Movement and Emotions/ Thoughts

This surfer's mind is trained on making this wave

May, 2019

Have you noticed that your thoughts and emotions influence your movement outcomes?

One of my favorite sports documentaries (outside of When We Were Kings- you’ve got to check that one out!) is a movie that was released in the early 2000’s called Riding Giants. The documentary chronicles the evolution of the sport of big wave surfing and the personal biographies of some of the key athletes. During one of the interviews, a surfer states, “I know, before I even take off, whether I’m going to make (the wave) or not”.

This statement struck me the first time I heard it and resonates with me to this day.

I grew up doing competitive gymnastics, playing at surfing, skateboarding and climbing trees. It was impossible for me to keep my feet on the ground for too long.

I remember this same feeling. Right before I would successfully land something, I would have this calm come over me. Perhaps that feeling was what athletes experience as flow- after starting an insight meditation practice as an adult it feels very similar to the focus I can experience in quiet meditation. On the flip side, when I was fearful or anxious I would know before throwing something I was not going to make it.

Over the past month, as many of you know, we have been exploring the topic of mindfulness practices for people living with movement disorders and their partners through our class with Selma Lewis PhD. Through discussions we have honed-in on the experience of cognition and movement. Some people can feel before they get out of bed whether it is going to be a good movement day or not.

I have noticed in the clinic my clients move poorly when they have had recent experiences that are perceived as stressful. A recent fall, a letter from the DMV or Medicare requiring paperwork to be updates, an argument with a family member are all experiences that I have observed to change movement outcomes. Functional movement tests will reveal worsened balance, increased postural changed and shorter (often faster, also known as festinating) steps.

This phenomena of cognitive process and movement seems to be connected from elite athletes to people who have been living with a movement disorder for many years.

I’m wondering, and I’m interested in your perspective, do we have any authority in how we move by working with our thoughts and emotions? In other words, when our typical neural patterns are running can we dig our oars in, change the thoughts and feelings we are having, and make a difference in our movement outcomes?

Current neuroscience would suggest that movement (which is vastly complex) is influenced by thought and cognitive style and also that we can work to train our cognitive processes.

A great book for exploring the above topics in greater depth are Rick Hanson, PhD and Rick Mendius, MD’s book called “Buddha’s Brain”. In their book, the Ricks explore the complexity of thought processes and how thought and cognition influence brain chemistry (which in turn, changes all aspects of the brain from sensation to motor control).

They also offer some great practices for getting out of old cognitive patterns, which often stimulate the fight or flight response, and explore some new pathways that nourish the restful response that can illicit more relaxed and coordinated movement.

Here are some of the offerings you can try the next time you are having an off day:

1) Relaxed breathing (gently lengthening the exhalation): breathe in through your nose counting to a low number. Breathe out (also through your nose if it feels comfortable) counting to a slightly higher number. Practice in this way for 10 bretahs, gently increasing both the inhalation, and especially your exhalation.

2) Gently touching your lips: In a quiet resting position relax your jaw to the degree that you can. Allow for your lips to softly part. Gently touch your lips with the tips of your fingers. I like to do gentle taps one way, then the other, then broader strokes across the full lip clock wise and counter clockwise (this stimulates the resting nervous system)

3) Imagery: The next time you are feeling stressed you can bring to mind a very still and stable landscape (I like Yosemite with its still waters and stable granite peaks). After viewing this stable image, you can bring to mind a situation in which you moved as you wanted to. Notice the feelings or sensations that arise in the body when you imagine yourself moving with ease.

4) Body scan meditation or other meditation (guided or quiet): Please reference past blog posts for some suggestions. Insight meditation timer app for your smart phone is another great tool.

Enjoy practicing these nourishing techniques. Notice what you feel and ask your partner or PT to give some feedback about how your movements look when you are practicing relaxation and awareness techniques.

Happy Moving!