Movement patterns are a huge part of the work that I do every day. What patterns are working well? What patterns are getting in the way of success? I look for patterns in movement before I ever consider strengthening or releasing an individual muscle. Because often a change in the movement pattern will change how the muscles fire. But changing a movement pattern takes conscious and consistent attention over a period of time. It takes some awareness and personal responsibility. Sometimes, people just want to strengthen the muscle they need to “fix” a problem, without examining the underlying issues.
Your movement patterns are like the living, breathing archive of all your collected experiences. To move well, they simply cannot be ignored! Here’s how a movement pattern develops – and why it’s important to know what to do with yours! Let’s look at a hypothetical development of your gait pattern.
From Baby to First Steps
For the purposes of this conversation, let’s start with you as a baby. You arrive into the world. You observe, you learn, you reach, you roll, you yield, you push. You try, you fall over, you try again. You crawl, and then you walk. As a baby, you observe and mimic actions of the people around you. If Mum glided smoothly across the room as she walked, or if Dad had a funky walk, you picked up on that. Many of your first patterns develop as a result of genetics, yes – but also as a result of what you observed, experienced and attempted in those early days! If you skipped crawling altogether and moved right to walking – you likely missed out on some important cross-brain patterning. If you were put into sturdy shoes too early, your bone and muscle development may have been affected. If you were left in a stroller or car seat too long, you probably had to catch up on early brain & muscle development later on.
Childhood & Teen Years
These are important years. If you were an active child, who get lots of physical playtime and moved your body in varied ways everyday, your muscles likely developed in a relatively coordinated way, and your brain patterns likely developed in an organized and flexible manner. If you got little to no activity, both physical and brain development could have been affected to the point that “normal” gait patterns were affected too. Maybe your stride is now too short, maybe your push off isn’t great, or maybe your muscle tone isn’t good enough to prevent knock-knees.
Were you a child athlete? If you focused on one activity for several years, your bone, muscle and brain development are skewed toward that activity. The physicality of the activity was undoubtedly a good thing – but the specificity may not have been. If you were a hockey player, your patterning will be different than a ballet dancer’s. And that’s simply because of the WAY you worked and moved your body during those years. If you sat at your computer for hours on end, the way you move will reflect that too.
These years are tricky. As you enter your working life, your priorities change, and you may find there’s less time for staying active. Where you might have been playing on a sports team several days a week in your teens and in college, now you’re at work all day and you’re lucky if you make it to the gym a couple of days a week. If good movement habits get lost here, the aches and pains you might attribute to aging could start sooner than you’d like. Maybe you became a “weekend warrior” type, which puts the stress of short bursts of intense activity on top of a week of sedentary behaviour. Your body likely develops some pretty fancy compensations to make-up for shortcomings in your level of fitness and brain patterning that isn’t used to moving as much anymore.
Adulthood & Middle Age:
By around age 28, physical “development” stops and “degeneration” begins. Now, don’t get depressed. It just means that at that point, we have to work a little harder to maintain the strength, mobility and stamina that we once took for granted. By now, your body has collected some interesting compensations:
- that shortness in your thigh muscles due to a knee injury that sidelined you for months as a teen
- those tight hip flexors and weak core muscles from sitting at a desk all day long
- that C-section scar or pelvic floor issues due to difficult deliveries of babies
- that compressed thorax and tucked butt from trying to get active too fast without good core support
- a little low back pain or stiffness the accumulated stress of all of the above, picking up small children, and the stress of work and too many sedentary hours everyday.
There’s a thread that moves through all these stages too: your emotions. During all these varied stages, did you feel safe, loved and protected? Or were there times when you felt frightened, threatened or in danger? The way you feel at various times imprints itself in your posture, and eventually in your structure, and then into your movement too.
Now, at age “plenty-something,” you decide you want to maintain/regain that active lifestyle. You remember what you loved to do most was, let’s say, running. Everybody knows how to run, right? But your body has a new physiology! Your accumulated experiences and compensations mean that what you once did with ease at 14, or even 25, may be different today. You love the feel of being active! Your heart is in it, and there are definitely positives. But there are some things that don’t feel good too. Maybe your back or your knee hurts. Maybe you just can’t find the stamina to play the way you’d like. Maybe something else is going on. Whatever it is – your AGE isn’t the problem. It’s the compensations you’ve picked up along the way to keep moving despite less than optimal conditions.
But there’s hope! Learning to identify and work with your CURRENT movement patterning can go a long way to making you more efficient, more fluid and actually stronger than if you simply ignored things and just “pushed through.” With a little conscious attention and some consistent practice, you can improve and better organize your movement patterns to find ease, flow and energy in your life. You can’t erase your body-story – it’s who you are! But you can create conditions where YOUR body works in the best way it’s possible to work.
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