retensioning

Congruency: A discerning tool for movement education clients

Choosing ways to help ourselves from the myriad of techniques, treatments and methods out there can be a real challenge. It is definitely a buyer-beware world. Once you think a technique may be useful then you need to determine if the practitioner is the right one for you.

One approach I have given a lot of thought to lately is the idea of congruency.

congruency movement education

Before we get further let’s define congruent. The non-mathematical definition of congruent, according to Cambridge Dictionary of English language is:

…similar to or in agreement with something, so that the two things can both exist or can be combined without problems.

It is the last part, “both exist or can be combined without problems”, which leads me to think the underlying idea of almost all therapeutic interventions is to increase some type of congruency in an individual.  Whether it is of mind and body, nerves and muscles, thoughts and feelings, congruency is at the heart of what is being sought.

If this is the case, it follows that we can assess any intervention by asking what is to be made congruent and why and if the techniques employed actually do that.

 

For example, I have developed a technique called ReTensioning™ that aims to give clients the ability to have minimal muscle activity at a specific joint when they are resting that joint.  (Often people are actively putting unnecessary forces across the joint when they think it is at rest.) 

The technique seeks to make the perception of a joint-at-rest congruent with the mechanical minimum of activity across that joint.

Its methodology involves ascertaining the relationships of the bones at perceived rest and at minimal mechanical activity, and then actively giving the client the experience of resting with the joint at minimal activity in order to retrain the nervous system to use minimal activity when resting the joint.

ReTensioning™ has a clear congruence it seeks between the tension across a joint and the minimizing of this tension at rest, and the techniques have been shown to create this congruence in many clients. So as a consumer, I can consider this technique as a possible means to help me if I want to change the mechanical stress in my body, and I can tell in a session or two if the techniques being used are able to get this congruence for me. 

 

The Alexander Technique is another example of a methodology that we can apply such an analysis to. It aims to help people change how they use themselves in daily activity by using their rational mind to determine how they move instead of relying on instinctive or unconscious habitual responses to stimuli.

A component of that is teaching people the mechanisms we have in our design that allows humans to easily control movements so we can use ourselves with minimal strain without having to think about every little muscle contraction and timing.

In short, it seeks to have our ideas of how we use ourselves congruent with how we actually use ourselves.

In its methodology there is a great deal of variance by practitioners: some will say nothing to a client and only have them do simple movements repeatedly with manual guidance, while others will talk with clients and have them do various experiments in changing their thinking to see the effect it has on their movement. And there are many combinations in between.    It makes sense that there should be variation in teaching people as there is great variation in how people learn, but the criteria of whether the actual methodology is working to address the congruency sought is a valuable means for the consumer to assess if an Alexander Technique practitioner’s approach is right for them. If, after a few sessions the client is unable to see the desired congruency being brought about then it may be time to seek a different practitioner or methodology.

 

Nothing fits for everyone and nothing works for everything - even things that on their surface seem to be the same problem someone else has may respond differently to the same intervention – but using this criterion of congruency may help sort out what you need. The idea of identifying the desired congruence and then assessing if the practitioner is able to guide you towards it is a clear way to understand and assess the value of any technique or method you use to improve yourself and your life. 

Stop That! No Really, Knock it Off! The Role of Inhibition in Movement Education

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It always seems like we need to do more: more work, more speed, more strength, more learning. Often it feels like we can’t keep up. So it is very curious to me that our nervous system is made useful by doing less. 

You see, the nervous system operates at full blast all the time but we exert control, focus, and direction, everything that enables us to function in this world, by selectively turning off parts of the system. This process is inhibition.  It is embedded in the very structure of our organism down to the cellular level.

Most mechanical and electrical systems are controlled by inhibition. Think about your cell phone for a minute. When you turn it on it is on, not half on.  The battery doesn’t just make some of its power available, all of it is there in the system. The apps on your phone don’t need to be created when you want to use them because they are already there BUT they are inhibited. They are being prevented from getting energy directed through the circuitry in the way they require so they can function. You activate them by pressing the icon or key to remove the inhibition. When you are done with the app you inhibit energy going through the circuitry that the app needs and thus stop it from running. But it isn’t gone, it will function again in the same manner once you lift the inhibition of the battery energy so it can flow again in the same way. In the meantime the battery will continue to have all its power available in the system. 

