The work involved one of us lying on the ground, and one of us holding onto the others foot.
“Should I encourage movement of some sort?” I asked, wondering if there was something else I was supposed to be doing.
“Nope,” was the reply I received. “What you choose for them might not be what their body would choose. You have to allow the body to move in illogical ways in order to find a logical conclusion”.
“Allow it to move in illogical ways to find a logical conclusion”. One of the most enlightening sentences on movement I’ve ever heard.
Let me chatter some more about what it means (and why it is I think that).
The situation was this:
We were learning hands on techniques that involved touch; ways of both experiencing and observing how a body and a nervous system respond to sensory feedback.
The process, in this instance, was very simple. I would take a part of the body in my hands (in this case a foot) and observe the changes that occurred over 35-40 mins. The arch of the foot- just in in front of the heel pad and behind the ball- acts as one of the main diaphragms of the body, an intersection of fascial trains that when hydrated and fluid act as one of the main pumping mechanisms for fluid, pressure, and vibration.
When our body is functioning in the parasympathetic (the nervous system we operate from when not in fight or flight) this foot valve or diaphragm spirals, pulses, and rotates; my question was based on this understanding and wondering if I should somehow encourage this movement with my hands.
The answer I received reminded me that it was not my business or job to determine the path or process a body- horse or human- needs to take to find what we might describe as release, a movement towards better function, or even to create a movement outcome that we might want. That in short, I cannot know what is best for any body better than that body knows itself.
I’m going to give you two examples- one human and one horsey- and then wrap up the discussion with the principle of biomechanics that informs it when you are viewing things through a nervous system lens.
Sarah sat on the chair in front of me, with her back facing me. It was easy to see the asymmetry in her shoulders. Her right should girdle appeared broad and wide; the left was more pulled in.
From a conscious brain perspective, I would have said that her left shoulder needed to be “released” to “match” the other side. The logical path to reach a logical conclusion. Our conscious brain loves the path of the most obvious.
I had her sense the bottom tip of her shoulder blade and a point on the back of her pelvis. Sensing involves placing your attention on a part of the body to activate the sensory nerves in that area and forms a big part of the movement work I teach. She did this for 90 seconds on one side, and then switched and did the other.
I watched as Sarah’s body rearranged itself in an illogical way to find a logical conclusion. Instead of the left shoulder coming out, the right shoulder moved in, arranging itself closer to midline. It was the position of the right that was pulling the left in; by giving Sarah’s unconscious brain more information about the position it was in through sensory feedback, it was free to rearrange itself based on understandings I could never have access to consciously, and beyond that made incorrect assumptions about.
When the right moved in, the left moved out, and now the two were balanced.
Illogical ways of reaching a logical conclusion.
A few months back, I started teaching my horse Merc shoulder in. He was trying so hard, his thought process seemed audible. It was as though you could hear him talking the steps through to himself out loud.
For a horse inclined to carry himself heavily on his shoulders, it’s been a slow and progressive process to lighten him in front and find strength as a ridden horse in the basic movements. Shoulder In was a powerful and yet not-easy exercise for him to find.
As he worked his way through it, he travelled through a number of weight-bearing postures. At some points, his neck needed to be longer and lower, at some points higher and shorter. The pace and tempo varied. Shoulders and hind ends popped out and in and at many times looked nothing like the movement we were seeking.
My role as the rider was to set things up to ensure that what I was asking was clear, and that I wasn’t getting in the way of him achieving it.
“Set them up and let them find it” is a foundational phrase in horsemanship, but we so often meddle and micromanage the “let them find it” part.
For each horse, how their body will find the movement will vary. All we can do is hold a clear intention for what we would like and not be attached to how we get there.
And sometimes, that will, again, look illogical to the neat and tidy path we would have chosen, based on nothing more than an idea we hold that we somehow know better than their own body does.
When we talk about allowing the body to move in illogical ways to reach a logical conclusion, we are referring to the processes of the unconscious brain and nervous system, and how it ultimately informs the structure, position, and posture of the body at any moment in time. (I’ve talked about these principles extensively in a podcast here if you want to dive into it further).
In the movement and biomechanics work I teach, we honour this completely- but it’s not without it’s challenges.
What are those challenges?
A letting go of control. Gulp.
A return to sensing.
A letting go of fixed outcomes and expectations.
But the benefits are vast.
The idea of allowing my brain and body illogical processes (illogical, I might add, to our conscious perception) to reach logical conclusions informs my horsemanship, my creative work and my life. In short, it’s a relief. A restoration of natural order, where I can rely on unconscious processes to guide me.
Set ‘em up and let ‘em find it.
If you are interested in biomechanics from a nervous system lens, you might be keen on my membership. You can check it out here.