We are always moving.
In organized sports and exercise, we are developing our bodies and specific skills on purpose, often near the upper limits of our fitness levels.
In our everyday activities, we are walking, climbing, bending, twisting and lifting as we work in our homes and jobs, and interact with family, friends and pets. Even when we are standing still, our bodies are moving – balancing around our centre to keep us upright.
Following just three basic principles helps us to move easily and avoid injuries.
Principle 1: Maintain your body’s natural openness to movement & energy flow
Our body’s structure – joints, muscles, bones, connective tissue – works in harmony as we stand, sit, walk, jump, and lift. Our alignment depends on the tasks we are performing, and some positions work better than others.
For feet, it’s toes straight ahead. While we can turn our feet out temporarily, like a ninja warrior or ballerina, they need to be pointed forward for walking easily with aligned feet, knees and hips. If a turn out becomes a habit, it limits our mobility and may cause pain up the chain – knees, hips or back.
Our joints are often moving or relaxed, ready to move. But they can be unknowingly locked to provide a sense of stability. In walking, one hip briefly stiffens so the other can swing forward – a key functional movement that we don’t normally have to think about.
But if we habitually stand with our weight on one hip, we are not only blocking that joint from healthy energy flow, we are limiting our healthy movement options. I catch myself doing this, too. It’s a very common habit that’s worth correcting.
In addition, most of us lock our knees up or backwards into our thighs. The natural knee position is relaxed, almost floating. If your knees are locked, you can wiggle for a few seconds like a belly dancer, exhale and allow your knees to drop.
While we need to be aware of our body positions, “perfect” alignment is a mechanical view. Our postures naturally change as we move and balance, flowing in and out of centre. Trying to maintain perfect posture causes us to stiffen, blocking energy and creating unnecessary bodily stress.
Principle 2: Move and improve your whole body, not just specific parts
Our bodies are made for integrated movement with all the parts working together to support our activities. Focusing on isolated body parts does not improve the whole kinetic chain.
But commonly used training methods work individual muscles groups on isolating machines. This assembly-line approach improves specific repetitive movements, but has no connection to our senses or natural movement needs. We are not robots!
When you have injuries or areas that seem weak, remember that our bodies have an amazing ability to adapt and heal. If you define yourself by an injury, you will move unnaturally with tension. Trying to managing the injury actually limits your ability to regain full movement.
If you work vigorously to fix one spot, you are likely overlooking how it needs to work within the whole body. Rolling out a “tight” hamstring may give temporary relief. But the usual result is the tight feeling returns.
To rehabilitate an injury, gradually mobilize the rogue area so it can benefit from the body’s fluid and kinetic force, and participate correctly in a full body movement.
Walking with a full arm swing looking toward the horizon is an ideal full body movement. It engages the feet, ankles, knees, hips, torso, shoulders and arms. And even relaxes the eyes and neck, releasing the muscular stress from staring at a close screen.
Principle 3: Rest so you benefit from movement
We need to balance movement with rest and recovery. All metabolic changes caused by movement happen when we rest – where rest is reducing motion and exertion – a slow walk, sitting, lying down or sleeping. This allows the body to nourish and rebuild after the demands of physical activity.
There are many recovery positions that can increase circulation to all cells. Instead of plopping down on a couch, we can take our joints through full ranges of motion, with extra benefits to tissues and bones, simply by sitting or lying on firm or uneven surfaces.
Rest is an essential complement to developmental movement. Over-training can backfire and cause injuries.
Our bodies are smart.
Once we decide to move, our body takes over – nourishment travels and our intelligent skin, connective tissue, muscles, joints and bones go to work making the changes needed locally.
The brain then learns from the body – creating new brain pathways and forming new movement habits as the body transforms itself. This virtuous cycle is the heart of developmental movement.
Our bodies are smart – as we move following the three principles, we access this intelligence to maintain healthy mobility.
The principles of developmental movement are relevant to all of us because they use the natural capabilities of our bodies and respect our current ability levels. Whether you want to improve your fluidity and range in your sport or intentionally increase the ease and energy of your daily activities, these movement principles are for you.