Breathe Freely and Move Easily
Reawakening Natural Flexibility, Strength, and Stamina with FlexAware Fitness
by Steven ShafarmanWe’ve all admired the way young children move, so free, easy, spontaneous. Until age five or six or eight, kids are extremely flexible. They’re also surprisingly strong. And they have great stamina. We were like that when we were kids.
How do they do it? How did we lose it? Can we get it back?
The simple answer to the first question, and the key to the others, is that they move efficiently. They naturally align with gravity. Muscles throughout the body coordinate in every act, so muscle tone is uniform and relatively low. Breathing is fully integrated with every movement. When we observe kids closely, these innate skills are obvious.
As we age, however, and as we’re socialized, we develop habits of straining, stiffening and holding our breath. We want to look good, and most of us do as we’re told. “Sit still.” “Stand up straight.” “Stop fidgeting.” In effect, we were taught to strain and stiffen, to ignore discomfort and inhibit spontaneity.
To reawaken and regain flexibility, strength and stamina, you can start by thinking about ideal efficient movement, what it is and what it means. Then seek to be more aware of how you breathe and move. This awareness is direct and immediate—a sensory-kinesthetic activity—more fundamental than any psychological or spiritual practice. It is somewhat like the awareness of young children who have not yet learned how to talk.
A simple practice is to exhale actively, more slowly and completely than normal, while moving comfortably. Exhale while bending or twisting, for example, then inhale passively while returning to a neutral position. Imagine that your ribs are fingers, and exhaling is squeezing a sponge. Inhaling, then, is like releasing a sponge and letting it fill. You can do this while sitting, standing or walking and while lying in bed or doing yoga, stretching, strength-training or other exercises.
This emphasis on exhaling is especially valuable, in part, because we tend to focus on inhaling, while ignoring the exhale. If we don’t exhale, however, we can’t inhale fully. Breathing involves both, plus effortless pauses between them. Moreover, recent neuroscience shows that inhaling engages the fight, flight or freeze stress responses, while exhaling activates our innate capacities to rest, relax and recover.
These ideas about breathing, moving and awareness are core aspects of FlexAware, a fitness-healing-exercise practice based on the way young children naturally move and learn. FlexAware extends and expands on the insights of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, the engineer, neuroscientist and judo master who created the Feldenkrais Method.
As young children learn to walk, they outgrow crawling and leave it behind. With FlexAware, people of any age can “outgrow” back pain, breathing difficulties, stress-related disorders and other problems. Every moment is an opportunity to breathe freely and move easily.
Steven Shafarman created FlexAware. He teaches individuals and groups, and educates new FlexAware teachers. The author of six books, including Awareness Heals: the Feldenkrais Method for Dynamic Health, he lives in Washington, D.C.
FlexAware® is a registered service mark of FlexAware Learning LLC.