Movement pathways are one of my favourite things to teach. I honestly feel like they’re the keys to Narnia, but most people don’t understand why because of a lack of knowledge around nervous system function and how it relates to movement. And then, of course, how both of these things relates to them.
It’s so worth taking the time to get your head around because the effects are transformative. So, if you’re interested in learning more, I’m going to chatter about it now, and really encourage you to ask questions if you find it confusing or a lot.
Consider this the start point of conversation moving forward!
Understanding and learning about movement pathways gifts us with two main things:
- The ability to find physical organization in the saddle with the least amount of force and effort.
- A productive, functional point of focus that gets us out of our head and into our body.
So, what is a movement pathway? And why is this useful information to know?
Let’s start with the first question.
A movement pathway is the path of travel that your brain (or your horse’s brain) chooses to get from A to B.
It involves the process of:
- Intention- Knowing where it is you want to go
- Initiation- The body mobilizing in support of the intention
- Action- The movement pathway being set in motion
We can be following this process unconsciously, in the case of automated movement and behavior, or consciously, if we are seeking to change patterns or interrupt a way of moving or being that isn’t serving us.
Having a more in depth understanding of movement pathways allows us to:
- Create movement patterns that optimize physical wellness, longevity, and function.
- Change the underlying nervous system template that we are operating from that is contributing to responses of fear, anxiety, or any other number of emotional or behavioral expressions that may be keeping us in their cyclic grip.
So how does it work?
First up, we need to recognize that how the body creates movement is different depending on the nervous system state we’re in.
Your brain decides HOW to move depending in your nervous system state.
Put simply, if I’m in a fight flight state, my body creates movement differently to if I’m in a parasympathetic state.
Why? Because my intention is different.
In sympathetic, my priority is to maximise force, speed, and power, so my leverage patterns, my patterns of movement are created to support this.
In parasympathetic, harmony is the goal; creating ways of moving that minimize force and maximise longevity in all the physical systems.
If we consider the basic gaits of walk, trot, and canter, and keep our conversation limited to the movement of the rider my dominant movement pattern (the pattern my brain dominantly chooses) at walk, trot, and canter, will be either a fight flight (sympathetic) movement pattern or a parasympathetic movement pattern.
If my dominant patterns are sympathetic, I create movement that…
… increases my force output, both in my own body and through the body of my horse.
… is firing off my fight flight system every time I move, which has ramifications mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
…limits my ability to harmonise with movement. The sympathetic system is a system of reflex, which means it has fixed modes of presentation that may not (usually does not) match the needs of my horse.
The good news is movement pathways- the ones that we want, as well as the ones that we don’t- are predictable, observable, and learnable. We can use an understanding of movement pathways to not only allows ourselves to find balance and harmony as riders, but also to influence and assist our horses in moving in ways that maximise wellness.
And beyond that, if we’re feeling frazzly, having movement pathways as a focus is a point of consolidation and positive purpose for energy that is coursing around the body and short circuiting our brain.
If you want to learn more, I’m going to expand this conversation on my podcast later on today (keep an eye out for the new episode popping up!). We are exploring more about movement pathways in my membership this week (I’ll post the details of how to find out more about that below), and also have a free workshop running in February if you’re keen to find out more (again, I’ll link below).