What is movement and why you should move?
When I tell people I am a movement coach people I get this funny look and the question, what do you mean by movement?
A few minutes of explanation later I get the same response: like yoga? No, not like yoga.
So I will explain what I understand by movement and why it is essential to re-learn how to move.
Movement is life
Movement is nothing but life. It is not a result of life, more the other way around, movement allows life to exist, what doesn’t move decays and dies. Isn’t that enough reason to move?
At every level, from the subatomic world to the galaxies, there is movement. In ER a brain that doesn’t have electricity “movement” is dead.
For each one of us to be here we needed a spermatozoid to move fast and wiggle its way inside the egg. That egg wasn’t there before, it moved from elsewhere to the right position.
Cells move, organs move, nutrients are moved, waste is moved, etc.
The fact that you don’t know movement is happening doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Movement is so inherent to life that goes unnoticed.
When we are born, we come equipped with all the right bits and pieces. We have all the structures that will allow movement patterns to help us to stay alive and express our humanity.
Only a few days after we are conceived, our heart starts beating. Once delivered, our lungs start providing the most important of all elements for human existence: air.
The more we grow, the more we use our bodies. If we are born physically healthy and complete, our articulations come with a predefined range of movement particular to our species. The movement patterns grow in complexity according with our brain evolving from the simplest to the most complex.
We only have to see the marvelous things the human body can achieve through diligent training, – from marvelous acts of physicality like gymnastics, dancing or Olympic lifting, to playing harp or violin all the way to making the most microscopic surgeries -, all the result of refining our movement skills.
Yet, as have evolved socially we are devolving as species. Our society has primed comfort and convenience at the expense of functionality. Today people wouldn’t last a day in nature. We have lost the extraordinary physical skills that ensured our survival in nature.
People, even kids walking with the poorest of postures, dragging their feet, with no coordination, no balance, no body awareness. Bodies that were born primed to move, primed to thrive, constricted and in pain.
Reality of movement today
Every being is built for survival. We humans, have broken that limitation. We not only have to escape predators and hunt prey. Our bodies now can engage in fine arts and leisure.
Still we are hard-wired for survival. Our brain is always looking for economy and efficiency. And at this moment in time, this great ability is backfiring on us.
For the brain, whatever it isn’t used constantly, is perceived as an unnecessary luxury. So if you aren’t moving in all planes and dimensions, your brain will tend to eliminate those functions. They require brain power, intelligence, and brain power is costly for the body.
If you aren’t running, walking, jogging, squatting, crawling, climbing, fighting, wrestling, playing in ALL directions, forms and ways, your body brain will rewire itself and cut out patterns that aren’t being used.
Why to waste a wealth of neural connections if you aren’t using them? Better allocate them to give more dextrexity to your fingers so you can text like a maniac on a small smartphone screen!
The cost of specialization
Every articulation in the body starts free, ready to engage and perform a multitude of movements or to stabilize other articulations.
But articulations don’t work alone, unless we specialize. Every movement, even the tiniest of them, is a fully orchestrated symphony of cooperation of the body. Nothing in the body is fully independent.
When we specialize, the brain again starts choosing what to keep and what to get rid of. Resources freed from the unused, “unlimited potential” of movements each articulation has, are allocated to “super-charge” the patterns we are hyper-developing.
You can see this “priming” everywhere. Enough to see the legs of a cyclist, the diaphragm of an opera singer or the suppleness of a yogi. They all come at a price.
These are all examples of specialization we can call “positive”, since we are getting something we perceive as “good”, – a function -, out of the patterns we are losing over the patterns we are developing.
Unfortunately, there is specialization I doubt we can ever call positive, such as seating endlessly, looking down on our smartphones, or locking our wrists in place to text our friends.
To “prime” lack of movement, we develop stiffness, rigidity. Movement in itself is the opposite of rigid or hard, so even when people go to the gym and try to build “big muscles”, they are priming rigidity over fluidity and smoothness.
A big part of the problem is that great movement patterns, those that are polished to almost immaculate perfection, and are treasures of smoothness, coordination, fluidity, etc., make things look “easy”.
People are bored and uninterested at things that look easy. They prefer what I have come to call “hero” movements and skills. A human flag? Yes please, walking with grace and beauty? What for?
What is movement then?
In this context the way I understand and I coach movement, is:
- The practice that is conducive to keep or regain full range of motion of every articulation in the body.
- The practice that promotes the correct interaction of all articulations in the body.
- The practice that allows the fascia to go back to the position and condition that allows the muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, and nerves to move within the range that physically can be expected anatomically to move prior to losing it.
- The practice that allow tendons and ligaments to go back to its natural length, tension and position in the body.
- The practice that allows muscles to recruit all the possible amount of fibers and to permit the fibers to “fire” in the most virtuous, efficient and efficacy naturally possible.
- The practice that gets the nervous system to a state of efficient relaxation that “calls” all the body elements to “move” synchronically and efficiently.
- The practice that allows organs and systems in the body to perform its functions healthily and efficiently.
- The practice that gets the brain to recover functions and range of movement that was deemed “unnecessary” or “painful” in the past due to injury or trauma.
- The practice that eliminates rigidity and adds the necessary tension so all body parts and systems can work in harmony.
- The practice that aligns every structure in the body according to its design where the intention of movement, and movement itself happen as a single unit.
- The practice that allow emotional “trauma” to be “discharged” of the body and permits the whole body to relax and leave the state of “survival.
- The practice that allows body awareness to inhabit the body and be the main engine of movement of all the structures mentioned above.
Superimposed to all this, movement then is the practice that opens the space to heal in every dimension and layer of the human expression.
In other words the practice that primes the most natural, virtuous, efficient usage of the body, mind, will and emotion.
How does the body used to heal in nature?
The situation has changed. In the past we used to get injured when trying to hunt, when fighting, when escaping.
Nowadays we get injured mostly through repetition and rigidity associated to sedentarism and work.
For a long time I asked myself how the people in the past could get back to health without having rehabilitation.
Most likely, they weren’t in a constant inflammatory state as we are today. They didn’t have access to the sugars we have today. They couldn’t overeat ALL the time, every time.
They went fasting for days at a time which is a sure way of being in an anti-inflammatory state. They ate meat and organs, very few if any grains. They weren’t attacked by pesticides and chemicals. Their bones were robust and denser than our bodies are today.
Their injuries didn’t have the optimal conditions to remain for long.
But besides that, they were connected to their bodies. It is a well known fact today that every mammal in nature, after experiencing trauma, will take the time to lie down and experience “shaking”. Shaking is the way the body has to release fear and shock out of the system.
In human bodies it is believed by many that the repository of fear and trauma is in the psoas. It has been observed that children in war situations for example, tend to have shaking episodes that allow them to go back to “normal” after battles or shocking experiences have happened. While the adults in similar situations, having lost this natural reflex, keep trauma stored in their bodies. Welcome PST.
Still, I kept thinking, how is it that kids are so resilient for so many years to injury? What was the mechanism that allow them to go back to baseline every day?
Not long ago, after healing my body with my own movement method I started yawning again. I am not talking about the social, lazy yawning, but the deep one that stretches you from the inside out.
I was floored by the fact that my body had lost the capacity of self healing through yawning. Inflating the lungs and creating tension in the spine and rib cage from the inside relaxed areas that I could have never reached otherwise.
In western societies we tell off kids when they stretch, stupidly taking away from them one of the ways nature equipped us to release rigidity.
Another action that came to my attention the same day was that I started fidgeting with my feet just like I did all my childhood and part of my teenager years, until I stopped by trying to be polite and don’t look anxious.
Today i contend that doesn’t simple actions, are ways of the body to release rigidity and unnecessary trauma, tension and stress from our bodies.
What do I see in my practice?
I see rigidity. Compensations, imbalances, and lots of inefficiency and pain.
I am yet to see an individual who his or her mobility aren’t compromised. In different forms or shapes we all have some degree of rigidity and compensations.
As said before, we are primed to survive. But in fact, in our daily lives, this urge to keep oneself alive isn’t practical anymore. The chances of dying while going to work and go back home aren’t that high.
But our bodies and minds don’t know it. The mind is constantly alert, looking for and even creating imaginary danger. If a balloon explodes we react as if there was a real threat. The body contracts, and after contracting over and over, it forgets how to go back to supplenes.
Being sedentary will have the same consequences. The body gets good at not moving.
It will start contracting and making our hips, spine, ankles and wrists rigid, so the muscles don’t have to actively engage to keep us from “melting” on our chairs.
When we fight with our loved ones we contract, when we get stressed, over think, feel ridiculed or not accepted we contract, but rarely we give the body the space to relax and go back to “baseline”.
Instead, we add stressors such as sports, over drinking or overeating. We go to “pump” iron or do an “easy” 10km run.
We add stress to the rigidity. The brain primes contraction, and you “forget” how to get back to relaxation.
Skills against real movement practice
There are now quite a number of people who study and coach movement.
Personally I think the movement culture has fallen in the same trap other practices have.
Developing skills isn’t movement as I have described. Developing skills is beautiful. One starts with a curious mind, with a question, and then we address it by exploring the movement patterns and everything that is necessary to arrive to a result.
