Free and Flexible Spine
Intelligent Movement Workshop
with Ernesto Cortés
The other day I was watching a short class by Dominic Miller, the guitarist of Sting’s band (here you can see a beautiful video of them together playing ‘Shape of my heart’) and he said something that resonated a lot with what I do through the practice of Intelligent Movement. Miller says that when he practices music, the important thing for him is not playing fast:
For me, playing the guitar, the sound is king. If I can’t get a good sound, I can’t really go forward. And so when I practice, I might do it really hyper-slow, just so I can focus on the sound and on every note being as important as the one before and the one after. So it’s just like really being in the moment.
Another musician, Arvo Part, one of the greatest contemporary composers of classical music, has also a beautiful way of describing how he creates his music:
I see it as a need to concentrate in each sound so that every blade of grass would be as important as the flower.
I think of our work with Intelligent Movement in similar terms. Reducing the speed of our actions helps us concentrate in the present moment and become more aware of what we are actually doing. Every small movement counts, and what a finger does is as important as what the arm does. If we can be more conscious of what the finger is doing, our actions with the arm will become more fluid, effortless and efficient.
We are going to begin a process of five weeks working with your body from a perspective that perhaps is new for you, or not so habitual. I invite you to give yourself the opportunity to listen to yourself with enough silence around you that you can actually hear what your body, your emotions and your thoughts are telling you. This implies not only doing slow and small movements in the session, but also treating yourself with more care and gentleness during the class, and begin to extend this courtesies to yourself to other instances of your life. We will practice wellbeing, and this is not something that comes in a pill or in a bottle and that you can take and then forget about it and let it do its work magically; it is something that needs to be brought back to our attention over and over and that requires a discipline. Paradoxically, we need to put some effort into becoming effortless in our actions, but this is a type of effort that requires no physical strain and that can actually become pleasurable.
So, just a reminder about the indications for the classes of Intelligent Movement.
- Do the movements slowly and gently, do not stretch or go to the limit of your possibilities.
- Take breaks whenever you need it, even if it is not indicated in the instructions.
- If there is discomfort, reduce the amplitude of the movement or stop it and just imagine the movement. Don’t let the discomfort become pain.
- Have fun with the movements, make them pleasurable.
Let’s enjoy this exploration together!
In this first session we began our exploration of the spine, understanding its sections by mobilizing them in different directions and configurations.
Here is the full audio of the session, which you can do as many times as you want. I would recommend that you take the time to do it at least one time before our next session and see if it’s different to do it a second time. Does the fact that you «know what to expect» change the way you do this lesson? Can you find something new every time you do it? How is this second time different?
I have made a short version of this class so that you can practice only a part of it in 15 minutes. I suggest that you do this as a practice to begin the day, or to take a break in the middle of your activities. It can be an interesting way to mobilize your body either to prepare it for action or to give it a rest. Try it as many times as you want along the week:
Finally, here is a videoclass that you can do anywhere, standing up, where you will evoke some of the movements we did in the class on the floor. Notice what changes when your relationship to gravity shifts, and pay special attention to how is the movement of your spine at the beginning and at the end of the class. Don’t just watch this video, do the movements. Information without action is useless, so let’s get moving!
In this second session, we explored two main things: the movement of the shoulderblades and the connection between the four corners of the torso: the hips and the shoulders. By connecting these four points, you can have more clarity in how your movements can become more integrated actions instead of isolated efforts.
Here is the audio of the class:
And with this short video class, you can use the strategies that use applied in the longer class to a shorter process that will help you release tension from the spine and coordinate the movement of the shoulders with the pelvis:
In this third session we worked with the mobilization of the shoulderblades in relation to the spine and the pelvis, as well as working the muscles of the neck by moving the arms. In technical terms, what we did in the last part of the class was mobilizing the proximal parts of your body from a distal perspective.
First, I want to share with you this image and this video that illustrate the movements of the shoulderblade and that will help you visualize better the work that we are doing:
And here is the recording of the full third session:
I also made a shorter lesson that is different to this, but includes some of the movements that you did in the longer class. This shorter audio is centered in the «bell movement», this movement to relax the wrists that we talked about at the beginning of the session, and is a very good strategy to relax your arms, wrists and hands, particularly at the end of the day.
A reminder of the «bell movement»:
With the palm of your hand resting on the floor, bring the tips of your fingers together as if you wanted to pick up a strand of hair or a piece of string from the floor. As your fingers get together, bring your wrist up in the air and then slowly start to separate your fingers as they come up until your hand is completely (and softly) open and begin to bring the palm of the hand down onto the floor again, with your wrist touching the floor first and then the fingers. Begin the movement again.
Keep in mind that this is a soft, slow and very gentle process. This is not about exercising the hand, but about giving it some rest, so don’t overdo this and don’t use strength. Keep the movements small, slow and pleasurable, and don’t go to the limit of your possibilities. Self-regulation is very important for this class. Enjoy the mini-class!
And here is the video class corresponding to this session:
In this session we explored how different movements can become one, and how we can distribute the effort of one action by engaging more parts of the body into it. Also, we learned how the extension of the body can be done in a more conscious way, not by means of brute force, but by coordinating delicately all the elements that participate in it.
Here is the full audio of this session:
And here is the video class that you can do in a chair and that will help you access this sense of integration between the different parts of your body:
Here is the video that corresponds to the last session of our series of classes dedicated to the spine. In this class we work more deeply with the differentiation between the separate parts that form a single action. For this video class in particular, remember that the important thing is not the amplitude of the movement, but the attention that you can dedicate to each part moving independently and unified at the same time.
And here is the full audio of the is session: