Kinesthesia

The Dance of Dynamic Balance

Okay, here's an easy question: how are humans able to stand on two feet without falling over? There are several complicated ways to answer this, but the simplest and most basic truth is, we balance. This ability to be bipedal is an evolutionary miracle, but it's so automatic that we take it for granted. Until an injury or illness makes that impossible or difficult, we don't typically appreciate this balancing act. Partly it's because we do not understand what balance is. People who come for Alexander lessons anticipate that their balance will improve, and that's almost always a predictable result. Yet most students are surprised to learn that balance is dynamic, not static. One doesn't maintain balance by holding on, but by letting go. Or, to be more precise, by letting flow. Balance is a series of continual adjustments, tiny micro-motions that can only occur when there is openness and ease in the body. The minute we hold to a fixed posture or become rigid, we lose our balance. When tension and gripping is released, dynamic adjustments automatically flow throughout the system.

You may be thinking, "I'm pretty tense a lot of the time, but I don't fall over. I stay balanced." Well, you might stay upright, but that's not the same thing. Holding a fixed pattern in the body comes at a cost, in terms of muscle overwork and discomfort, reduced respiration, and the muting of feeling and reliable sensory feedback (to name just a few of the downsides).

Bodymind Experiment: Stand in a comfortable way, with your feet hip-width apart. (If you can do this without shoes, all the better.) Check in with your knees, make sure they are not hyperextended or locked. Relax your lower back, your belly, and your chest. Allow your arms to hang easily at your sides. Do a quick scan to see where there are pockets of tension (forehead, jaw, shoulders, thighs -- all popular spots for tightness). Invite these places to soften. Take a few full breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Now, with your eyes closed, begin to notice the movements happening in the soles of your feet. There will be little shifts back and forth, or side to side, or in circles. Don't do anything about this, just notice it. You will observe that even when we are "standing still" there is movement. Open your eyes, and sense the same micro-movements happening.

This is your body doing its best to balance. Keep scanning the body and the mind for little pockets of tension, and as you stand there, see what happens when you keep releasing wherever you are holding. How does this affect the motion you noticed in your feet? You can also try tensing up a bunch, to see what that does to the balancing act. Grip, then let go. Let go some more. Breathe.

Are you in the dance of dynamic balance?

Gimme Your Digits

I set an intention of posting a mindful movement tip each day during December, but I neglected to post one yesterday, Day 10.  So on Day 11, here's a two-fer: 10 things to become aware of, plus one. Sitting up or lying back (however you are reading this), rearrange the furniture of your bones, so that you are in balance. If you're sitting, align your weight on the sitz bones at the base of your pelvis. If you're reclining back, align your hips and shoulders as the four corners of your torso. Allow your spinal curves to lengthen up, from the tailbone to the crown of your head. Let whatever is supporting your weight to be a base for sending thoughts of lengthening and widening through your whole body. Notice where you are contracting, and let go. Open to however you are right now in this moment.

Bring your attention to your toes. Without a lot of wiggling or movement, just notice the toes on each foot. Sense into each big toe, become aware of the baby toes, include all the middle toes in your consciousness. You may feel tingling, pulsing, warmth or coolness, numbness, or no sensation. Are there some toes that seem impossible to connect with?  That is not unusual.

Can you sense the connection of the toes into the bones of the whole foot?  Do your toes feel different on the tops than they do on the bottoms?  Can you expand the space around and between your toes, just by directing some thought there? Get curious about all 10 toes.fingers & toes

Now bring that curiosity to your fingers. Again, without moving them around, sense into all 10 fingers. Are they curled into a fist? Extended outward in an open arrangement? Are your palms down or up? Notice how bringing awareness into your fingers is similar to or different from the awareness you have of your toes.

Expand your attention to include both feet and both hands. Move your mind's eye from the fingertips and tips of the toes up into the hands and the feet. Notice how the pinky fingers relate to the baby toes, how the thumbs connect to the big toes. Can you sense the energy in the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands?

