#4 Movement Exploration Part 3: Claim Your New Way of Moving
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Welcome to episode 4 of beating chronic pain. The podcast that helps you get unstuck from chronic pain and back to living your life again with ease and comfort.
I’m your host Tom Wilson and I’m thrilled you’re here because today we’re carrying on with our series on movement exploration. If you’ve been following along so far you’ll probably know by now that movement exploration is going to be one of our key tools on the pathway to getting out of chronic pain. Why? Because movement exploration is what is going to help us change some of those unconscious habits of movement which are maintaining your pain.
In the first episode in this movement exploration series we talked about finding out what your current movement habits are. If you want to get to Rotorua - which if you’re an international listener is a town in the central north island of New Zealand - If you want to get to Rotorua but you don’t know where you are right now then how do you know which direction to move in? You don’t. Its extremely difficult to get to Rotorua if you don’t know where you are. You’d just wander around hoping that someday you’d stumble across it. It’s exactly the same with your movement habits. If you don’t even know what your current movement habits are then trying to improve them is just like wandering around. It’s never going to produce any meaningful results.
The second episode was all about upgrading your movement habits. This is where you start to make distinctions about what makes one movement better quality than another. To carry on the analogy. If you want to get to Rotorua is it better to walk through the forest or to cross the plains? This is the part where you can feel oh, it’s actually a lot easier when I can just walk over the flat plains instead of having to fight the resistance of the trees and the vines crossing your path. Your brain is wired to notice differences. It’s how your brain learns. So when you can make distinctions about the quality of one movement vs another movement it gives you useful information that can help you change and upgrade your movement in real-time.
This leads us to our current episode which I’ve titled “claiming your new way of moving”. It’s one thing to find new ways of moving which are easier and less painful. However, having done that, it doesn’t guarantee that this new way of moving is going to be the way you move from now on. Things that we’ve only just learned tend to be more delicate and easily lost. It’s like when you meet someone new it’s easy to forget their name, but you would never forget your best friends name.
Just because you find a nice easy path through the plains all the way to Rotorua doesn’t mean that you’ll remember where that path is next time. You might take a wrong turn and end up in the swamplands - where you’ve been before! But once you’ve done that path across the plains many many times you’ll never make that wrong turn again. You know how to get there.
As I’ve spoken about previously, and as you already know - we are habitual creatures. We figure out ways of doing things and then once we’ve learned them, we put them on autopilot so that we don’t have to dedicate so much attention to them anymore. The downside of this is that we can create habits that cause us pain and these become our default. If we find a new and better way of moving it’s still very easy to slip back into the old familiar yet painful way of moving. When we find a new way of moving it is still very fragile. So how do we get around this? Well, once we’ve found the new way of moving we need to claim it. We need to take it and make it ours. We need to make sure that it doesn’t slip away into a distant memory.
In this episode I’m going to talk about this “claiming” process and hopefully help you understand ways that you can make “pain-free” your new normal. Claim it as your normal.
To help you understand my point here today I would like to approach it from 2 angles and I’ll probably swap back and forth between them to hopefully give you a more rounded out picture of what’s happening and why this claiming is so important.. The first angle is a more scientific kind of frame where I’ll talk about your brain and what people have discovered actually happens up there.
The second angle is a more personal subjective kind of expression. Based a little more around what it feels like to be in the experiences I’m describing.
So now lets talk about a little scenario.
Lets say you’ve got some back pain. Every time you go for a walk it seems to get worse and when you get home you have to lie down for a while to ease the pain. This situation has been going on for over a year now and it seems to be gradually getting worse over time. If you think about the steps that I’ve laid out as a way to get out of this situation, then our first step is to become aware of what it is that you’re actually doing.
So you might lie down on the floor and listen to one of my recordings and I’ll lead you through a process to help you uncover what you’re doing. I’ll help you dig up your unconscious patterns of movement. Perhaps you discover that you use your hip joints quite assymetrically. Your hips are ball and socket joints so they have quite a range of movement. But maybe you find that your left hip joint has difficulty moving backwards or extending. Your right one has no problems doing that movement. Great! That is super important information. It’s also fascinating. Before this process, you didn’t know that was happening. You’ve been going through your whole life not knowing that there’s this major difference in your legs. Cool. You see we’re digging down into some really fine grained stuff here and really looking at the details of the way that you move.
