We’re up to Part 3 of our 5 Part Series on what makes for Quality Movement.
You can find Part 1 here: Want Quality Movement? Learn the Less is More Rule
And Part 2 here: Effortless Effort: The Path to Power & Grace
In those first two posts we looked at the myths related to good posture, the “Less is More Rule”, and the first of the four elements of quality movement: The Absence of Effort.
Today we’ll explore the second element: The Absence of Resistance.
To help make these ideas clearly applicable to real life, let me tell you a story…
It was a beautiful morning filled with that incredible autumn splendour of colour.
Sean (my husband) and I were heading out to our friends’ cottage just over an hours drive from home.
“We have to stop talking about this for a bit”, I told Sean. “My stomach’s all tight, my jaw’s tense and my breathing is totally crappy. I’ve been like this for a while already and I can’t seem to shift it. I’m trying to adjust my gaze to enjoy the scenery and get a more expansive view, but it’s hopeless! I’m all scrunched and contracted. It’d be nice to show up at our friends without being so revved up and tight!”
My husband and I had been having an insanely challenging conversation revolving around something crazy deep involving philosophy, ethics, morality, and/or what to think and how to act in the face of some of the challenges facing the world — I can’t remember exactly what…
Yes — we can both be total egg-heads!
I love laughing at the antics of Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, watching Star Trek (especially the Next Generation), talking all lovey-dovey talk to my dogs, and flaking out sitting around a fire in the back acre with a totally blank mind…
A-n-d… I also love engaging in deep conversations about meaningful topics. My husband, Sean, is a more than willing participant (actually, he often instigates!).
With this particular conversation, I couldn’t make my way clear to consider options — alternative points of view. Without this ability, our conversation wasn’t really going anywhere.
My comments about how I was feeling made Sean check in and he noticed he was feeling pretty much the same way. We laughed at ourselves, started breathing again, turned on some great driving tunes, enjoyed the beautiful scenery and arrived at our friends ready for a fun filled day of hiking, water-skiing and visiting.
It’s been getting easier and easier to dig deep and be willing to challenge some of my deepest held ideas about how the world is or could be and how I am and want to be. I don’t avoid challenging conversations as I might have in the past. I don’t face the same level of resistance I used to. At least, not always, or as often 😉 . I’m still fairly averse to conflict, and… I’m finding more ways to meet challenging situations.
Sure it takes some courage but it’s not as hard as it’s often made out to be. It just takes some willingness to stay with yourself and learn how you actually behave and organize yourself.
Learning to think and move through the world with less resistance allows you to think and move freely, more creatively, and with much more vitality.
You stop working against yourself.
You allow life to flow through you instead of always having to “make life happen for you”, insisting that life fit your current idea of how it should be, or give in and give up on your ideals, desires, and dreams.
I’ve got a long way to go to clear up all the ways in which I come up against resistance in myself. But there is no doubt that life is a million times easier, more comfortable and enjoyable all while living a very full and busy life.
The feeling I had in the car that day is the same sort of feeling I’ve had in Awareness Through MovementⓇ lessons….
I can still remember this one lesson in my training program where I was on my stomach with my arms outstretched overhead in what felt — at the time — like some crazy position. Then came the direction to lift my right arm…
Ha! There was no way in hell I could lift my arm as I was.
I tried more than once, and each time I could feel how insanely hard I was working. But that arm of mine? Not lifting — not even a little!
There they were — those conspicuous sensations….
My stomach was tight, as were my jaw, tongue, and throat. And my breathing… well… let’s just say it was not free.
Mentally, it was like thinking a million things at once and nothing at all at the same time.
I used to hate doing the dishes. And I don’t mean just as a kid growing up…
Why the heck am I telling you this? Bear with me — it’s another real life example to help you take your Awareness Through Movement practice off the mat…
Sean and I have a routine to help us manage our time. The cook doesn’t clean up afterward. Our schedules being what they are, Sean usually cooks (which is great because he’s the better cook)! That means I’m usually the one to clean up.
For the longest time, getting myself up after dinner to clean the kitchen and do the dishes took a massive force of will. It felt like I had to haul my ass into the kitchen. Thankfully, most days, once I got to it, it wasn’t all that bad. A little mindfulness goes a long way 😉
Over the last few years, I’ve paid more attention to that resistance, and I’ve noticed that if I organise myself better, it’s not such a big deal to go do the dishes.
What Does it Mean to “Organize Yourself Better?”
