Updated: Mar 23, 2022
There is so much we can learn from our bodies and their functionality. I, for one, have a deep sense of gratitude for my education regarding how our bodies move and how movement relates to our nervous systems. The principles of my various movement, fitness and nervous system certifications ripple through to the other areas of my life such that I frequently use them to make decisions, push myself, and grant myself the compassion I need to move forward.
The lens through which I see the body feels like a guidebook of how to live life with as much ease, joy, and resilience as possible. I’d love to share some of these principles with you, and I hope you can see some areas where your basic biology can guide your actions and how you approach circumstances.
The reaction circuit of the nervous system is faster than the action circuit of the brain. I started with this one because this is the principle that I use most often in life. I can sense when my muscles are tensing up and I can release them once I notice. I call this my “super power”. Thing is…it’s not really a super power at all. Anyone can learn how to do this with a consistent nervous system and movement practice.
So how does this actually apply to everyday life? For me, I deal with what many folks deal with: anxiety. I feel anxiety for a plethora of reasons, mostly dealing with time (I’m running late, something is taking longer than expected,) or communication (I have to give feedback I think will hurt someone’s feelings, someone disagrees with me, I said something I regret or could have been construed in an unfavorable way.) When that tension appears, I can release it again and again and again until the circumstance is resolved. That level of presence and focus keeps me out of survival mode and creates more choice for me in my actions and decision making.
Which brings me to the principle: “When we can sense something, we can change it.” The mastery of in-the-moment release of subconscious tension in my body is just as meaningful as the release of tension in stressful moments. When we can sense tension present in our bodies when there's no reason for it, our entire beings will shift. Perhaps the release of tension creates less expenditure of energy, granting more vitality during the day. Maybe your improved posture helps you sleep more soundly at night, creating clearer thought processes during work. I like to imagine that the shift in my body shifts the function of my brain before my brain even knows there was a shift to make in the first place.
The ripple effect of releasing tension when its unnecessary has limitless benefits. Awareness is an infinitely important part of the healing journey.
Another principle that’s relevant for several reasons is “when one side shortens or contracts, the other side lengthens or stretches.” However your brain just digested that one - yes, that! There are so many ways to apply this one. For one, this is what I think of when people talk about wanting to create “balance” in their lives. I imagine a lot of people’s idea of balance feels rigid, when, really, balance requires presence, flow, stability and flexibility more than rigidity. Things displace each other in our energy, time, money fields all the time, so imagining that one area of your life can stretch to allow another to contract is a peaceful way that I grant compassion to myself when an area of my life gets less of my attention.
I also tend to apply this principle in my daily practice of acceptance, forgiveness and letting go. For example, if my hip continues to grip as I do a side bend away from it, my side bend will never be able to be fully expressed. The opposing side must grant space and generosity so as not to injure itself, and therefore, the system. It is all part of one system.
And as long as you always, always, always use the principle of what you do to one side you must do to the other, balance, in some fashion, is what you will get. I have never been a part of a body practice that says it’s ok to not repeat what you did to one side on the other. Think about it: you wouldn’t do a set of lunges on just one leg even if one leg is weaker than the other. You wouldn’t stretch just one hamstring, even if one is looser than the other. A massage therapist wouldn’t only rub on the right side of your body, even if one side has more tension.
How could this principle be applied to our lives? What would it be like to give as much importance to the activity of play, leisure, or rest as we do to work, productivity, or action? There is an adage that says “As within, so without”, which indicates that our outside worlds are aligned with our inner worlds. Since this is thought to be a universal law, that would mean on a cellular level, this shows up as true. So if actions we take with our bodies require this even distribution; right to left, front to back, consider other actions we take in life also could require a level of equilibrium; work to rest/play, seated to standing, etc. This is not to say this is always possible for us, and there will always be seasons where one thing requires more attention, but it’s certainly something to consider.
Breathing always wins. I didn’t learn this principle until 2019, and boy did it shift a lot in regard to how I was looking at movement and life. This principle basically says that if our breathing is compromised, the diaphragm will use muscle from other areas of the body to make sure it can contract to bring in air. This principle reminds me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs - your basic needs must be met before you can grow, take chances, or even care for others.
Are you meeting your basic needs as a functioning human in today’s society? Where could this principle give you more compassion for yourself and how you’re showing up for other people or your work?
And there are days that just breathing feels like a task. But on most days, when there’s space and necessity for us to take action on our duties and dreams, the principle of start with what moves has gotten me into action with more velocity than just about anything else. What’s most accessible? What do I WANT to do right now? What feels easy or easiest? What action will be complete in 5 minutes or less: email this person, make a call to that one? Like a warm-up for a workout, this principle can spill you into action before your system can even begin to protest. And like a workout, once you’ve started, and especially once you’ve completed it, the sense of productivity and command is powerful and inspiring.
Looping this principle in with a consistent practice to create resilience and strength, will move any intention or goal forward. Too often we tend to take care of ourselves when we’re desperate: the pain has gotten to be too much, the lack of strength has gotten unworkable, the stress is off the charts! We certainly need practices during those times, but continuing practices even when you’re feeling great is how you continue to find ‘great’ more often. The practices that got you to where you want to be are the practices, generally, that keep you there.
Don’t leave them behind!!
As mentioned before, I feel lucky to have slipped into a line of work that teaches life lessons through its principles. Even better: I then turn around and get to teach them to others. And I know everyone has heard these "life lessons" before, but it’s incredible how much more embodied these principles become when people are actually using their bodies as the access point to them.
How do you see your body reflecting your relationship with society, work and play? Do you see any areas where understanding how your body moves could help to create more resilience, joy or calm in your life? If you believed that the way our bodies move echoed the way we get what we want in life, what would you change?