Now what typically happens in this stage is that you actually find a whole raft of stuckness all at once. Your stuck hip joint never occurs in isolation. That is, you are also likely bracing your head, you might be gripping your fist, holding your jaw tight, stopping your breath from flowing or focussing your eyes very rigidly.
Lets take a quick look from a brain perspective. This so called “raft of stuckness” is a bunch of different neural pathways in your brain. Your brain has learned that this is a way of bracing your musculature that keeps it safe. Because remember that’s always what your brain is trying to do. It’s the overprotective parent and it’s doing it’s best to make sure you don’t go out and do anything silly that’s gonna get you hurt. Whenever you try to do something which requires your left hip to extend your brain fires off all those neurons and the holding pattern activates.
You could think of it as a radio frequency that you tune into. If you listen to 88.6FM you’re going to get a certain flavour of music which you might really enjoy. But if you tune to a different frequency like 91.2 you’ll get a radio presenter blabbering nonsense, you get people ringing up and complaining and you get a bunch of adverts. In the same way you might be going along with your day and whenever you need to do a movement which requires you to extend your left leg you tune into that shitty radio station and activate a bunch of stuff which doesn’t feel good to you. It’s painful.
So that’s our first step. Becoming aware of what we’re doing. Check!
Step 2 is all about upgrading your movement patterns. As I said earlier, you can start to experiment with trying new ways of moving that are more efficient. (again this could be something that I guide you through) You might find that when you try to extend your left hip joint that you start to hold your breath. Your next mission is to slowly slowly begin to explore different ways that you can move your hip joint into extension without interfering with your breath. Maybe you keep your leg still but you start to explore extension in your upper back and shoulders. Maybe playing with extension there helps your hip change what it’s doing. Maybe you gently support your hip to flex even more and then when you come back to extending again it is has improved. There are many many different ways of approaching this exploration and providing you’re practicing with the brain friendly skillset you’ll find yourself noticing that something feels different than it did before.
I’ve heard this described in so many different ways before. People often tell me that they feel more connected. As though they’re whole again instead of a bunch of disconnected parts. Maybe it feels easier or more flowing to move that left leg. Some people feel downright confused and disoriented. Some people feel unusual emotions or feelings come up inside them and don’t know what to do about them. Sometimes the pain is completely gone.
These are all really positive signs. It means that you’re experiencing something new. If you’ve been walking around for years with your hip only moving in this certain way and your breathing being restricted and your eyes and jaw being tight with corresponding emotional and energetic states. Then all of a sudden you shift into a new frequency and your hip is freer and you can breath more fully and you can relax your face and hands and you feel a certain sense of freedom or ease. It makes sense that it can feel strange or unknown. It’s like my grandfather suddenly tuning into a deep house music station on soundcloud after only listening to talkback radio his whole life. It’s gonna be strange for him!
On a brain level, you’ve just created a new pathway in your motor cortex. You’ve connected synapses which have never been connected before and your whole system is being organized in a different way than it was previously. You have learned something new and you’re now noticing that you’re somewhere new that you’ve never been before.
Now lets talk about what this episode is actually about. The claiming part.
So we’ve set the stage here. You’ve found this new way. This new pattern. Your brain is reorganized differently, but you could say it’s a bit of a fragile space to be in. This can be upsetting for some people because these patterns can be a core part of who they are. It’s part of their identity. So when we shift some of the patterns their identities also have to shift. Some people find this really hard. This is why it can be extremely tempting to go back to the old normal.
