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!
Some reminders for this week:
- Pay attention to what you do with the muscles of your jaw and your mouth, especially when you are doing an activity that requires a particular concentration or effort. When you notice, take a deep breath an relax the muscles of your neck and jaw.
- This is a little trick that may help you to bring more awareness to your jaw: you can wear a little wristband or bracelet in the wrist where you usually don’t wear one. Having something different in your body makes you notice that there is something new. Every time you touch or see unconsciously this bracelet or wristband, use it as an excuse to take a little moment to observe the state of the muscles of your jaw. You can extend this observation to other parts of your body.
- At least one or two days this week, make the short version of the lesson (or the long, if you have time) before going to sleep and notice the next morning if there is something different in the state of your body when you get up of the bed.
I want to share with you this video that will be interesting for your process. This is Alan Questel, a leading experts in Somatic Education. I have had the privilege of being his translator for 8 years in Mexico, in Colombia and in online classes. In this particular class, he talks about the importance of doing less. «Less is more», he says, and he explains why in the bodywork that we do, it is important to do less. I hope this gives you some ideas that are useful and that provoke some reflections in you.
The second session was more intense and demanding, because we worked not only on the upper part of the spine, as I had originally planned, but also with the lumbar area and the pelvis, with the intention of creating a better synchronization between these two parts.
The final movement, rolling along the floor being guided by your arms and legs, had a double intention: on one hand, to show you how a movement that seemed unavailable or that you didn’t think about at the beginning of the class, was possible in the end without effort. And on the other hand, to connect all the movements we did along the class into one single action, so that you can see how, by coordinating what different parts of the body are doing, and by becoming aware of them, we can achieve more complex tasks. This is something that we practiced in movement, but that you can translate to other areas of your life.
Here is the full audio of this class:
And here is a video class where in less than 10 minutes you can use the same principles of the longer class to give relief and relaxation to your shoulders:
In this third session we worked with 2 different things: on one hand, the mobilization of the shoulderblades in relation to the spine and the pelvis; on the other hand, a very simple strategy to relax the hands and the wrists, as well as giving a rest to your nervous system.
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 have also edited in a separate audio the section of the lesson that we dedicated to the wrists, so that you can do it as a separate practice. I included also the first movements of the arms and the last part, so that this process is more complete and you can really give some relaxation to your arms, wrists and hands.
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 full audio of this lesson. I edited the conversation part that we had in the middle so that you can do only the class, but I hope that you don’t forget about the ideas we discussed:
- So many details to pay attention to, but there is a point when you don’t have to think of them.
- We create habits, and habits are important for our survival, but we can also become aware of the habits that are not so healthy, and once we are aware of them, we can work in changing them.
- You can learn a new way to get up from the floor. And like this, you can also learn new, more effective ways, to do everything you do.
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.