We hear that we must move our bodies in order to be healthy. Does that mean any movement? Are some movements better than others? Are exercise and movement the same thing? Let’s explore some of these questions.
Movement is required for many body functions to occur. Some functions require specific muscle contractions. For example, engaging the diaphragm and large muscles in the legs pumps the lymphatic system which is needed to flush toxins out of tissue. Other body movements provide support for vital functions, such as core support to help move the bowels and keep the digestive tube from collapsing. In addition, movement of a joint is required for the joint to stay healthy and lubricated.
But, not all movement is healthy! If I bend or bear weight on a joint that is misaligned it can create stress and inflammation and eventually cause damage that limits function. Movements where part of my body is not supported can create compression and sheer forces placing joints or organs at risk. So, learning how to keep the body properly aligned when we move becomes critically important if we want long term joint health and maximum wellness.
If I do exercise at a gym on machines or with a trainer, does that ensure proper alignment and body usage? Unfortunately not. Machines are built symmetrically, while we are not symmetrical. (We have a liver on one side, a heart on the other, we have right or left side dominance, just to mention a few asymmetries.) Also, we have injury and usage patterns unique to our own history. Unless my trainer is a Certified Aston-Patterning® Practitioner, it is unlikely that he or she will be able to troubleshoot my particular usage pattern for that particular movement, machine, or exercise. This does not mean I should give up my exercise program or my trainer; I just have to make sure I am keeping my movements in the healthy range. If an exercise is painful to a joint, it usually means I am causing damage. So we need to be very careful with the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy (but that’s a whole blog post by itself).
I do Yoga so I am assured proper alignment and body usage, right? Again, not necessarily. One position may be OK for you but very hard on my body due to my particular tension and injury patterns. With training, I can learn how to move my body in such a way that honors my particular asymmetries. Unfortunately, most movement systems that have a particular target form will emphasize the form rather than the reason that form is useful. For example, bending to touch my toes while standing can be used to stretch the hamstrings; but, if I initiate that movement from my head or chest instead of from the psoas muscle I will create a very different stretch. The form may look the same but the results are not. So, with movement programs that have specific forms, I will get more benefit and less injury if I find out what I am trying to accomplish with each form. I can then make adjustments according to my body limitations and patterns.
So, in order to get the maximum benefit from movement or exercise, I need to have familiarity and skill with how to use my body properly. Developing this skill requires movement training.