Having an experience.... by Tom Waldron

Having an experience..

The world of movement and well being takes many forms. From the flow and grace of yoga, to the discipline and precision of ballet, there’s definitely no shortage in the variety of movement techniques one can explore. Different movement styles are such a wonderful art we should all explore and experiment with in our lifetime. With the insight that a human being’s life is made up of the images in their head and the feelings in their body, our ability to move freely in a variety of fashions, to feel our body fully will surely play a significant role in the quality of a person’s thoughts, and therefore the quality of their life. Taking this point of view when looking at the health and fitness industry, it often appears that the art of embodiment is missing from magazines, studios and movement educators. Let me explain..

As a movement educator, I feel the main objective of those who work with the others want to give people the gift of enjoying the experience of being in their body. To find joy in their movement and for it to not be a chore or simply a means to an ends. The realisation that for some, being in their body is painful and depressing can be a hard pill to swallow at times. So whether you’re a yogi, a pilates instructor, physiotherapist or fitness coach, it’s our goal and passion to want to change this reality that some are living in.

 But how do you educate someone on feeling good and tension free if they've never felt good or tension free in their body? Surely this is like trying to explain the taste of chocolate to an individual who’s never tasted chocolate before. So how do we solve this dilemma as movement professionals? Do we prescribe exercises? I know heaps of exercises on how to ‘release that’ and ‘strengthen this’, but if there is no experience of the desired outcome in the first place, there is no real change.

Our movement patterns (and posture) will dictate what muscular imbalances we may have. So let’s say for example an individual has muscular imbalances in their leg muscles. The rectus femoris is over recruiting and the inner thigh muscles are weak. It’s common practice that after a biomechanical screening, exercises are prescribed to the individual to increase the strengthen of the adductors and to release the rectus femoris. And I agree with this! But what caused these muscular imbalances are the individual’s movement patterns.  If these movement patterns aren't corrected, when they go to do their prescribed exercises, yoga or pilates they are simply practicing their old movement patterns in an exercise system. They are training and further strengthening their old movement patterns. Not adopting new ones. There is a lack of awareness.

 It’s interesting that mind body is so popular these days and yet it’s nearly impossible to find anyone who truly teaches it! Superficial awareness is being taught everywhere, but deeper, truer awareness is being conscious of whether or not your movement is functional and biomechanically supportive of your health, movement and your whole being.  It’s not that exercises are bad. I love exercises and I teach them every day for a living! But this is not the world of exercises. This is the world of movement. So if we want to move better and enjoy the feeling of moving, we need to bring our focus to movement itself and not just perfecting the downward dog or the teaser. The common perception is that we train ourselves when we are exercising. But we are training our body constantly. How you sit, stand and walk are the main platforms in which we train our muscular system. Even how we think has been proven to have a tremendous effect on our movement habits. So life is our body’s training ground, not just our fitness routine.

Where does real change takes place? Real change starts in the nervous system. The brain is a recording machine. Every moment of our lives the brain is recording and downloading information. Both conscious and subconscious information. If the same information is constantly being fed to the brain, let’s say shoulder tension for example. The person gets better and creating shoulder tension. Even if that person is doing exercises to release shoulder tension, if for the rest of their day when they are not doing their exercises they are practicing tension, the nervous system will be wired for tension. Knowing this brings a very crucial component when wanting to change how we feel. We need to allow the mind time to digest and record the experiences we want to feel. So we can build stronger neural pathways to that feeling.

How do you do this? I’m going to use the shoulders to give an example of what I mean. Massage your right shoulder (upper trapezious) with your left hand. Start soft and gentle and as the muscle begins to relax and loosen you can sponge the muscle deeper. Start to slowly move the arm in different directions. Stay with the movement. Keep your focus. After a few minutes take your left hand away and notice the two sides. Move the right arm. Then move the left arm. There will be a considerable difference in the flexibility, co-ordination, strength and alignment in the right arm.  You have become more efficient! This is the important part. Be with this new feeling. Breathe with it and allow your nervous system to build a relationship with it. After a few breaths continue to the other shoulder. This is practicing mind body. The more you do this throughout the day you are strengthening the bond between this feeling of liberated shoulders and your mind. The noticing and comparing is the moment of transformation. If there is no awareness, you don’t know what is going on. Now when you do your shoulder exercises you won’t be practicing your old movement habits but rather exploring and developing healthier ones.         

Do this in your yoga, pilates, fitness or dance classes. Take those moments to notice if the state you desire is happening in your body. If it is, record it. If you don’t feel a positive difference, change what you’re doing. As a species that is moving constantly, let’s take some of our attention away from movement cues and exercise opinions, and bring more awareness into the movement experience itself.