“A movement is correct when it perfectly fits a motor problem just as a key easily opens a lock.”
– Nikolai Bernstein
If you experience pain and tension as you move through life, it is likely you are recruiting muscles you don’t need to help you get the job done.
In Somatics, this is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. Essentially, your brain has simply forgotten how to sense and feel certain muscle groups in order for you to move precisely. Unnecessary “work” completed by your muscles leads to stiffness, decreased range of motion and flexibility, and pain (think about that persistent lower back pain you feel after a day in the office).
Let’s talk briefly about a few healthy pillars of biomechanics. This will be a general overview of principles involved in freedom of movement.
Movement shouldn’t be highly concentrated in a single joint. To optimize performance and reduce injury, it’s generally true that the mechanical stress of movement should be shared by many joints. This principle remains true whether we are discussing moving the hand or the hip, walking or running, breathing or jumping, an elite athlete or an old man.
Coordination, applied to movement, refers to the “harmonious interaction” of both your joints and your muscles working together. Of course your BRAIN is responsible for this coordination, or lack thereof.
So how do you get your brain to accurately sense and control your muscles for your optimal coordination? Through a technique called pandiculation!
Every movement you initiate requires cooperation from a team of muscles and joints in your body receiving appropriate direction from your brain and nervous system. If you rotate your ankle from side to side, this movement requires coordination between a prime mover (it contracts to create the movement), a stabilizer (it contracts to prevent unwanted movement), and the antagonist muscle (it relaxes to allow the movement). If this symphony of muscles is not working together properly, movement will not occur at all – regardless of how fit or capable the individual muscles are.
Flexibility and Mobility
In his book “A Guide to Better Movement,” Todd Hargrove defines flexibility as “the range of motion at a particular joint–how far can it move from A to B.” Healthy movement requires all joints to have a minimum range of motion for the common functions it performs.
Skilled movement is not about how large your range of motion is (i.e. how “flexible” you are) – it is about the amount of control you exhibit throughout your comfortable range.
I tell my clients all the time to not move into stretch – stretching does not necessarily increase your range of motion, and it definitely does not improve the level of control you have throughout your range in a particular joint. In fact, the following quote from the developer of Clinical Somatic Education, Thomas Hanna, applies here:
“Pushing against your muscles is from the old
tradition of physical training, which always fails
to release the hold of sensory motor amnesia. If
you attempt to voluntarily force a muscle that is
involuntarily contracted, you will cause an equal
and opposite resistance of that muscle. It will
contract even tighter, finally to the point of spasm.
Remember: if you want to untie a knot, you must look
at the cord carefully and then gently undo the tangle.
Yanking on the cord will only make the knot tighter.”
Thus, when you move into a static stretch (any time you hold a stretch 10 seconds or longer) to increase your range of motion or flexibility, you are simply causing your muscles to tighten further.
In order to improve your control of your range of motion, think about and then try this:
Can you shrug your shoulders up to your ears, and then smoothly and steadily control the release of them back to rest? Or when you try this do you experience “jumps” or “stutters” as you release the contraction? Most people begin to lose healthy function of their full range of motion due to habituated tension and stress over time.
Again, think Sensory Motor Amnesia here.
In fact, many of the complaints of aging are just that: your brain has lost the ability to sense and control yourself, therefore you use muscles you don’t need to get the job done, and experience pain and discomfort as a result.
Clinical Somatics addresses this point completely. Most of my clients have completely normal flexibility (a healthy range of motion); however, many people discover as we move through a session, their lack of control of their movements. This shows up as a jumpy, jerky, shaky sensation as they complete a movement. Sensory motor amnesia occurs when you have lost voluntary control of your movement, and is easily remedied through practicing Clinical Somatic Exercises.
Okay, so I am not going to discuss “core stability” in this post – that is it’s own topic. In this post, stability refers to the ability to prevent unwanted movement. It is absolutely necessary for accurate movement.
In order to move safely and in a useful way, we need stability.
Stabilizing a joint is complex because it requires the cooperative activity of entire chains of muscles (sometimes called “slings” or “trains”).
Imagine standing on a rocking boat trying to shoot a bow and arrow towards a buoy. Instead of shooting the arrow towards your target, because the boat is not stabilized, the force of your shot will move in another direction. This example shows the importance of timing. Stability in the boat needs to occur before the arrow fires, not after.
It is important to note that joints involved in a stability function are not rigid or motionless; there is a small amount of movement required for optimal function.
Balance is the ability to maintain center of gravity within the base of support, which in your case is your legs and feet. It can also be defined as your ability to maintain equilibrium.
Optimal balance is required to keep your ability to move in any direction with a milliseconds notice. Hargrove recommends an interesting experiment to test your balance: on any particular movement path, see how easy it is to change your direction, even moving in the opposite direction. Improving the coordination of your muscles will improve your balance, as will removing unnecessary tension. When you have full sensory control of yourself you will automatically have a good sense of balance.
These key concepts are just part of what is required for healthy, functional movement. The most important thing to remember is:
movement should feel good for you.
The next time any workout instructor or physical therapist or yoga teacher instructs you into a movement that doesn’t feel good, adjust! Never move into pain or tension.
There are many other factors involved, and aside from just the mechanical aspect of movement, your mental and emotional states highly influence your ability to move and the quality of movements you perform. So the next time you are feeling stressed or in a rush to accomplish everything on your to-do list, do a simple body scan and notice which of your muscles are tensing up.
Come learn more about how Clinical Somatic Education can teach you how to relieve your own tension, on your own, without having to run to the chiropractor or other bodyworkers whenever you need relief!
Attend one of my upcoming workshops.
Hargrove, T. (2014). A Guide to Better Movement. Seattle: Better Movement