By Danny Clark, MovNat Performance Director & Master Instructor
I’ve spent my life trying to get better at various forms of movement. For my first 5 years, it was the natural process of development: being able to perform basic natural movements such as rolling, crawling, and walking. For the next 15 years, I practiced diligently to excel in the sport of wrestling. Then, as I became a fitness professional, I spent a decade refining movements associated with strength, conditioning, and range of motion.
Six years ago, I made the switch to MovNat. I saw it as a way to shake up my perception about how to approach movement, and it certainly delivered! Since then, I’ve been able to cultivate a deep appreciation for working on the basics with the mindset of a total beginner.
The beauty of the basics
There’s a special beauty in practicing the basics, as they are the most practical and frequent movements in our daily lives. If you can breathe, sit and walk better, you simply live better.
I’ve discovered that in studying the most ordinary, fundamental movements – such as breathing, ground movement, and walking – with a fresh perspective, we find the key to lifelong progress and performance. It’s a lesson I wish I understood much sooner in life.
You may wonder: doesn’t the body just take care of optimizing these natural tasks?
The answer is NO, it does not. In order to continue to do these movements well, they have to be learned, relearned, and refined over a lifetime. Along with the right environment and guides, a beginner’s approach to movements you think you have already mastered can make a world of difference in performance!
The beginner’s mind
A Zen proverb reads, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
The way to cultivate a mindset of possibilities is to adopt the way of the beginner, or the child. The beginner invokes curiosity and questions instead of presuming any knowledge. S(he) is more willing to listen, receive new/useful information, and experiment. The child lives through the senses and engages in behaviors that lead to new discoveries. Make your journey a new adventure and you’ll find yourself making every step a fun exploration of movement.
It may seem like seeking an ever expanding set of moves is the way to stay stimulated, but in actuality, you could also work on just a handful of the most important movements and stay engaged and healthy for lifetime…with the right mindset. In many cases, the latter choice is more effective for longevity in your movement and will only enhance your ability to perform higher level movements.
Here’s a few examples of how to practice some very simple movements with a beginner’s mindset:
Breath is the movement of your lungs to facilitate the exchange of gases in and out of your body. It’s feedback to your brain on your state of tension. It’s so fundamental, yet it affects nearly every aspect of your performance. How you breathe matters. Further, how you control your breath changes depending on the task.
For example, while doing something that requires a stretch you’ll stimulate your muscles to relax with extra slow, full exhales, whereas while lifting something heavy you’d be better served forcefully exhaling or even holding your breath. While balancing, you are best served with a slow, but balanced inhale:exhale ratio. I find a 4:4 second interval helps promote the most optimal balance of tension and relaxation.
Thus, how you move your breath supports how you move your body. It just depends on the task at hand, and it isn’t usually intuitive for most people. In fact, most people do the opposite of what’s optimal due to being in a state of fear while moving. Approaching this fundamental movement with a beginner’s mindset can help you refine your breath awareness and control and be an impetus for incredible growth!
Want to learn more? Check this out: How to Control Your Breathing for Better Physical & Mental Performance.
Sitting – or more specifically, sitting on the ground – is a lost art. Most people just think it’s a waste of time or sadly see it as something only for kids. Yet, sitting on the floor in various ways throughout the day is the simplest way to work on four of the most common limitations people have (even elite athletes): lower back instability, hip tightness, shoulder tightness, and poor posture.
Give this a try: Sit in Side Bent Sit.
First, bring awareness to your hips. Are they level? If not, visualize where your leg bones go into your hip sockets. Make small hip movements such as rocking and rotating your hips for a minute or so, then see if they are any more level. Either way, great! Keep exploring!
Now switch to Cross Sit.
Bring awareness to your lower back. Is it engaged, or is your hip tightness forcing tension on your mid back as you flex forward a bit? If so, sit on something to elevate yourself high enough so you can have a natural slight curve to your lower back.
Now pay attention to your posture. Is your head directly over your hips or are you leaning forward?
Lastly, explore reaching all around you. First, try reaching and rotating your spine as you reach behind you. Then, try keeping your spine neutral while reaching only with your arms.
The beauty of mastering the mechanics of comfortably sitting on the ground can open you up to so many enjoyable movement opportunities such as playing with your kids, relaxing more in nature, and being adaptable to any environment.
Do you feel stuck? Get some more help here: 4 Ground Positions to Help You Sit Comfortably, Efficiently, and with Good Posture.
While walking is an ordinary movement, it’s certainly not a simple one. When walking is well orchestrated, it feels fluid and effortless to walk for miles. With a little attention to some of the details of the movement, walking can also be a strong reinforcer of optimal posture and body-wide elasticity.
Go for a short walk. As you walk, first pay attention to how it feels. Is it smooth and graceful? Is it easy to scan your environment? Do you feel any jarring in your neck or head with each stride? Do you feel relaxed?
Next, tune into what’s going on in a few specific areas of your body while you walk. How’s your posture? Try keeping your ribs down as you elongate your spine and make yourself taller, as if you are trying to see over a wall. Does your lower back move? Try making each step elicit a mild stretch in the front of your hips instead of causing your hips to rock forward and backward.
How about your spine? Do you feel a gentle twist between your shoulder blades that encourages your arms to swing as you walk? If not, shake some tension out of your shoulders to allow for some more movement in your upper body as you walk.
Walking with more awareness and refinement not only impacts the integrity of your structure, but also sets you up for success in other gait patterns such as running and sprinting.
If there’s something that really stands out to me as I teach MovNat events – it’s that everyone, no matter their goal and starting point – can benefit from refining the basics with a beginner’s mindset. Happy (re)learning!
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