So for most of us, that was actually 20 things to become aware of. Here's the plus one: with full awareness of toes and fingers, feet and hands, include your breathing in the experience of this moment.  As you inhale, picture the breath coming in through the toes and the fingers, moving into the feet and hands, up the legs and arms, and into your core. As you exhale, reverse the movement of the breath's energy, back out through legs and arms, feet and hands, out the toes and fingers.

Congratulations. You have just entered the digital age.

Waves of Breath

An audio version of this post is here: [audio mp3="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bbbc271da50d37502bd6728/5c648a9c542c0e3fbea463b8/5c648aa1542c0e3fbea4659f/1550092961115/Waves-of-Breath.mp3?format=original"][/audio]

 

Stop whatever you are doing right now. Sitting, or standing, or even lying down, tune into your breathing in this moment. Sense how the breath is moving through your body. Notice the rise and the fall of your shoulders, chest, belly. Feel the flow of air through the nostrils and the throat, in and out.

As you do this, you may notice areas of tension, in your muscles and in your mind. Allow the holding to dissolve as you stay with your breathing. Stay with the rhythm, the way you watch the ocean waves at the beach. Notice how they are not the same -- some are shorter, some longer. Sometimes the pause between breaths feels big, other times there's not much of a pause at all.

Feather Ribs

Tune into your ribs now. Feel them expanding up and out on the in-breath and releasing back in and down on the out-breath. Can you sense your ribs as a 3-dimensional structure?  We call it the rib cage, but that's much too confining. (In German, the word "brustkorb" translates as "rib basket," which is much sweeter.) Breathing in, take in what you need, sense the full expansion, all around. Breathing out, experience the movement back in, subtly letting go of everything that is unnecessary.

Our breath is our most intimate connection with the environment around us. Don't hold back, restrict, or constrict your breathing. Allow your ribs to move freely and with lightness and ease.  How does this change your experience of the moment?

 

The Power of Walking Backwards

Last week I spent several days touring colleges with my daughter, a rising high school senior. The standard program for these visits  includes a presentation followed by a campus tour, and the student tour guides all lead the group while walking backwards. I wondered which took more practice: the spiel about the school or the backwards walking? It's a bit of a trick, this backwards walking, but the tour guides are so lucky they had to learn this skill, because doing it is empowering and can be fascinating.college tour guide I often ask my Alexander students to explore walking backwards, because it provides so much useful information. It bypasses habitual assumptions about our bodies in motion and our relationship to the space we're in. For starters, how often do you move with an awareness of the space behind you?  Are you, in fact,  including what's in back of you right now (or to the side or above or below you)?

If your habit in walking forward is to lead with your forehead, your chin, or your chest or your pelvis, walking backwards helps you notice that because you can't indulge these habits and move back. People often report a heightened sense of their feet in backward walking too -- especially those who don't normally walk heel-to-toe. It's much easier to notice when you're tightening your neck or pulling your head back and down, or whether you brace your arms as you move.

Perhaps most importantly, since you can't see behind you, your kinesthetic sense is more sharply focused as you move -- something that needs improvement in nearly everybody.

Try This:  Find a space of about 15 or 20 feet in which to walk (a hallway, your living room, a yard, or a sidewalk), free of clutter and without interference from others.  Start at one end and walk forward as you normally do (if you are familiar with Alexander work, apply your directions as you move). Now walk backwards and note any differences. Some questions you might ask:

  • What does your head want to do?
  • How are your legs and feet moving differently?
  • How do your arms move?
  • What are your thoughts?
  • How do you know what's behind you as you move?
  • Do you sense anything different about your back?
  • Does your breathing change?

Now take what you have noticed and keep it in your awareness as you walk forward again. If you have a greater sense of your whole back, carry that with you as you walk forward.  If your feet seem to have a fuller contact with the ground, allow that to be the case as you walk.  What do you do when walking forward that prevents your "backwards use"?  Repeat this experiment a few more times, maintaining a bodymind sense of the space behind you.

Voila!  You are now more present as you move forward in your life.

Nearly every day when I do my own walk/jog along the Delaware canal, I pass a man who is walking backwards -- at a pretty good clip, too. I'm always tempted to shout out, "Good for you! Isn't backwards walking amazing?'  But I just salute him silently, knowing we share the secret power of opening to the space behind us as we move.