When it comes to better movement (& better living), the nervous system runs the show.
It's the central governor on your strength & flexibility, your mood & energy levels, and a whole lot more. If you aren't working with it, you're asking for trouble. Luckily it's pretty simple to get started. We follow the same trends as most other higher level animals, and we have the same basic needs. Here are the three steps to unlocking your nervous system's potential.
This is number one. If your nervous system senses that you aren't safe, or that there's a threat to the integrity of the system, there's simply no way to perform your best. You'll rapidly shift into the red zone of "fight, flight, freeze" responses. This triggers the sympathetic nervous system, flooding your body with cortisol, keeping you on high alert for a threat. Not a good place to spend our time.
But so many of us live in this constant state of high neural tone.
Let's take a step back. Here's a simple way to establish safety to your nervous system.
Simply find a comfortable position (I recommend Constructive Rest) and pause. Notice what physical sensations you are aware of. Where do you feel contact with the ground? Where are you holding tension? What is the quality of your breath?
After a few minutes of simply tuning in, you'll notice some pretty interesting changes.
That's step one: establishing safety.
The nervous system is wired to keep you alive. It doesn't care how many likes you get on Facebook, or how good your abs look. If your body doesn't have mastery over certain basic functions, you'll be stuck with nagging aches & pain, excess tension, and rigid movement. There are two main building blocks of these primal functions: orienting & reaching. We've talked before about the power of simply looking around, and for good reason. We're highly visual creatures, and the ability to see where we are in space is brain candy.
Add to that the functional pattern of reaching, and we're really cruising. Consider a baby: the bulk of its development comes down to seeing the world around it and try to reach out and touch it. These two inherent desires lead to rolling, creeping, crawling, and our other higher-level patterns.
Try this: from your comfortable position (where you've already established safety), slowly look around the room. Try to lead the movement with your eyes, and notice what you can see around you. Look around for a minute or two, and then reach out toward something...anything!
Notice how your body organizes around the task of reaching...do you lean toward the object? Is there a shift in your center of gravity? Try reaching toward other objects as well. Afterwards tune into that body awareness again, sensing any differences in physical sensations.
3. Inquisitive Variety
After any intelligent animal has established safety & function, it will naturally begin exploring its environment out of curiosity. This is a key sign of healthy neural function: a craving for novelty & variety. When we are insecure, uncomfortable, or threatened, it makes more sense to withdraw.
But when we are safe & functional, then we inherently seek out new experiences. We crave new sensory inputs. And the brain responds. When we explore new patterns & environments, the brain begins making huge amounts of new neural connections. This is how we flip the learning switch. This is how we truly engage with our surroundings.
Try this: from your position of safety & function, try getting up to stand as you normally would. Return to your original position and try again with your eyes closed. As you do, tune into any changes in how you move. Repeat this a couple of times. Then try getting up in super slow motion, as if you were moving through the world's thickest Jello. These subtle changes in your movement are critical to the learning process. Afterwards: tune in again. What do you notice in your body now? What has shifted from when you started the exercise?
Your Body--And Brain--Crave Movement
We're geared to crave variety & complexity. In fact we thrive when we get it. But we first need to establish the neural prerequisites of safety & function. Without them we spin our wheels, accumulating injury & stress. These simple exercises are just the beginning. When you get your nervous system working well, life takes on a whole new vibrancy.
It seems counterintuitive-slow down to go faster, do less to achieve more. But that's the power of a healthy nervous system: fewer aches & pains, more strength, and improved mobility. If you're ready to take it a step further, you won't want to miss my free mobility training course, Three Easy Steps To Unlock Functional Mobility. In it I'll teach you ridiculously simple practices to regain mobility, move with more ease, and get your nervous system in check. Click here to learn more.