But developing skills involve repetition which leads to specialization if unchecked. Instead of using a skill to address imbalances or compensations, we fall into an ego trap and we enshrine the skill as the goal, instead of the tool.
From what I can see now, movement now is understood as the development of extreme, not necessarily functional movements and positions, that lead to injury and pain.
How did we so soon went so wrong so fast? Our human mind is the problem, our ego is the problem.
We are in love with “likes” on Instagram and Facebook.
Attaching our self worth to what we do has and will always be the problem. We take the tool and we make it our master. We look at the guy doing a “human flag” with a perfect 6 pack and we lust to do the same, no matter the cost.
Who cares if I will end up with an impinged shoulder? Who cares if I am literally destroying my body by training to do a “typewriter” pull up or a front lever? No one, cause my Instagram is “bursting” with likes.
As I said, those are tools, and valid in their own right. But when they become the benchmark of what “movement” is, we have lost the way, if we ever understood it.
Personally, movement must promote healing. If it is causing pain, wear and tear, inflammation, and so on, you are using the medicine as your poison.
Movement needs discomfort, even some pain, while addressing rigidity, ill posture, over-elongated ligaments or tendons, but it shouldn’t be the result of egotistical repetition and from forcing the body to do what it isn’t prepared to do.
While recovering from massive compensations I had to endure pain in ligaments and tendons associated to my recovery. But when I had them I didn’t train the area for strength or abuse it to accomplish a certain skill. I worked in ways that my body knew could heal once and for all the imbalance that had created the pain in the first place.
Movement coaches today
A lot of people now have jumped into the wagon of the “movement” revolution.
We are capable to do and teach skills. We have broken down complex movement into tiny bits that are easy to learn and repeat until you can put them all together and are able to perform them.
We have learned tips and drills. We know stretches and tricks.
A lot of them are capable of great shows of strength, balance, coordination. They are fearless and strong.
But the question remains, how many of us are able to close our eyes and let our body improvise the movement that is necessary for our bodies to relax and be healthy and functional TODAY?
Do we even understand the need of bridging the gap between thinking and moving? Are our bodies able to restore health or fix an imbalance or pain without resorting to our “library” of drills?
Are we able to see a body in motion and locate disfunction?
Are we willing to build function EXCLUSIVELY over balance and harmony in us and in our students?
Most coaches, of all kinds, in all disciplines prefer to build function over disfunction. Build the highest of towers, as fast as possible, knowing that they are building over a base of pain, injury, chronic pain and inflammation.
Is that really a coach? Is he operating from his ego or is he looking for the best in their students?
Strength from relaxation
The more I came to realize movement is the tool, the more my movement practice advanced. The more I was aware of my body and the shortcomings of the ego-mind, the more practices I dropped.
I realized that most of us base our “strength” on rigidity and damaging tension. Just look at how people tense their faces when they lift a barbell. And look at how bodybuilders end up for the most part, being nothing but a hard rock that can’t even lift their arms above their heads.
There had to be another way…
So first I dropped running, it was obvious that my pelvic floor and hip position weren’t right for such sport.
Then I dropped Crossfit altogether, even I was practicing and coaching it. I just knew that my shoulders, scapulae, hips, knees, ankles, etc, were not aligned properly.
Then I left all barbell work. Every time I got into muscle fatigue I could feel how my alignment wasn’t right. Pure rigidity has a tendency to be fragile.
Then I stopped following my gymnastics program. I could feel I wasn’t symmetrical. I felt still “twisted” and misaligned.
I trusted my gut and just kept moving. By that time I was absolutely confident that whatever my body chose to do everyday, was what was going to bring the biggest benefits.
Instead of going backwards, my body thrived. Without “stressors” (rigidity to survive them), without deciding what to do with my mind, without consulting my body, each session became a healing one.
All the compensations started to lose their grip. The shoulder that was always elevated started descending. The shoulder that was always dropped started coming up and feeling like “on top” of the scapula and rib cage.
My ribs relaxed and I could feel how they stopped “pulling” my hips from the opposite side from the back, and so on.
Then I was lucky to find a real QiGong master. As they say, the master shows when you are ready for him. He did.
I added the practice of QiGong to my daily movement sessions. I did because my body decided to do so.
It added a level of flow and relaxation that my body was in need of. Now I am practicing more than 3 hours every single day.
I have incorporated it because it has been beneficial, not because I have dreams of becoming Bruce Lee.
My practice doesn’t do much for my Instagram account. It isn’t sexy, it just get people healthy, relaxed, emotionally balanced, pain free. It gives them good posture, coordination and balance. Muscle tone and strength. But it doesn’t make them feel like heroes. It just gives them joy.