For me, the first thing was to drop all the emotional baggage I’d acquired around doing the dishes from when I was a kid. For this little bit, it didn’t take much more than becoming aware that I’d developed a habit of thinking doing the dishes sucked. In reality, it doesn’t… I’ve got a great view out our kitchen window at the sink. The water is luxuriously soft and warm. It can be kinda soothing actually…
But more than that, what made the biggest difference in getting myself to move to the kitchen to clean up easy, was organizing myself so I felt ready for movement…
Instead of dropping all my muscular tone and relying on my chair to act as an exoskeleton, all I had to do was…
- find my own skeleton
- find easier breathing
- invite freedom in my neck and eyes
- include my pelvis in my self-image as the source of power
- feel I could shift my weight easily this way or that…
When I’ve got myself organized this way, it doesn’t take much effort to just go do whatever I feel like…
The resistance, if there is any, seems to just melt away.
What Is This “Resistance” — Exactly?
“The sensation of effort is the greatest possible, with efficiency being zero.”*
In the first two examples above, I was not able to do even the smallest bit of what I’d wanted…
In the conversation, I could not make my way clear to consider any options — not at all.
In the Awareness Through Movement lesson, I could not lift my arm ― None. At. All. in spite of doing a whole heap of work…
Efficiency = Zero.
Try this simple movement experiment:
- look off to the horizon and slowly, comfortably, turn your head left and right
- look straight ahead, and this time, as you turn your head to the right, turn your eyes to look left and vice versa (go ahead — actually try it out…I’m not going anywhere here 😉 )
- turn your head to the left and look over your left shoulder. Now, as you return your head to look straight ahead, take your eyes to the LEFT (I’ll wait for you — go ahead and try it out — for real!)
Depending on how familiar you are with movements like this, you might have felt some resistance….
The sensation of resistance is felt when we have conflicting messages being transmitted to our muscular system.
Your voluntary motor cortex is planning the movement you intend, but you’re also organising yourself in a way that is in conflict with this intention.
Your intention may be to turn your eyes left while you turn your head right, but there’s the conflicting message to the muscles of your eyes to turn right along with your head.
Another example: “I want to move forward, but I don’t want to fall.” You start to lift your leg but its so heavy – so hard to do! Standing still on two legs you’re safe and you’re not falling. You like not falling. You want to “not fall”. So you want to stay standing still. But all the while, you want to move forward…
In a nutshell, resistance arises because of conflicting motivations.
What many of us do when we feel such resistance is either give up on that intention or try to overcome the resistance by force of will.
You start to avoid and/or pretend you don’t like or don’t really want to do those things that cause you to slam up against resistance. You deny your inmost desires and feed the self-limiting beliefs that keep you from living the life you want. That shitty inner voice can start saying things like:
- “I’m not cut out for that.”
- “I can’t do that.”
- “I’m not good at that.”
- “Who care’s about that anyway? I don’t.”
- and so on and so forth…
You feel less capable, maybe flawed, and impotent.
Sometimes, and if you’re anything like me, to overcome the feeling of resistance, you use force of will. “If I just try harder, work harder, do more, put in more effort, make myself, I will overcome….”.
The problem is, trying to overcome resistance with “force of will” is a poor substitute for maturing; for learning and growing and developing ourselves intelligently and wisely.
Think about it…
If resistance is due to cross-motivations (“…transmitting conflicting messages to your muscular system”), then just pushing through means you are fighting against yourself. It’s incredibly hard work and results in behaviour that certainly isn’t as skilful as it could be. At worst, it can also be pretty darn damaging to yourself.
Feldenkrais writes in The Potent Self:
Only immature people need will effort to act. The mature person clears up all the irrelevant motivations and uses interest, necessity, and skill unhindered by unrecognized emotional urges. This ability of inhibiting the distracting tendencies is acquired by the mature person through careful and painstaking learning of her own functioning.”
The sensation of resistance is due to an improper inhibition and integration of the urges to action before enacting them. It is essentially a sign of infantile manipulation of motivation. The keener the watch on resistance, the finer is the skill and competence in the end. Needless to say, this watching is only necessary during the learning period. Later the self-image in action already contains all the details of proper attitude and posture as part of an undivided whole. Revision and conscious intervention are necessary in entirely new situations only.”
Think about paragons of sport like Wayne Gretzky, Roger Federer, and Michael Jordan…
Jordan was cut during tryouts when a young ‘un in school. He had a great deal of learning to do. I don’t know what kinds of resistance Jordan faced, but I’ve heard it said that there certainly was some. But he got onto the task of learning, of maturing as a basketball player. Through that process, he worked out the “…proper inhibition and integration of the urges to act…” and developed and clarified his self-image to a level that allowed him to play as an “undivided whole“.
Beautiful, spontaneous basketball playing.
But then when he went to play baseball, things were pretty rough again. Here we can understand what Feldenkrais was talking about when he said, “Revision and conscious intervention are necessary for entirely new situations…”
Just because you’re incredibly skilled in certain areas of you life, doesn’t mean you’ll be skilled in all areas of your life.
I see it in myself as well as my Feldenkrais teachers. The skill with which they give Functional IntegrationⓇ lessons can be gorgeous. At times, it’s truly magical watching them work…
Then attend some meetings with them and maybe go out for drinks or dinner, and their human foibles can become pretty apparent.
