There are a lot of people out there with a lot to say about how you should move. Yoga teachers, functional trainers, martial artists, even Alexander technique teachers like me. And if you’ve never been in pain, or you’re not somebody who moves for a living, you probably think that this kind of movement overthinking has nothing to do with you. But you’d be wrong.
To illustrate this point, I’d like to ask you to sit down, or if you’re already doing so, just stand up quickly and sit down again. I’ll wait…
Done? Good. While it’s still fresh in your mind, what was the process of sitting down like? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “it didn’t feel like anything”. If you think harder about it, there’s likely a vague blank space in your mind at some point, or maybe for the entirety of the movement from standing to sitting. If you try it again you’ll probably find the same thing. Or you’ll find that the act of sitting suddenly feels horribly complicated. That it’s difficult to maintain your balance or you actually get ‘stuck’ at some point during the movement.
This may well be the first time anybody has ever asked you to think about this movement. Perhaps any movement, and this is is also probably why the topic of movement feels like it has nothing to do with you. After all, you can move. You do so everyday in a variety of ways and you get by just fine thankyou very much. Who cares how you do it as long as it works? Right?
Well it turns out that movement, even a simple movement like sitting in a chair, has lots of interesting layers if you know where to look.
For example, was most of your weight in your left or right leg? Did you experience any change in tension in muscles that aren’t actually related to sitting? Your arms or your neck or your jaw perhaps? What did you see whilst you were sitting? What could you hear? Did your legs carry you all the way down to the chair or did you just drop into it at a certain point? If I’d have asked you to, would you have been able to speak all the way from standing to sitting?
I don’t bombard my students with these questions whilst I’m working with them but these are the kinds of questions I’m concerned with while I work with them. I’ll stop them at odd points during the movement, or have them perform it in unfamiliar ways, I’ll ask them to train their attention on a particular spot, or even ask them to talk or even sing as they move. “But why?” I hear you ask. Why does this matter?
There are two aspects to consider. Firstly there’s the biomechanical aspect. How much strain are you putting on your back, your knees, your neck as you carry out this movement? You’ll sit and stand hundreds of times in a week. Are there any biomechanical patterns which are putting undue strain on your body? If so, it would be good to prevent these so that they don’t cause unnecessary wear and tear.
This is by far the least interesting aspect overall, but if your back is in chronic pain this will be super important to you. And even if you’re not in pain when you sit and stand, or walk, or work at your computer, there’s a good chance you will be at some point in your life if you never give any thought to the mechanics of how you move.
But far more interesting to me personally, is what’s happening in your mind when you move. What interests me is the question; “Are you able to maintain awareness of what you’re doing whilst you do this thing?” Can you “own every millimetre” of the movement as I heard it put recently.
Its not my job to control what my students do, it’s my job to find out whether they’re aware that they’re doing it. I’m interested in whether at the moment they go to perform a movement, any movement, a blank space appears in their head or whether they’re capable of maintaining a mind which is aware of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
I’m interested in this because if they’re not capable of maintaining that active state of mind in a simple movement like sitting down in a quiet room, there will doubtless be other moments when their brains are switching off. Lots of them. Life is filled with moments where our actions are left completely unsupervised. Learning to own every millimetre, is the key to reducing their number. The way we move matters because if we can remain aware of how we are moving, we can remain aware of what we’re doing.
It’s impossible to control our actions if we’re not aware of them.But if we are, we can do anything. All that’s left is to figure out what.