Have you hit a wall to improving in your chosen skill? I did many years ago with skiing. I gave up in frustration. Today I understand why I could not get better at skiing – it was the way I practiced. I knew the right way intellectually, but I could not get my body to behave as I wanted. An injury led to discovering how to change the way I move in all activities to be congruent with how the brain works.
What is missing in how we refine and learn skills?
The mind-body connection that we practice today is upside down. In the seventeenth century, philosopher Rene Descartes proposed that the body is essentially a machine that is subordinate to the superior mind. His notion gained credence as society entered the industrial age. Science went one step further about seventy years ago to claim the brain functions like a computer and instructs the body what to do. The computer mind, machine body belief is now fully entrenched in society by how we educate, our approach to exercise, how we practice medicine, how we do business, and how we learn new skills.
In the last ten years, with MRI technology, neuroscience has learned that the brain is a complex neurological organism that rewires itself as it learns and refines skills. All information enters the brain from the senses – what we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. The senses are activated by movement. The source of how we learn is through movement.
But it is not any movement that matters. The more complex and refined movements are, the better we function. The key to improving any skill is to focus on optimizing the quality of your movements.
Becoming congruent with how your brain works
To learn or refine new skills we must be aware of what it feels like to move so that we can determine whether our movements are in conflict or improving. How we respond to what we feel determines whether we are regressing or improving a skill. We must understand how the body is best organized to move in gravity, according to physics and Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion.
A book called Getting Smarter – It’s Not What You Think is your opportunity to improve any skill according to the way your brain optimally learns. If you struggle to learn or improve a skill, this is your chance to overcome limitations that are preventing you from achieving your full potential. The book explains that there are five essential elements that are the foundation underlying all movement. The practices associated with each element help you integrate the elements into any skill. All babies learn to move non-consciously using the elements. By the time we are adults most of us have lost awareness of them so we must consciously relearn them. The book shows you how. To get an idea of how different your awareness and response to what you feel must be, try the following practice:
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and jump up in the air once. Do you hold your breath? If not, do you breathe from the belly? Do you lift your chin? What part of the foot do you use to jump up? Does your rib cage get tight? Do you contract your legs, buttocks, belly and more? Do you land on your heels? Does it feel spongy and soft or hard and jolting to land?
- Jump up and down many times until you are out of breath. As you jump notice if the breathing moves to a different place in your body. As you fatigue do you engage less muscles? Can you feel more of your skeleton absorb the impact of the landing? Does your chin still lift? Pause and rest.
- This time tuck the chin back and down slightly so your neck aligns with the spine and jump up and down. Notice what feels different. Are different muscles working? Are you breathing differently? Can you more easily jump higher? Is the landing softer and more toward the ball of your foot? Again, jump until you are out of breath. Where do you breathe from now? Pause and rest.
- Try jumping with your chin up and then with your chin down. Compare the two jumping styles and notice which one feels as if you have more potential. Which allows you to land more softly and not on your heels? It should feel easier, bouncier, and more powerful to jump through the skeleton versus with muscles.