How To Use Questions To Improve Your Movement

It's true, I'm a question geek. I get excited about asking questions. I once had a 2 hour long conversation with my friend on just a single topic - "How does one ask a good question?"

Yes, as you can see, I'm so questionerdy that I even ask questions about questions.

The reason for my enthusiasm is because I believe questions are powerful, life-changing creatures. When asked well, they can break entire world views. They can shift our habitual ways of viewing life and show us things from a completely different perspective.

They also happen to be an amazing tool for learning how to move better...

Questions can reveal things that are right in front of our eyes

In any given moment there are millions of possible things we could pay attention to.

There's information coming in from the external world through our eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue. There's also information coming from our internal world like feelings, sensations, position of body parts etc.

All of this information is too much to hold in conscious awareness at once. Some of it has to be ignored or kept in the background.

Now as you know, we humans are creatures of habit. We have habits that span the entire spectrum of how we behave in this world. That includes the things we ignore and the things we attend to. I might walk down the road and notice all of the fruit tree's that I pass. Another person might walk down that same road and notice all the types of cars - something I completely miss. Same place, but different experience of the world.

Now the interesting thing about habits is that they don't necessarily serve us well. We can miss out potentially useful information and on the flip-side give full attention to mostly useless stuff.

This is where fresh questions come to the rescue. They can help shift our habitual way of looking at the world. We can use them to choose a different focus. To shine a spotlight on specific useful information while dimming out the irrelevant.

Let's look at a simple example: Every now and again I go to my parents house for dinner. If I'm there at the right time I might help out by setting the table. One part of that job is to find the salt and put it on the table. So I go to their pantry and start looking for the salt grinder. This is where the trouble starts... In their pantry finding the salt is no easy task. There's so many items competing for my attention it's hard to see the salt even when it's in plain sight. The amount of visual information available is overwhelming and it becomes difficult to know what's important. In addition, my habit is to pay attention to a question that is mostly unhelpful like "Why is it so messy in here?"

It's situations like these where more consciously chosen questions are useful. They can help to filter out the irrelevant (packets of pasta, jars of sauces, containers of tea etc.) and highlight what's useful (the salt grinder).

Perhaps I could ask...

  • "What shape is the salt container?" or...
  • "What colour is the container?" or...
  • "Where did I see it last?"

Questions like these help me filter my experience in a really specific way.

If I know the shaker is blue, then the moment I ask the question, everything that is blue get's highlighted in my awareness. Everything that is not blue fades into the background.

Or if I know the container is small, then everything that is not what I define as small fades into the background.

When asking any of these questions, it completely changes what shows up in my experience. It's almost as though different questions reveal entirely different pantrys.

If you think about that, it's actually incredible. We can simply ask different questions and effortlessly shift our perspective on life. It can reveal whole new worlds.

Here's how you can discover whole new worlds of movement.

Questions can reveal ways to improve your movement

Let's say you want to improve the way you kick a ball. You could ask yourself this pearl of a question... 

"How can I make this movement as pleasurable as possible?"

This question would begin to filter your sensations based on how they relate to pleasure. Things like pain, tightness, jerkiness and restriction could possibly come into your awareness because they aren't pleasurable. This is important information because it allows you to try something different to see if it influences those sensations.

Let's say while you were kicking, you noticed some tightness in your shoulder. With that awareness, you can now experiment with different ways of moving to see if that improves the sensations. 

You might try to maintain continuous breathing as you kick to see if that has any affect. Or maybe you could use the principle of less effort. You could play with the timing of your arms and legs and also the placement of your feet in relation to the ball. 

There are countless things to play with.

Each time you run a movement experiment, your brain is gathering useful information. It starts to reorganize your movement without you even having to DO anything.

Another possible outcome of asking that question is that "nice" sensations come into the spotlight. Feelings of smoothness, lightness or flow perhaps. These are also important feedback. They let you know what is coordinated well. Keep your focus on them and you'll find the "nice" sensations start to spread. Following this pleasure can create powerful shifts in your nervous system and your movement.

