5 ways to know you are moving well

Cliff Smyth, GCFT

Our clients or students often ask us: Am I moving well? Am I moving right? The answer is: It depends! We all have different bone lengths and muscle strengths, different histories of physical training or injuries and different mental outlooks. Which means we all move differently. However, there are some key characteristics of 'good' movement that are universal for everyone - and you can learn to identify and feel these qualities for yourself. Indeed, it is by improving certain qualities of movement - and your ability to sense them that is at the heart of the effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method.

You know you are moving well when:

  1. your breathing is continuous, and uninterrupted by your movement
  2. you have a sense of skeletal support
  3. you can sense how much effort you are using and use only what is necessary for the action you are performing
  4. you have a sense of relaxed readiness for action
  5. you can find the sense of lengthening in the spine as you move.

There are many ways to come to be able to sense and produce these qualities of movement. Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes and Functional Integration sessions are some of the best ways to learn how to move well - to sense it and to know it.

Lets explore each of these ideas some more.

1. Breathing
There is no right way to breathe - your breath will change depending on your oxygen needs, which depends on our activity levels moment to moment, as well as your body position - we use ourselves differently when we are lying on our side sleeping or standing singing in a chorus, or dancing salsa. So good breathing might be light or deep, fast or slow.

However, when your breathing is continuous, and uninterrupted by your movement, then this is a good way of gauging the quality of your movement. Interrupted breathing is usually a sign of uncertainty, tension or unnecessary effort in your movements.

2. Skeletal support
For movement to be efficient, as much as possible the forces of starting, carrying on and stopping movements should be directed through the skeleton. If in every everyday movement you feel like you have to push yourself and muscle through, then chances you are not making optimal use of the support and leverage offered by your skeleton.

Develop your sense of skeletal support. As you sit, feel how your feet and sitz bones support you. As you walk how do your feet strike the ground and the force move through your whole skeleton? As you breathe how do your ribs expand and bounce back?

3. A sense of lightness
Except when you are carrying a heavy load or pushing a big object, your movements can be light, using the smallest amount of effort necessary to propel you through space, to reach, to manipulate things. While it can give a sense of personal power to use a lot of strength or effort, in the end this can lead to fatigue, and wear and tear on our joints, tendons and other soft tissues.

Listen for how much effort you are using and use only what is necessary for the activity at hand - find ways to reduce habitual excess effort as you move. For example, how much force do you really need to hold a pen to write, or to strike the key of the computer keyboard?

4. Readiness for action
Moshe Feldenkrais talked about the readiness for action without any unnecessary preparation. He coined the term acture (compared with the usual fixed quality of 'posture') for this quality. If we habitually slouch as we sit, or constantly over-extend our spine or stand mostly on one foot, then our movements become effortful, and transitioning from one movement to another is more abrupt, awkward or forceful than it needs to be.

Finding a sense of relaxed readiness for action, rather than being over-committed in one posture or direction or other, can help all our movement be smoother and more comfortable. Some ways to do this are to sense skeletal support, use appropriate effort and sense the continuity of your breathing!

5. The sense of lengthening in the spine
In his popular book, Awareness Through Movement, Moshe Feldenkrais writes, "This feeling of the spine lengthening accompanies most action of the body when properly carried out". He goes on to explain, "In almost every case excess tension in the muscles causes the spine to be shortened. Unnecessary effort accompanying an action tends to shorten the body".

Anticipating that something will be difficult or painful tends to tighten the spinal muscles - and then they cannot deliver the power and flexibility, or have the ability to absorb the forces, that they should. Finding that sense of lightness and ease, reducing the anticipation of difficulty and pain, and frequently sensing for the distance between your pelvis and head are ways to cultivate the sense of lengthening in the spine as you move.

Good moving!

Cliff Smyth, 2009