I have a lovely aunt who was known for playing tricks on her teachers and siblings as a young girl. When my grandmother was out shopping or running errands, the children would take the opportunity to run amuck, until they heard their mother’s familiar footsteps. The particular rhythmic clicking of her heeled shoes against the paving stones, the lifting of the front gate lock, the slight tread of the shoe as she approached the front door, all these signalled time to quickly organise and pretend to be doing homework by the time their mother walked through the door. On one occasion, my grandmother left the house wearing a new pair of shoes, leaving her old shoes in the hallway. My aunt spotted an opportunity. She quietly took the shoes and creeped out of the door. Putting on the shoes, she then replicated her mother’s walk up to the front door. Her brothers and sisters inside were shocked by the sudden return and scrambled to get to their homeworks. The door opened, and there was Evelyn.
The little idiosyncrasies of our movements both define and are defined by our character, how we feel, our social and geographical environment. Like the clothes we wear, the body is firstly informed by its own material make up, the intrinsic qualities of the fabric. It is molded not only by the intended mechanism of our early development, the general pattern of conception, foetal growth and birth that you read about in medical books, but also by the unexpected idiosyncrasies that are inevitable in any live process. Even from the womb our bodies are receiving information to which we adapt in some way.
Have you ever tried to iron a top and realised that no matter what you do, the seams just don’t meet easily? The fabric molds to the shape and movement of its wearer. As we grow into who we become we make constant adjustments according to our internal and external environments. The fabric becomes stretched in some places, twisted in others. Our bodies develop patterns of movement in response to our need to negotiate all the ingredients that make us functioning human beings.The intrinsic qualities of the fabric and cut are only half the story. The other half is movement.
You are how you move.
The one rule that we all follow unconsciously is to make things easier for ourselves. The particular drag and click of my grandmother’s tread was not a deliberate choreographic sequence. It was a habit. Habits accumulate to reduce cognitive and muscular output. They become ingrained to the point that they are no longer questioned. They just become the norm. Now, this is not all bad. If a habitual pattern is a good adaptation for someone’s particular situation, if it is effective and not causing excess strain or injury, then it may be a beneficial habit. It only becomes a problem when it stops us from accessing our full movement potential. Remember, if a habit is developed out of need for efficiency then you are using less muscular effort, read: lowering your basic metabolic rate during that activity. This is very helpful if you have a marathon to run to save your life, but less helpful if you only tend to get around the block once in a working week. What we need to do is trick the body out of that tendency to economise and we do this by consciously (mindfully) moving ourselves out of habitual patterns.
So, how can we move more consciously?
- The ABC of good movement habits is awareness. We need to start by listening to our bodies. Switch the music off when you do that run. Tune in instead of tuning out whilst you swim. Do Feldenkrais…. that one’s worth repeating: do Feldenkrais.
- Throw a spanner in the works: you realise your weaknesses when you do something that you are not used to doing. Try a new class, change the cross of your legs, change your workstation around, listen to something you would not normally listen to. Don’t just go towards the familiar, nudge yourself out of your mindless habits even if it feels a little superficial.
- Your movement classes should be a conversation. No I don’t mean that you should spend the whole session discussing your mother in law and the state of the country. The art of effective teaching is to facilitate learning. I don’t have all the answers. I have a set of tools, a paradigm for approaching movement. How this interacts with your own knowledge and movement capacity is highly individual. For me to be able to help you, you have to help me. It’s a collaboration that we both learn from.
- Reflect. I know, like we have time to sit down and endlessly journal about things! But having some kind of written statement can help you catch your own habits. It doesn’t need to be a long thing. Write a line each day about what you did differently and how you felt. Reflection is an important feedback tool, there’s nothing like your own words to tell you how it is!
- Find a compass. If our roads were not straight, we’d all go around in circles. We all need some kind of compass, an external marker to tell us where we are. Ideally something quantifiable. Weight and BMI don’t give you the whole story, but as a rough guideline they provide some kind of compass to keep us on track. Don’t be obsessed. Just weigh in once a month or so.
- Injuries are the best wake up call. Most injuries, unless related to a specific accident like a sudden fall or a road traffic accident, are micro-traumatic. They are the cumulative effect of constant over use and micro-tears. That really long post-Christmas lunch walk may have triggered a new surge of pain, but the pattern that caused it was long ingrained. Don’t just treat the pain. Find the pattern that caused it.