You roll out of bed, effortlessly slip into your slippers, walk to the bathroom without a second thought. Coffee, breakfast, quick check in on the news. You might be thinking about something else, or singing a tune. You don’t have to stop and think about how your hand reaches for your cup, or how to sit down to eat. Everything happens automatically as the result of a lifetime of repetition.
We need our habits. Without good habits, you’d have to plan every step you take, how to hold your toothbrush, put on a shirt. You’d never get out of the driveway if you had to think about how to start your car and back out of the garage.
Along with these practical habits, other habits develop over our lifetime. These are not just behavioral habits we struggle with: “I need to eat less,” or “I have to start going to the gym.” How you choose to walk or stand is a habit. How you listen to others.
The way you use your voice. Some choices were useful for a time, but now are not only unnecessary, but could even be robbing you of energy and happiness. These habits are so invisible that they feel like a part of you. How could they have anything to do with well-being?
A person who grew up in a family where “wiggling the hips” was frowned upon might discover later in life that holding the pelvis still for many years created back pain problems, or even arthritis in the hips. There are many good reasons for rounding the back and hunching the shoulders: emotional trauma, carrying a backpack, imitating an adult role model and more. Even if you want to change, it might seem impossible. “Whenever I tell my shoulders to go down, thirty seconds later, they’re back up again!”
Whether you want to improve your posture, overcome anxiety, or relieve your back pain, using force will only take you so far. There is however another way that is pleasurable, interesting and just a bit revolutionary. It involves doing less, not more.
Current wisdom advises that you should move more: walk, exercise, do yoga, etc. After all, humans have been moving for at least a million years. The human body is designed to move, not stand (or sit) still for long periods of time. But movement alone is not enough. Your movement habits can actually contribute to injuries – from torn rotator cuffs to plantar fasciitis.
So how do you create new ways of moving? And how can that help you with something like anxiety? The fact is that how you move is how you move through life. The way you walk, your facial expressions, where you hold your tensions tell the story of your life. And they are often the reason for physical discomfort. By learning to become aware of your movement habits, you can begin to reprogram not just your physical habits, but your mental and emotional habits as well.
Try this: Sense the distance of your shoulders from your ears. Does this area feel relaxed or tense? Notice your breath. Very slowly, begin to raise one shoulder up in the direction of your ear. Then just as slowly lower it. Repeat this a couple of times. Notice as you do this movement how you breathe, where you tense or relax in other places. After a few times, just hold your shoulder as close to your ear as possible. Then slowly lower it. Sense how that shoulder feels now. Notice the difference between the two shoulders.
What you just experienced is a tiny experiment in movement and attention, or what is called somatic movement. Some call this mindful movement, but you’re not just thinking. You are intentionally sensing and feeling as you move. Somatic comes from the Greek word, soma, which means body. Somatic movement uses small, slow movements that give you time to actually experience your movement habits. You will learn to relax, use less energy to accomplish more things and even stay calm in tense situations. By slowing down and paying attention, you will begin to recognize the habits that get in the way of your wellbeing and happiness…one movement at a time.
Lavinia Plonka has been teaching the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education for over 30 years. She is a lead instructor of the Emotional Body®, author of several books on movement and an internationally recognized teacher of movement studies. For more information on Lavinia’s retreats visit www.laviniaplonka.com/kinesaretreat. For additional articles and tips visit www.laviniaplonka.com.