Movement is life. The heart pumps, the diaphragm expands and contracts and blood circulates. When all body movement ceases, so does life.
We can take this idea further: Diminished capacity to move means diminished capacity for life. Many people with physical limitations live extraordinary lives. Still, given a choice, no one would consciously choose physical restriction.
Yet many of us do make this choice unconsciously, incrementally, day in and day out. While our attention is elsewhere, we fall into patterns of movement and lack of movement that, over time, restrict our freedom, decrease our comfort and affect our health.
Fortunately, our relation to our bodies, like our bodies themselves, are open to change. Once we become attentive to the way we move, we can change the quality of movement – and with it, the quality of our lives.
Movement as healing
The visionaries of movement therapy were mostly dancers and performers; many started out looking for solutions to their own physical difficulties. You don’t have to be a dancer with sore knees or a public speaker with a failing voice to benefit from movement work. Anyone with any capacity to move can learn to move more efficiently, intelligently and joyfully through life.
The aim of movement therapy is a healthy body and sound mind, fully capable of performing the various tasks, duties and activities of life with enthusiasm and joy – and free from pain or limitation. Movement therapy offers so many paths to that end that people who want to improve their physical well-being can try various methods and choose the ones they like best.
Modern movement therapists use insights and methods pioneered by people like Moshe Feldenkrais, F.M. Alexander and Joseph Pilates. They work with people as they are, guiding them toward grace, comfort and healing and helping prevent damage from misuse or disuse. The therapies range from passive to strenuous, and each has a different approach to improving quality of movement. Some therapies focus on centering, control, precision, balance, alignment and breathing. Others emphasize freedom, lightness, release and ease. All rely upon awareness as a foundation.
Movement as conscious living
Movement therapy can also be a path to spiritual growth. This may seem counter-intuitive, because Western tradition tends to draw a line between body and mind and typically encourages us to think of our bodies as the “least spiritual” part of us.
Other traditions see it differently. Movement therapists view body, mind and spirit as indivisible parts of a whole. For many of us, the physical is potentially our shortest route to the spirit.
Consider this: Our thoughts and feelings are usually concerned with the past or future. Rarely, if we can observe them, do they bring us to the “now.” We’ve all had the experience of being so preoccupied that we arrive somewhere only to realize that we don’t know how we got there – we’ve lost a whole block of experience. We can become so overwhelmed by what’s going on in our minds – fears, problems or painful memories – that we experience the biophysical reactions evoked by actual life-threatening situations. It doesn’t matter to our nervous systems that we’re really sitting down inside, safe and at rest, as we run through a gamut of panic or rage. Our feelings don’t know that what we think about isn’t real.
The body can be much simpler than the mind and feelings. The body always exists in the “now,” and becoming aware of physical experience shifts our attention to the present, to reality. The body can be a link to becoming fully present in each moment of our lives. And when we are fully present – undistracted by thoughts of the past or future – we can remember our goals, priorities and our ability to choose. The present is where we are able to see things as they are and take responsibility.
Movement as connection
Exploring and improving movement helps us connect to others. If you are not open to the life within you, you cannot be open to the life within someone else. If you literally cannot feel yourself and your body, you cannot fully connect to another self and another body. Movement is the natural expression of the body and various methods will guide you toward alignment – not just of bones and muscles – but of body, mind, breath and spirit. Healthy, balanced movement is a posture – a stance – you take toward life. From this stance you are ready to bring more of you into relationships, work, play and prayer.
How to Walk
- Keep your palms facing your body.
- Allow the arms to swing freely from the shoulder (not the elbow!).
- Keep a sense of the abdomen pulled in and up.
- Imagine the head floating off the top of the spine – pull the chin in slightly and lengthen the back of your neck.
- Tip to improve your walking: Try skipping (remember skipping?) and then carry that buoyant feeling with you when you walk.
Simple Movement Awareness Exercise
- Sit up straight. Stand up. Sit down again.
- Relax your neck and shoulders completely. Wobble your head around, shrug your shoulders, etc., until the neck is relaxed.
- Now keep your neck relaxed as you stand up again. Notice what you have to do differently not to use your neck and shoulders to “pull” yourself up. Notice how your neck feels, how your legs feel.
Sit down again, still keeping the neck uninvolved in the work of the lower body.
Movement and awareness can enhance every part of your life – starting now.