How To Improve Your Movement By Using Your Breath

Over the years I've learned many different ways of breathing

I've done deep, yoga-style belly-breathing to calm my nervous system. I've done rapid forced breathing to bring up emotion stored in my body... Heck, I've even done testicular breathing to circulate sexual creative energy.

Different breathing styles evoke different responses. For me these have ranged from deep relaxation and surrender, to incredible states of ecstasy, bliss and out-of-body experiences.

I find it fascinating exploring the aspects of the breath which are "otherworldly". However I also love exploring the more down-to-earth aspect too. Which is what I'm going to focus on in this article

Today I'll talk about the breath as though it were a TOOL.

I comparison that sounds boring... especially because spirituality is like totally sexy these days. But I do happen to be a deeply practical human being. I like to tinker, USE things and get benefit from them. 

So my friend, it's time to take off our lululemon pants and put on our toolbelts. Today is the day you learn to USE the breath as a powerful tool in transforming your movement. 

Lets find out how it works...

Your breath is a highly sensitive gauge

Think about the last time you...

  • Saw some people fighting, or...
  • Picked up something heavy, or...
  • Spotted that 10/10 hot guy or gal walking down the street...

I'm guessing that in each of those instances your breath changed in some way. That's because your breath gives continuous feedback about your state.

If I see something that scares me, one response I can have is to make my breath small and restricted. I might hold my breath high in my chest and "lock" all my ribs.

If I've spent a long summer day, enjoying the bird-song and lounging in the hammock, chances are I'll have slow, full and deep breathing. This is a reflection of my state of inner calm.

Even with examples that are more subtle, your breath still responds immediately. Like doing something that is mildly stressful - tax returns perhaps?

We can use this sensitivity to help us move more efficiently

The work I do helping people shift and improve their movement habits is all based on one important concept - learning! People literally learn new, more efficient, ways of moving and their old (often painful) movement habits can fade away. 

One of the requirements for learning in this way is to get sensory feedback. Put simply - to feel what you're actually doing. Without the ability to feel, there's no possibility of learning and change. You're just stuck with your current habitual way of moving.

This is why noticing the breath is so important. It gives instantaneous and clear sensory feedback about your movement. It's one of our best friends when it comes to transforming our movement habits.

Efficient movement is achieved by removing unnecessary effort

When acting out a brand-new movement, people are unclear on what exactly to do. They haven't yet learned the nuances of what is required to achieve their task. They usually have multiple and sometimes conflicting intentions. This creates multiple forces traveling in multiple (often conflicting) directions. Visually their movement appears clunky, uncoordinated and full of effort.

People who have a lot of skill in a movement on the other hand appear quite differently. They look coordinated, easeful and beautiful. The difference is that they have weeded out the parts of the movement which aren't congruent. They are no longer fighting themselves. They apply the right amount of force, in the right place at the right time.

I've spent some time with the New Zealand springboard diving team. I've watched how they perform flips, spins, twists and folds in mid-air with incredible accuracy and timing...all while hurtling towards a pool of water which REALLY hurts if you mess it up. The reason they can do this is not because they produce extraordinary force, it's because that force is well coordinated. It's all pulling in the same direction. They're clear on what they're doing and they've stopped using unnecessary effort.

If I was to get up on a springboard and attempt what they do, I would SPLAT simply because I haven't weeded out the unnecessary. I would have too many internal conflicts (fear being one of them) and fight myself into a knot.

This is a continuum which applies to all movements that we make as humans. Using a kitchen knife. Throwing a ball. Kissing. Etc. We all have incredible potential for movement in every area of life.

Yes, you could become a master-kisser if you really wanted to!

The breath helps us find unnecessary effort

The trouble with identifying "too much" effort is that it's not as obvious as you might think. Most people live with a background contraction of their muscles which is much higher than is required for what they're doing. This feels NORMAL to them. It's so familiar that it doesn't seem like anything is out of the ordinary. They make the assumption it is just part and parcel of the way they move.

It's in situations like these where the sensory feedback of your breath can become a powerful learning tool. It can serve to interrupt those habits of contraction.

Your breath has the power to tell you immediately if you're using too much effort. It can also reveal if there's something you don't know how to do. Or if you're about to experience pain.

In all of these cases, it's like someone is waving a big red flag, saying "STOP! - Look Deeper."

Let's explore this through an example...

Lets say I'm learning to roll like a baby

tom using the feldenkrais method to roll like a baby
Rolling like a baby...awwwww so cuuuute!

When I first started doing this (as an adult), the movement was difficult. It was uncoordinated and jerky. I was unable to roll from my back to my side without reaching a point of no-return. I would FALL onto my side and I would have to use momentum to get back up. It felt like I had to use lots of effort for such a seemingly simple movement.

Now when I do this movement, it is smooth. I can reverse the movement at any point of the journey to my side and come back in the opposite direction. My head is free, my breathing is soft. The movement comes from my torso more than from my arms, legs or head. It feels easy and pleasurable to do. In addition, this movement has carried over to the way I turn while standing. It has made my everyday movement so much easier.

One of the primary ways I learned how to do this was by tracking my breath. Specifically by noticing the parts of the movement where I held it. These moments contain crucial information.

If I hold my breath there's a good reason why. Perhaps I had...

  1. Reached my edge of balance - the point where I would fall if I went any further.
  2. Gotten stuck and not known how to proceed without forcing my way ahead.
  3. Anticipated there was pain coming if I was to go any further.

Try this for yourself. Do it slow enough that it takes you 10 seconds to roll onto your side. Yes, 10 whole seconds! Look for the parts of the movement where you hold your breath. You may hold your breath completely or you may just interrupt it for a short moment. Don't rush through this. Pay close attention. The subtle interruptions are the hardest to find, but they are important. Your breath has an important message. It's telling you something about your movement...what is it?

Holding your breath is an opportunity to learn something!

At the moment you notice yourself holding your breath you have an option.

You can apply more effort to "get the job done"! If this is the case, you'll just keep moving the same way as you always have. Nothing learned, nothing changed.

The alternative is to stop and become curious. Ask yourself some revealing movement questions, like...

  • What am I holding still and do I need to hold it still?
  • Can I allow my head to roll freely?
  • What could I let go of right now?

Even if you don't know the answers that's okay. It's the asking that counts. Your nervous system has an incredible capacity to learn and improve when the conditions are right. Just keep paying attention. Things will shift automatically.

Go back to the beginning of the movement. Let EVERYTHING go. Reset. Start again.

This time approach the movement slowly. Tip toe up to the place where your breath stopped last time while paying keen attention. Ask more questions...

  • How can I use less effort?
  • Where can I soften?
  • What could be smoother?

Stop before you get to your edge. Stay within that range where you can move and breathe with ease.

Again. Stop completely. Reset.

Approach the movement again. Each time making it easier and simpler - while staying in your range of comfort.

Eventually (maybe already) you'll notice that you can now move through that place without holding your breath. That is a sign that you've let go of unnecessary effort. You're on the path to becoming a masterful mover.

That's it. It is simple... not necessarily easy

Most of us are trained to push harder when we don't know how to do something easily. It's a huge part of our cultural paradigm. That's why I say it may not feel easy.

But the truth is, doing less is often a pathway to faster growth and mastery. The reason is because we have incredible nervous systems that are designed to learn in this way. Ease, play and enjoyment create prime conditions for learning. Your breath is a guide which lets you know when you've left that child-like state of ease.

Notice it. Listen to it. Find out what it's telling you. It never lies!

Your breath is a powerful tool for improving your movement in any area of your life...

Especially kissing ;-)