Attention: Key to Improved Movement
In the realm of movement, there are many reasons we don’t notice things:
If movement is painful, we may shut off awareness of discomfort, just to get through.
We’re thinking about something else and are moving automatically.Habits are crucial, of course, but without periodic check-ins, they may confirm patterns of effort that don’t serve us well.
We lack the “vocabulary” and don’t really know how to make distinctions.
Perhaps the flip side of not noticing is hyper-attention, which is often to our discomfort. Such getting stuck may lead to not noticing, as noted above. And to not moving. And to giving up some of the things we enjoy doing.
It often takes awhile to get into a less-than-optimal movement pattern, or we get there fairly quickly due to an injury or illness, but then we stay with that pattern long after we need to. So it makes sense that change will take time.
Key to movement improvement and changing habits is attention.
If we don’t know what we’re doing, and in some amount of detail, we can’t make a meaningful change. We have to start somewhere.
If we don’t know, we won’t know when we’ve made progress.
If we lack a means of categorizing sensations, of naming what we feel, our progress will be somewhat random and we won’t be able to get the change we want on a regular basis.
How can we develop kinesthetic attention? Here are a few ideas we explore in class:
1. Make comparisons.
sitting or standing, compare the sensation of weight on each foot, or each sitting bone
notice how far you see when turning to look to the right and to the left
purposely change the hand you use for a simple task like putting away the dishes or the foot you step out on first when walking
notice the differences in lying on your right compared with you left side when you go to bed
2. Expand your sensory or kinesthetic “vocabulary”.
These are the signposts to differences. Here are a few to get started:
Heavier or lighter
Longer or shorter
Volume: full, three-dimensional, flatter
More or less contact on the surface: "floating" above the surface,
"sinking" into the floor, "relaxed resting" on the floor or chair
Smooth or stuttering, jerky
Easy or requiring effort
Breathing easily throughout or breath held/interrupted
Take the time to determine the specific differences you feel. Although we sometimes don’t have words, making the effort to find a description of a felt difference, even saying it aloud or in our minds will build our movement intelligence
3. Consciously move your attention within yourself.
Lying down or sitting, pay attention sequentially to various part of your body: your right foot, left knee, right shoulder,
lower back, how your lower ribs move when you breathe in or breathe out.
4. Shift your attention back and forth between different parts of yourself.
Notice the contact of your left heel when lying down.Then notice how your left calf rests on the surface. Move your
attention back to the heel, return to the calf, a few times.Could you expand your attention to include both?
Play with comparing places that are further “away” from each other:e.g. a heel and the pelvis, the leg and the arm.
Gradually your ability to shift attention smoothly will improve.
5. Shift your attention from an internal sensation to something outside yourself.
While sitting, notice the weight on your left sitting bone, then notice an object you see nearby. Go back to an internal sensation: perhaps your right hand resting on your
right thigh. Then external again: a sound you hear or the wall or doorway in your
Conscious practice in moving attention allows us to stop feeding the fire of discomfort. Moving our attention to find a place or movement that feels, if not pleasurable, at least neutral, gives us choice and allows us to begin to break the habits of discomfort and pain. As Russell Delman, one of the Trainers in my Feldenkrais® Professional Training Program, told us: “There is much unnecessary suffering due to the inability to move attention.”
Not just for relief from pain, the capacity to move attention offers a path to improving our movement, ease and vitality.