This essay was gleaned from a conversation on social media. I took a release based modern dance class, which got me thinking about moving with effort versus moving with momentum. I posted some movement cues that seemed relevant for my Alexander Technique students, but many people commented. The following is the outcome this discussion.
To move with momentum versus bound-up muscular effort, some part of you needs to fall and internally rotate. This could be any part of you. Your ankle, or your chest, or your little pinky. Then you can redirect the fall into movement in another direction. It might feel like your limbs are coiled springs.
But why internal rotation? The human skeleton is organized with the spine in back and the heavy structures such as the skull, ribcage and pelvis to the front. If you suddenly dissolved all the muscles and connective tissues, the bones would topple forward, inward and down. What keeps that toppling at bay is a body-wide network of forces pulling the bones up and back, externally rotating and lifting away from center. All of that pull amounts to a great deal of potential energy. You might notice that it’s harder to stand still than to walk. To get moving, let any part of yourself fall and unwind. If you don’t resist, you will either be flat on the floor, or speeding forward in a walk, run or leap.
A friend commented, “That’s a fairly standard theory, but is it true? Perhaps we don’t need to fall, we just need to release the elasticity generated by the ground contact force and our tissues.”
It is true that efficient movement depends on elastic recoil. David Gorman, author of the Body Movable, describes the bones as floating in an elastic suit. Movement stretches the elastic. Prolonged stasis shortens the elastic. But it’s not elastic, it’s fascia,* an extracellular collagen matrix that binds us together from the cytoskeleton of the cells, to muscle, to organ to bone. Take note, fascia is perhaps the most trendy word in modern yoga even though it’s nowhere to be found in the Vedas. Fascia.**
Fascia makes movement more efficient. Walking in a museum is tiring, not because of dull art, but because you have to stop every few steps and must rely on your muscles, not the energy stored in your fascial slings. However, your body does not respond purely elastically, as if you were a mechanical toy. The nervous system is involved, as is the whole person. The nervous system mediates which forces you allow in, and which you brace against. In other words: you have habits, you have history, and you have choice.
I admit, and perhaps it’s obvious from this post, that I’m not 100% sure about the physics. What I do see is that the people I work with hold themselves rigidly and don’t take advantage of momentum or elastic recoil. They use excessive muscular effort, but miss all the energy that’s available for free. So I use metaphors to inspire easier ways of moving.
The conversation ended when a friend commented, “All of This is very consistent with what I’ve learned about movement and flow from four decades of aikido.”
* For an enthusiastic view on the importance of fascia https://www.anatomytrains.com/fascia/
**For a skeptical review of the importance of fascia: https://www.painscience.com/articles/does-fascia-matter.php
Much of this post is inspired by current study of the Reembody Method