The way we move is linked with the way we feel and the way we think. It is a core part of our identities. I grew up in West Auckland in New Zealand and there’s a certain culture here which I partially fell into as a teenager. There’s a term Westy Bogan which is associated with things like drinking bourbon and cola’s, doing funnels of beer, doing doughies in a V8, smoking bongs, dressing with black clothing. Wearing metallica teeshirts and the list goes on. I used to brew a lot of homebrew beer. I had dreadlocks. I had baggy jeans…like really really baggy… which was a fashion of the time. I also used to walk with a bit of a backwards leaning swagger as you might put it. After doing a bunch of this movement training which I’m describing to you I realised that firstly this swagger is a terrible way of walking when it comes to pain. It’s incredibly mis aligned and it puts a lot of stress on the body. But there was something I had to let go of when it came to changing the walking pattern. I had to let go of my identity which included being a “suppressed underdog” kind of mentality. A mentality of being shady, but having friendships and connections based around this kind of shared understanding.
I sometimes find even today when I hang around with people from my past that the way I walk changes slightly, as does the way I speak and the way I feel about myself and my life. Somewhere deep inside me I take a certain comfort from being welcomed and accepted as someone who drinks heavily and doesn’t aspire to great things in their life.
I like to think of this claiming as a type of re-inforcing. From a brain perspective you’ve got this brand spanking new neural pathway which you’ve just forged. However if you don’t begin to use this pathway over and over again then it can just as quickly be pruned away from your brain and it’s like it never existed before.
I watched a spider making a web last year and it was such an amazing process. It started off with one main thread which it crawled back and forth along. It started then joining a bunch of these structural threads out from a central location. It looked like a kind of star shape. Then, as time went on the spider started filling the spaces between with other shorter threads and it started looking more and more like the classic spiderweb shape. With every thread she added and connected, the web became stronger and more robust.
This is similar to having new pathways in your brain. In the beginning they’re fragile. A bug could fly past and rip through a single thread with no problems. But once the spider starts to connect the threads together the web starts to become more resilient. In the same way, when you connect these new pathways in your brain to other parts of your life they become more resilient.
So how do we re-inforce this new pattern and connect it to other parts of our life? Well if I have guided you through an exploration and you’ve made some new discoveries, then it’s likely you would have done this while lying down on the floor. I do this because it will deactivate all of your antigravity strategies and reduce your overall muscular tension. This makes it a heck of a lot easier for you to feel and change. So if you’re lying on the floor then your new discovery about how to move your hip makes sense in that context, because that’s where you discovered it. But it doesn’t really make sense in “real life” context. Because we’re not often lying on the floor in real life. But if you then get up and start to walk around and feel what it’s like to move with a different feeling in your hip joint then it starts to reinforce that web of connections. And then you could also begin to do a favourite activity of yours. Maybe you like to dance. Practice some dance. Feel how different it is to have this hip joint that moves differently than usual. Bam, you’ve added another thread to the web. You’ve felt the change in another context.
So context is a really big thing here. Have you ever had that experience when you meet someone on the street and you know that you know them, but you don’t know where from? I’ve had cases where I’ve actually spent a lot of time with a person before but when I met them on the street I didn’t really know who they were. The context of the meeting was completely different and so it took a while for my brain to figure out who the heck they were.
Context can mean lots of different things. One version of context is the physical position that you have your body in. You could be lying down on your back. You could be lying on your front. You could by lying on your side. You could be standing. You could be on all fours. You could be sitting in a chair. You could be in a lunge position. You could be in your yoga class doing a headstand. All of these different positions are different contexts when it comes to your brains perspective. You might be able to clearly feel your new hip joint pattern while standing or walking, but when it comes to being on all fours you might totally lose the sensation. So practicing feeling these changes in different positions is a really good idea for building something into your way of being long term.
Another version of context might be the activity that you’re doing. Maybe you’re going for a run. Playing a sport. Playing with your kids. Climbing a tree. Doing the dishes. Carrying something heavy. Walking a dog. Going hunting. It’s exactly the same thing here. When you’re doing the dishes you might be able to feel your new hip pattern, but when you sit at your desk at work the pain comes back immediately. You swap back into your old pattern. Finding ways to transfer the new pattern into different activities helps to strengthen the web.
Even things like the room or space that you’re in, the people you’re around and the clothing you wear are different contexts. I know that I feel and move differently when I’m wearing my martial arts training gear than when I’m in my regular clothing.
