Movement is Life
In a basic way everything that’s alive moves. Trees move, they wrap around rocks and other immobile things, they miraculously transfer liquids to their upper branches, they sway elastically in the wind, they open and discard leaves and flowers and cones. And when they die all of this stops, they stand for awhile and the new life moves as it comes to inhabit them.
The more movement there is, the closer to life, the less movement the closer to not being alive.
In human bodies we can develop a tremendous range of motions we can do. If you’ve been to see an acrobatics show lately or if you’re a fan of action sequences in Hong Kong cinema (like the ladder scene in Once Upon a Time in China or most of Ip Man), or if you’ve seen Rafe Kelley’s Tree Runner video on YouTube you’ve seen how much more movement is available to us than that which is considered normal.
But there are other types of movements. Ones that we’re mostly unaware of, but that we can still develop control over. These are small, subtle movements. An observer might not even be able to see your body moving. These small thoughtful movements can reach the small stuck or immobile places that might be aching, or asking us for our attention and care in some other way.
Let’s do an exercise.
We’ll start with your shoulder – either one. It could be fun to pick your dominant side first and then compare it with your non-dominant side.
The shoulder is a fun joint to play with because there are so many small muscles that can be called on to glide the shoulder blade smoothly over the torso, and because a lot of people have such a degree of immobility in some of those muscles that they can feel pain in them on a regular basis.
Okay, now roll the ball of the shoulder around such that if you were standing next to a wall you’d be drawing a circle on it. Just a simple shoulder circle, you may have done one before. You can do this to the comfortable maximum range that only involves moving your shoulder and not your rib cage and torso.
Now, decrease the size of that circle by about half and slow the revolution waaay down, so that it takes you 15 to 30 seconds to complete one circle. The goal is to make this motion as smooth as possible. You may notice that your shoulder ratchets and clunks in spots, see if you can practice and get it do go smoothly all the way around the circle.
You can experiment with going forward and backward. You can try these slow revolutions with even smaller circles and you can go back out to your maximum range. You can go from circles to figure 8s.
A lot of times the smallest circles are the hardest. Our bodies aren’t used to moving with that level of subtlety and awareness. As you practice you and your body will learn something new.
If we’ve never tried moving our shoulder like this before it can actually be hard to find the muscles that make it go around and ask them to respond to our voluntary control. That’s part of the ratcheting feeling. But with a bit of practice you can find everything in your shoulder and develop a relationship with it that allows you to, say…consciously release a tight muscle or isolate and explore a small ache.
You can try the same subtle movements with other areas of your body, your lower back for example, or maybe try drawing a smooth alphabet with your toes.