One of the basic Somatic Exercises we teach is called the "Seated Twist." It is a wonderful exercise that never ceases to astound my students. In this exercise you learn to increase your range of motion and ability to twist around yourself by doing seemingly random things like moving your head while keeping the body still, or shifting your eyes side to side without moving the head. It is a gentle exercise, with no forcing whatsoever.
Varying your movement can improve your movement.
I love teaching this exercise because my students experience the dramatic changes that can occur in their movement merely by differentiating movement in simple ways. In this Basic Human Movements video from his Intervention: Course Corrections DVD, Strength coach Dan John points out this same principle in regards to strength training. He notes that athletes often sequence their workout drills according to what they want to do. However, if they really want to quicken their progress, they should do the movements they don't already do. People are amazed that simply doing more of what you don't normally do can increase motor control, strength, and athletic ability.
One of the reasons this works so well is because movement variation stimulates the brain with new and different sensory feedback. The result is improved motor output. You improve your overall movement and strength without having to push harder.
This doesn't just apply to movement; it applies to life: the way in which we live our lives shows up in our bodies. Give yourself permission to explore new ways of solving life's problems and suddenly, often with less struggle, those problems sometimes solve themselves. I like to call this giving yourself "permission to explore."
Differentiated movement creates intelligent motor control.
Moshe Feldenkrais, originator of the Seated Twist exercise, developed some extraordinary movements based on what he called "Differentiated Movement." He discovered that differentiating patterns of movement brings instantaneous improved coordination and range of movement in the muscular system. Seemingly random differentiations - moving the head separately from the torso, the eyes separately from the torso and head - increases our ability to move and twist the whole body - eyes, head, neck, shoulder girdle. This occurs not through force, but through intelligent sensory awareness of what we’re doing, yielding greater motor control.
When I was a young ballet dancer, I would occasionally get frustrated and take a day off to do something completely unrelated to dancing. My favorite "other" activity was vigorous bicycle riding. I'd look for the steepest hill possible and just ride. I'd get a vigorous upper body workout, then return to the dance studio and find that my ability to do the steps that had seemed impossible had improved - without practice - and with little effort. I was differentiating and didn't know it!
For those who simply want to improve their mobility and overall health by, for example, walking, it's also important to vary your movement. Take a different route, find an uneven path to stimulate your sense of balance. Jog for a block and then return to walking! It's easy to get stuck in the repetitive movements of today's society: sitting with eyes straight ahead, driving, working at a computer. These repetitive, "stuck" postures are the source of back, neck, shoulder, hip and knee pain. It's critical that we remind our muscles that they can move in varied ways - bending, reaching, twisting, rotating, pulling, pushing.
Try this fun exercise!
When you're struggling with a movement, stop. Do something different for a few minutes: circle your arms like a windmill, run in place or do "the twist." Make it fun. Then return to the original movement. Is there a change? If so, what kind? Is the movement easier?
Somatic Exercises stimulates your brain.
For professional athletes, a short routine of Somatic Exercises is an excellent use of movement differentiation. You move slowly as you focus on sensory awareness and proprioception. You practice movements you probably think you don't need to practice (like side bending, twisting, moving the shoulders and hips in different directions). You'll find that those different movements help to increase your overall movement mastery, with less force and struggle.
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