Another way of strengthening this web is to focus on the ease and pleasure of the movement. You might remember from episode one we talked about how your brain is always trying to keep you safe. Well lets say you’ve just found this new movement in your hip. I believe it’s a really good idea to make a point of noticing that it feels really good to have your leg free and your breath, jaw and hand soft. This sends a really strong message to your brain. It says that this way of moving is actually better and worth keeping. It’s safer. Safety and pleasure go hand in hand. Pain and danger go hand in hand. The more we can send a message that this is pleasurable the more we re-inforce to your over-protective parent brain that everythings all good and it’s all gonna be fine.
The bottom line is that the more you make use of your new ability, the more you’re going to strengthen the web. Can you think of new ways to use what you’ve learned? Perhaps you can now play with your children differently than you did before. If so, why not climb a tree or run on the beach with them. Maybe you can take the stairs up to your apartment instead of the lift…why not use this new ability? Maybe you can go hiking now on steeper terrain than you used to be able to. Use it use it use it. That is the motto.
Before we wrap this episode up I want to reveal one more thing which I am extremely enthusiastic about. It is one of my deepest values in life. I believe this thing is like a master key that can unlock your superpowers when it comes to this “claiming your new movement”. I have a deep fascination with this topic because it’s both so powerful and so mysterious to me. I believe that if we can harness the power of what I’m talking about, it can completely change our lives for the better. What is this thing I’m talking about? It is PLAY.
Last year I was at a festival and I ran a play workshop with a friend of mine. We got a bunch of maybe 30 people together and we played some really funny and silly games together. Lots of them were theater improv type games and involved lots of thinking on the spot and improvising. Being someone who observes movement a lot it was astonishing to see the difference in the people as they entered the workshop and then again as they left the workshop. In general they were more rigid and contracted before. And afterwards they appeared softer, more open, their movement looked easier. From a physics and engineering way of thinking, their skeletons were more aligned so the force was transmitting through them efficiently.
Now I don’t know about you, but for me life can feel really serious sometimes. Being an adult sometimes feels really difficult. It feels like there’s so many responsibilities and things to manage. I can go for long periods of time without really truly playing. But I have had so many experiences now of playing as an adult and seeing the astonishing benefits of it, that I have been forced to pay attention and consider that there’s more happening in this process of play than at first it seems.
Now I don’t claim to know exactly what is happening for us when we play. As I said, it is a mystery to me. However, it seems to me that there is something built deeply into our nervous systems that is related to play. It’s almost as though play is the language of our nervous system. When we speak this language it activates parts of ourselves which are usually dormant. When we get ourselves into a playful state we can create radical shifts in our lives with seemingly little effort. When I have looked at some of the things that happen when I play I notice that I become extremely present. I explore. I use my senses. I learn. My perception heightens. I use my imagination and curiosity. The feeling of danger and threat lowers and feelings of safety and wellbeing begin to grow. I make crazy connections between idea’s. My body moves differently and I can shift between characters or archetypes at a moments notice. I become fully congruent. I become more fluid and less stuck in my usual ways. Experiences of synchronicity become more frequent. I become more connected to other people and I feel completely rejuvenated when I think about the “responsibilities” of my day to day life.
When I think about all of these, I find it fascinating to note that these are all very similar to the roadmap I’ve been describing over the last few episodes about how to get out of chronic pain. There’s a part of me that wonders… is chronic pain just a lack of play in people’s lives?
I’ll leave that one for you to ponder, but for now I’d just like to point out that at the very least, play is an amazing tool for claiming these movement changes in your life. When you discover a new way of moving and then you begin to play with that new way, you really start to claim it as your own. Play will help you to connect it to a bunch of different contexts and meanings and feelings and emotions and narrative… All of these things build a rich and resilient web of connections which helps you to make this new way YOUR new way.
Thankyou so much for joining me today. I’ve loved sharing this step about claiming a new way of being because I think it’s such a crucial one.
I look forward to connecting with you again in the next episode where we continue our journey on this pathway of getting out of pain and back into freedom and ease of movement again.
If you like what you’re hearing so far please leave me a review or a rating. Or if you know someone that’s suffering from chronic pain then please share it with them. That’s how this podcast is going to spread and help people learn how to get unstuck from this burden of pain and suffering.
Til next time