The human body is not a phone but the principle is still the same - the nervous system runs at full power all the time and we inhibit parts of it to do what we do.  
In fact, when a person has a severe brain injury you can sometimes tell what part of the brain is injured just from the pattern the person’s muscles go into spasm. This is because the inhibition from the injured area is no longer preventing the full blast muscle contraction.  In our nervous system inhibition occurs in many ways and in many places anatomically, and there are feedback loops so we can alter the inhibition which enables us to learn and change.  At its most basic level inhibition occurs when information being carried by a nerve, any nerve, is prevented from transferring that signal to the next nerve cell in the chain, which can occur anywhere nerves meet - from the sensory organ in the big toe to between brain cells.  
The net result is that the data we receive from the world is edited repeatedly before it reaches our consciousness so we can focus on what we want to do at the moment and tune out the unneeded information or noise. Inhibition also regulates the output of the nervous system, so it affects how fast we can think, how many things we can attend to, how hard we can contract our muscles, and how fast we can contract our muscles repetitively. 
There are many reliable stories of people in distress lifting a car or doing other feats of strength because the release of adrenaline has chemically prevented the inhibition of their muscle contraction. The reason no human runs a mile in two minutes is not because well trained runners cannot deliver enough oxygen or sugar to the muscles or carry away waste fast enough. It is because they are inhibited from sending signals telling the muscles to contract and relax at a fast enough rate.

Inhibition is how we control ourselves, so learning how to refine, direct, expand, contract, and selectively engage inhibition is extremely important if we want to improve or change our minds, our bodies or even our lives. 
Wonderfully, our system is dynamic and changes based on how we use it. This means we can consciously change our inhibition control of our nervous system.  
Many different disciplines have been created that rely on getting us to change our inhibition patterns.  Meditation and other mindfulness programs look to quiet the mind, to increase our skills at inhibiting the noise and chatter inside and outside of ourselves. The Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais method and other movement retraining programs assist people in learning how to inhibit their habitual movement reactions to internal and external stimuli and replace habitual patterns with rational thinking to consciously select movement choices. Martial arts, especially the soft forms like Aikido and Kung Fu teach people to learn how to inhibit resistance to an opponent’s movement and instead flow with it and direct it. 

No matter what method is used, developing awareness and control of inhibition is a vital piece of how we move in the world.
 

What is full rest?

Did you ever try looking at a tree and then shift your vision to see the spaces between the leaves? It is still the same light coming into your eye but the conscious shift changes the experience.

I have been doing this with movement and what I see between movements is rest, the time spent not moving. Sometimes it is very long as when I look at my sleeping spouse beside me at three AM. Other times it is mere milliseconds as when a dancer lands a jump and has not begun the next.

These observations made me ask, “What is rest?”

 

The short answer seems to be – no volitional movement through space, as when I drop onto the couch and put my feet up. But what about the offensive lineman down in his stance waiting for the snap of the ball? He would be the last one to tell you he is resting. Even more extreme is isometric exercises where muscles are contracted fully without generating movement in space. In fact, the usual instructions are to fully contract a muscle group by pressing on an immovable object like a wall for eight to ten seconds then “rest” for eight to ten seconds and repeat. So rest, full rest is more than not moving. What else is there to this?

 

full rest movement education

The missing part in full rest is not moving through space AND a coordination so that you are not pulling on yourself internally (that is all muscles can do, pull).

Full rest is both a muscular and neurologic cessation or diminishment, no matter how brief, that results in minimal activity in the body or any given part of it.

Consider this – if movement in a body part, say the left arm below the shoulder, is stopped, but the muscles that can generate movement there are not dialed down to the minimum needed for overall balance, then there is still tension in the arm. Excessive tension, which strains the arm internally. If, during a brief period of quiet in an activity, the motion AND the strain are at minimum then full rest can occur.

 

Good pianists know this. They can play a fast or difficult passage of music but when they get a chance to rest a hand, even just a few beats, they fully rest the hand, losing the tension of the previous passage before they continue. The ones who don’t do this get fatigue and strain in their arms by the end of the piece and the audience can hear the difference.

 

Rest shapes and balances movement. The sharpest musicians, quickest athletes, and most compelling dancers know this, and during whole body movement they let the body parts that are not engaged in active, volitional motion rest, even if just for milliseconds. It makes all the difference in the world in the quality of their performance.

 

So if you or I are not fully resting - we are stopping motion through space but not the tension underlying - then what can we do about it?

I have been working on a technique called ReTensioning that teaches people how to re-coordinate so they really can stop moving and use minimal tension at the same time. Other methodologies like the Alexander Technique, CranioSacral therapy and yoga provide approaches to the problem from different angles but they all look to address, in part, restoring the ability to fully rest. Which makes me realize what a great idea that is! I am going to go take a nap.