And I’m no different — just ask my husband 😉 . There are about a bazillion other areas in my life where I’ve got a fair bit of learning to do…
We are all oh-so-human…
Life is a process. Maturing is a life-long endeavour. And so — the ability to learn and to grow in self-awareness are pretty darn handy skills to have. That is if you want to live a vibrant, potent life filled with vitality.
Dealing With Resistance The Feldenkrais Way
Let’s make this all more tangible…
The beauty of the Feldenkrais Method is that it’s incredibly concrete.
You can sense in a real and tangible way sensations of muscular contraction and joint position.
As embodied beings, whose brains’ sole purpose is to organise movement, there isn’t anything that is more immediate, concrete and tangible that we can directly affect as our muscular contractions and all the sensations associated with that (joint positions, skeletal relationships and so on).
When you feel resistance, you can be pretty sure that there is a problem with the distribution of muscular work throughout yourself.
The most powerful muscles you have are those around your pelvis and hip joints. When you’re not transmitting forces from this area through your skeleton, you’ll have to use a lot more effort than needed.
Your limbs should only be used to position your bones so that you transmit the power from your pelvis to whatever it is you’re doing. And your head should be completely free to move in any direction.
When you feel resistance, check in to see where you’re stiffening your limbs, shoulders, chest, jaw, eyes, and neck. You’re probably making these areas try to do the work more suited to your pelvis, hips, and abdominal cylinder.
The way you organize your abdominal cylinder, and hip joints; the organization of your pelvis to move powerfully in all directions is critical to the functioning of your entire self.
When I found myself utterly incapable of lifting my arm from the floor, there is not doubt that I did not include my pelvis in my self-image. I most definitely thought that lifting my arm was something that I did with my arm, rather than my self. I had very little sense of how to derive power from my abdominal cylinder and hip joints in order to lift my arm easily.
Here’s a critical point. I had strong muscles in this area. I was a 400m sprinter and hurdler and could squat a mighty significant percentage of my body weight. I had six pack abs and the whole shebang. Strength in and of itself was not the issue.
So what was the issue?
I didn’t organize myself as an undivided whole. There were all kinds of conflicting messages going to my musculature.
When I slowed the process of going from the thought of acting to acting; when I created a larger gap between thinking and doing and watched myself in process… that’s when I noticed that not only was I not lifting my arm, I would, in fact, start to press the floor with my arm!
Creating that gap between thinking and acting is an extremely powerful strategy to learn to move more skillfully, comfortably and powerfully.
You need to be willing to hang out in the unknown and with your own uncertainty. You need to be willing to see yourself as you are and come to know what you actually do, not just what you think you’re doing.
Know that you are enough, just as you are. Then you can do this work of learning without your sense of self-worth having anything to do with anything. You come to learn to move better and more skillfully simply because you can — because learning and moving are natural.
I’m still amazed at the inherent intelligence of living, moving beings…
Within minutes, just by:
- creating a gap between thinking and doing
- clarifying my intention
- slowing down and making much, much smaller moves to sense myself more clearly (make finer distinctions)
- removing the acts that limited my ability to lift my arm
- actively inhibiting the muscle contractions that were actually causing my arm to press the ground
- broadening my attention to be much more inclusive of my entire self…
And lo and behold, I started to lift my arm a little…and the quality of my experience was worlds apart from what I’d initially been doing.
It’s hard to state in words this profound difference.
What had been impossible, became possible.
Was it still effortful? Ya, somewhat.
Was the resistance lessened? Massively!
It’s even easier when it’s about getting up to do something like — the dishes. Instead of getting up by force of will, I organise myself to “just do it” easily and effortlessly.
Notice where in life you use force of will.
What would it be like to “clear up all irrelevant motivations” and develop proper “inhibition and integration of urges” before doing that act?
To move and live as an undivided whole?
To move in such a way that all of you moved in service of your intention?
Now this is crucial: Make it concrete! A real, tangible, felt experience….
How can you play with:
- finding your skeleton
- finding easier breathing
- inviting more freedom in your neck and eyes
- including your pelvis in your self-image and as being the “seat of power” (pun intended 😉 )
- feel you could shift your weight easily this way or that…
Imagine if you could do all those things you have to “will” yourself to do more easily and effortlessly— no “will effort” required…
What would your life be like?
Could it be that that is what the Nike tagline could mean?
Develop your ability to be “ready for movement” anytime, anywhere and decrease the resistance and effort in your life by joining my FREE Online Content Library.
There you’ll find a growing library of material, including Awareness Through Movement lessons to help you move better, and live better!
This is Part 3 of a 5 part series about developing Quality Movement:
Other useful posts linked to throughout this one:
On acting as an “undivided whole”:
On “finding your skeleton” and organizing your abdominal cylinder:
*The Potent Self (aff. link) by Moshe Feldenkrais