Three Ways to Find Quality of Movement

As long as superfluous effort is invested in any action, we must throw up defenses and brace ourselves to exert a great effort that is neither comfortable, pleasurable, nor desirable. The lack of choice of whether to make an effort or not turns an action into a habit. Then nothing appears more natural than that, even if it is opposed to all reason or necessity.
— Moshe Feldenkrais

If you don't stay mobile, you will narrow your range of options. Aging will become a path of limitations instead of a path of freedom. This is true even for people who put effort into athletic movement or working out.

That's because mobility does not come from quantity so much as quality.

Movement that keeps you flexible, agile, and responsive is movement that challenges your brain. It keeps your nervous system young, vibrant, and efficient.

As we mature, we become wise and experienced in so many ways, yet we often neglect our movement until it neglects us. Suddenly the back gives out, the legs collapse, the neck creaks, the shoulders tighten. (Maybe I'm describing a millennial and not an older person, given the amount of time we all spend on the computer!) Whatever stage you're at, it's worth unraveling these patterns before, as Dr. Feldenkrais says, they become a habit opposed to all reason or necessity.

What is quality movement? It's movement that is:

  • comfortable
  • easy
  • spontaneous
  • supportive
  • connecting
  • aesthetically pleasing
  • congruent with your intentions (not forcing something in a direction you don't want to go)

Here's a question: What if all the people in your life were like this? What if all your work were like this? What if all your furniture were like this? (Speaking as someone who's currently buying different furniture and obsessing over design and support.)

You can see it's not just movement that demands quality. It's your whole life. Starting to improve the quality of your movement can lead to less stress, less effort, less exhaustion, and less tumult. You can find more openness, more freedom, more vitality, and more choice.

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Here are three simple ways to find more quality in your movement. Really test these variables in your experience until you can notice the difference between one option and another.

1. Reach to Ceiling
Lie on the floor. You can bend your knees or leave the legs long. Raise the right arm vertical toward the ceiling (or left, whichever is comfortable). Reach toward the ceiling so the shoulder lifts, then return the shoulder to the floor, keeping the arm vertical, not bending the elbow. Keep the fingers soft, no need to extend the fingers.

Variable (1) Do the movement again and notice what your head does. Try the movement with the head fixed in the middle. What happens to the ease? Then let the head roll with the arm. What happens? Go back and forth.

Variable (2) Do the movement again and notice what your eyes do. Experiment with your eyes open and the gaze fixed on the ceiling. What happens? Then try the movement with your eyes looking first one way one way, then the other. What feels easier?

Now do the movement with your head and eyes moving in a way that feels easy, connected, and supportive. What's it like?

2. Reach to Hip
Lie on the floor with your legs long. Raise the right arm and direct it diagonally toward the left hip, as if you want to reach for your knee (or left arm, whichever is easier). The arm is in the air. Reach and feel the shoulder blade peel off the floor a bit. Variable (1) Reach a little and observe the breath. What do you do spontaneously? Inhale, exhale, or hold? Just observe. Now intentionally inhale as you reach with the right arm. What does that do? Now exhale. Which feels more elegant and pleasing to do?

Variable (2) Reach again with the right arm toward the left hip. This time glue your head to the floor. What happens? Is there any tension in the neck or jaw? Note: This is called a traffic jam. That's the technical term. it's also called a co-contraction, which is where you're going in two directions at once: forwards with the arm and backwards with the head. Believe it or not, we do this all the time unconsciously. Now let the head roll with the arm. Easier? 

Variable (3) In the same position, reach again with the right arm toward the left hip. Feel the left ribs. What do they do? Place the left hand on the left lower ribs and feel: what happens as you reach? Now place the back of the left hand against the left lower ribs and don't let them move as you reach. Make a constraint. Notice how your reaching feels. Can you feel you run into the left hand? Release the left hand and reach again. Go back and forth between the constraint and no constraint until it is very clear what role your left waist plays in reaching.

Now do the movement with your head, breathing, and ribs all moving in a way that feels comfortable. What's it like?

3. Reach to knee
Lie on your back with the legs long. Extend your right arm over your left hip, as if you could reach down towards the knee. Add all the variables we examined in the ribs, head, and breath. Please move your left arm out at about 45 degrees or so, in the direction of straight out at shoulder height but not quite.

Variable (1) Reach with the right arm toward the left hip and feel what you do in the left heel. Does it press into the floor? Press it and reach. See what happens. Many times: Reach the right arm and press the left heel. Now release the pressing and allow the left knee to turn out to the left as you reach. Continue reaching so that your right hand can touch your left knee. Do you find yourself lying on the left side? Do this a couple times, then reach and press the left heel again, making a sensory distinction between the force moving through your torso and not moving through, stopped by the left heel. Really feel the difference.

Variable (2) Do the same reaching motion with the legs long and the left arm out to the side and this time notice what your eyes do. Are they glued to the ceiling? Do that: look at the ceiling and reach to the left, then look to the left and reach. What is the difference?

Finally, reach the right arm to the left hip, touch the left knee with the right hand as it bends out to the left: bring everything into play: the breath, the eyes, the head, the left side of the waist. As you touch the left knee, continue reaching down the left lower leg. You will roll onto the left elbow, your head will go to the left knee as you could kiss it! Allow the right knee to bend as the left knee bends and come up to side-sitting by reaching for your left foot and beyond. The reaching-folding-turning motion will bring you up.

Come back to the original movement of resting on your back and reaching to the ceiling with the arm. Is it different? Did you learn something about ease and effort?