the pyramids were built overnight, and nor will building a foundational movement practice.
Have you ever noticed that pyramids essentially all look the same? No matter in which culture you find them, they all have the same characteristic features. They look the way they do because early builders likely found that the same basic structure format efficiently elevated a structure higher.
As I work with people, I try to find the common essential movement forms that show up. These forms reveal themselves as the underlying structures that elevate the potential for further freedom of movement. No matter who I work with, or what we are attempting to address as the goals for their progress. The underlying movement structures are always the same, just as it is with pyramids. Where those structures are absent or poorly defined, is where we start.
From the base level, as if your movement capacity where a great work of the ancient world, because in a way, it is, we build together towards what you want to achieve incrementally.
It took our species millennia to develop the beautiful evolutionary capacities to move the way we do. Somewhere along your personal journey with movement, perhaps, you may have forgotten some of these ancient movement technologies. But that doesn't matter, the information can be relearned gradually from the inside outward. The result of this process is often less pain, more clarity, increased energy, better sleep, and more vigor for life.
However, before we can rise to those lofty apex ideas, the first layer must addresses the base of the pyramid.
To realize the deepest layer, we have to understand the work is first to change your mind. We literally are transforming the functional relationship between the brain and the body.
The issues may not be where we usually focus our attention. It may not be the muscles, bones, and joints not performing the exact execution of movements you require. Establishing a clear communication route between your nervous system and these areas may instead be the best way of targeting the change you desire.
Rather than directly attacking the problem or hacking into yourself with a quick trick, we take the long way home, enjoying both the journey and the destination.
The base layer of any pyramid is broad and deep. It provides sure footing, grounding, and stability. It also creates the capacity for what is more delicate to rest on top of what is below.
Twisting and rotation movements for example, in this approach, show up later and higher on the pyramid. This is because the skills to safely access those movement are built at earlier levels learned closer to the base. Rotational movements are more complex, including both side bending, back extension, and some element of side flexion combined. To lay the groundwork, all the other layers must be securely stable first.
Another way to use this scheme is to play with the inverse relationship between core movement and the extremities. We tend to have more sensory awareness at the more distant points from the center of the body. The tactile receptors located at the hands and feet are far more abundant and better equipped (than those closer to the trunk) to provide information about where we are and how we are moving.
However, assuming this suggests we have more agility when using our hands and feet might lead us astray. Try using chopsticks or throwing a basketball with your non-dominate hand sometimes. The realization that somatic intelligence is sorely lacking in some regions; and not in others becomes abundantly clear quickly!
One reason for this apparent, but not often perceived difference, is your fingers and toes, hands and feet, arms, and legs are ALL connected to the center of your body. Saying it seems obvious enough, but the experience of it can be quite profound.
To move our edges deftly, the core must be utilized in a non-forceful way. There is a feedback loop inward and outward that can't be ignored in movement relationships. And once you learn this experientially, the felt-sense of moving from "the somatic center" makes physical activities more manageable. This is true even if you never become ambidextrous, by the way.
A firm but malleable base starts by consciously playing with what happens when you move from the somatic center outward, as well as what happens when your distal edges reflect your actions back towards the core.
One final way to use the notion of the somatic pyramid is breathing. There are many ways to breathe, probably more than there are to move. A standard layer practice is familiarizing yourself with what you notice as your default pattern.
What is your typical way of taking in breath? Where do you feel it first? Where does it leave last? How fast or slow does it enter and leave your body? Sensing these and other points of information is quite a task. The moment you bring attention to what was formerly unconscious, you change it a little. With time, practice, and patience, it can be discovered, observed steadily, and consciously changed.
The next layer of "breath as a pyramid" might be playing with multiple ways to breathe while in motion. Some movements may better be engaged with one part of the breathing cycle, rather than the other. Just as there is no one way to move, making breathing more accessible and less demanding, is a better base for refinements that may come later. In time, a gradual exploration into more rarified air with movement and breath coupled might be explored.
These are just some ways in which this metaphor for movement could be used to gradually create something more appropriate for real-world movement explorations, with far longer-lasting impact, and comprehensive application than the magic fix provides for achieving freedom in movement.