Finally, there's another possible outcome. You don't know the answer to the question. You just don't have access to that information. You can't feel or sense it yet. This is totally okay because...

In my experience, the best questions don't give up their answers immediately

For some strange reason this reminds me of the courting rituals of birds of paradise. (Maybe I've been watching too much David Attenborough?!? Regardless, I'm still going to lead you through this somewhat flimsy analogy)

The male bird works patiently to clean up his surroundings, creating a "display area" to show off his beautiful feathers. He then calls a female and proceeds to dance and sing to woo her. He flutters, clicks, pops and shakes his groove thang. In essence, he is asking the question "Will you mate with me?"

He displays his best work, but there's no guarantee of the outcome.

If the female is not impressed, she simply fly's away. After all, she knows she's a catch and doesn't just give her "yes" freely to any male.

True first-class questions are like the female birds. Patience and strength to sit with the tension of the unknown are required to win them over.

Patience because some questions just take a really long time to answer.

Strength because every time you ask a question you're creating tension. You're opening a gap which is constantly seeking closure. You're wrestling with the unknown and that's hard.

Sometimes it might seem easier to just let go of a question altogether before knowing the answer. The strength required to wrestle with it is too much. Perhaps it feels easier to forget the whole thing and go back to life as usual.

But if you can cultivate that skill of asking with no guarantee's of receiving then I promise that you will be rewarded. (Bowchickawowow!)

Because the funny thing is...

You don't even need the answers to get benefit from questions

Even if a question doesn't get answered right away, it doesn't actually matter. It's the asking that is important.

Consider the question "Can you feel each individual vertebrae in your back?"

For most people, the answer is no. They can't feel such subtle things. But, if they truly check without brushing it off as too hard, they might feel something in that area. It may feel murky, unknown and difficult to search for feeling in that place, but in the process of looking and asking, 2 amazing things happen...

  1. It can create immediate improvements in the way you move. The process of searching and questioning helps your nervous system to update it's maps of how your body functions. This then spontaneously reorganizes your movement patterns.
  2. It primes your awareness and creates the possibility of feeling something there in the future. This is kind of like honing your sensitivity to the subtler sensations in your body.

Pretty cool huh.

So What Types Of Questions Are Useful For Improving Movement?

Many people have habitual questions regarding their movement/body like...

"Why does my neck hurt?" or "What's wrong with my leg?" or even worse... "Why me?"

Mostly it's unhelpful asking questions like these. The answers just don't provide traction for growth or learning.

Here are some better questions to ask. Can you see how the exploration of these is potentially more useful?

  • How can I find more pleasure in this movement?
  • Where am I using too much effort?
  • Can I stop at any point through this movement and reverse the direction?
  • How does my contact with the floor change during this movement?
  • What is the pathway of force through my body?
  • Where am I interfering with the movement travelling through my skeleton?
  • Does my [insert body part here] need to be lifted off the floor or can it give its weight to the ground?
  • Is my [insert body part here] influenced by the movement in my [insert body part here]?
  • Does my movement still flow nicely if I do it S-U-P-E-R S-L-O-W?
  • Can I maintain my breath continuously during this movement?
  • What's the very first part of me that moves?

In one of my typical feldenkrais classes I would offer explorations like these. During our time together we would play with a variety of movements and ask quality questions about those movements. This helps to challenge the habitual questions that people ask themselves. In doing this type of practice you might notice some things...

First of all, you'll likely learn to improve the ease and quality of your movement. This in itself is enormously transformative.

But perhaps even more important (and the part that I get MOST excited about) is the holistic, life-changing ripple-effects.

When we deeply challenge our habitual questioning we affect every area of life. Suddenly we're filtering for completely different information. Information that we have consciously chosen to look for. Information that is potentially useful.

When we operate in this way, it gives us freedom. We're no longer stuck viewing life in one way (the one and only way we already know). If there's difficulties or challenges, we can learn to shift perspective and bring new things into awareness. We can break our own habits and discover a whole neeeeeeew world. (Cue Aladdin and Princess Jasmine)

Perhaps now you can see why I described questions as powerful life-changing creatures?

And perhaps now you'll join me as a questionerd too!