How do we improve movement?

How do we improve movement? For that matter, how do we improve anything?

I'm going to say something that might sound shocking at first: An intellectual understanding of mechanics does not improve movement.

  • Just like an intellectual understanding of nutrition does not improve eating habits
  • An intellectual understanding of someone's behavior does not improve how we react to it.
  • An intellectual understanding of balance does not mean we can ride a bike.

I could go on, you get the idea. The point is that new behavior in any realm comes from more than purely cognitive skills. Settling into a new behavior is not a “decision” so much as an integration of awareness into your whole self.

Going back to movement as our experiment: If you know, intellectually, how many degrees of rotation there are in the spine, does it help you move your actual spine? I see this all the time: I can tell people their ribs move until the proverbial cows come home, but that knowing does not change the image of ribs as an immobile cage. However, when you feel your very own ribs start to move, your sense of self begins to expand and your internal image becomes more clear.

The only thing that helps your spine, or your ribs, or your hips, is your ability to sense what's actually happening in yourself and integrate those sensations to form a more complete self-image.

In other words, sensations lead where intellect fears to tread. Then the intellect must catch up.

* * *

Pain is the best bio-feedback mechanism there is. When we're in pain, injured, or struggling, we immediately and unconsciously adjust our movements to deal with it. Over time, it becomes necessary to adjust the adjustments. To do that, we have to know what they are. Dr. Feldenkrais said many times, in many ways, that it is the clarity of the self-image that improves movement, not the mechanics. He says that when we are aware of and clear about what we're sensing, the actual change takes just a few seconds. Imagine that!

Two other arenas where this resonates is in dieting and relationships. Dieting, because it takes a long time to know what's right for your body. Sometimes it takes years of frustrating trial-and-error testing. The quick-fix diet is like the quick-fix movement: it doesn't last. Only when we listen to ourselves and learn, over time, what is right for us, does the choice become clear. Time magazine just published a wonderful overview of all diets. The researchers are trying to figure out why what's right for you is not right for your neighbor. The conclusion is that all diets require careful, lengthy analysis of cause and effect for each individual.

It's getting to that clarity that takes time. Given that 155 million Americans are overweight and 100 million are in chronic pain, it's worth getting there!

It's just like relationships: In the midst of the age-old question of whether to leave a marriage or a relationship, we feel tortured by the uncertainty. There's muddling back and forth, assessing pros and cons and millions of variables and outcomes until one day the choice is obvious and we wonder why it wasn't clear before.

In pure mathematics a thorny problem is confusing until it isn't, then it's considered trivial. Trivial! Clarity is, in a way, trivial: a non-event. It's just moving the ribs, just choosing groceries, just leaving a relationship.

But until then, we're confused and tortured and our intellect can't help. It's when we honor our whole state of being, the sensations, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and integrate that into a clear sense of self that life feels easier. Simple, isn't it?