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Training For Motion
Source: Power Through Repose
"IN every new movement, in every unknown attitude needed in
difficult exercises, the nerve centres have to exercise a kind of
selection of the muscles, bringing into action those which favor the
movement, and suppressing those which oppose it." This very evident
truth Dr. Lagrange gives us in his valuable book on the Physiology
of Exercise. At first, every new movement is unknown; and, owing to
inherited and personal contractions, almost from the earliest
movement in a child's learning to walk to the most complicated
action of our daily lives, the nerve centres exercise a mistaken
selection of muscles,--not only selecting more muscles than are
needed for perfect co-ordination of movement, but throwing more
force than necessary into the muscles selected. To a gradually
increasing extent, the contracting force, instead of being withdrawn
when the muscle is inactive, remains; and, as we have already seen,
an arm or leg that should be passive is lifted, and the muscles are
found to be contracted as if for severe action. To the surprise of
the owner the contraction cannot be at once removed. Help for this
habitual contraction is given in the preceding chapter. Further on
Dr. Lagrange tells us that "Besides the apprenticeship of movements
which are unknown, there is the improvement of already known
movements." When the work of mistaken selection of muscles has gone
on for years, the "improvement of already known movements," from the
simplest domestic action to the accomplishment of very great
purposes, is a study in itself. One must learn first to be a grown
baby, and, as we have already seen, gain the exquisite passiveness
of a baby; then one must learn to walk and to move by a natural
process of selection, which, thanks to the contractions of his
various ancestors, was not the process used for his original
movements. This learning to live all over again is neither so
frightful nor so difficult as it sounds. Having gained the passive
state described in the last chapter, one is vastly more sensitive to
unnecessary tension; and it seems often as though the child in us
asserted itself, rising with alacrity to claim its right of natural
movement, and with a new sense of freedom in the power gained to
shun inherited and personal contractions. Certainly it is a fact
that freedom of movement is gained through shunning the
contractions. And this should always be kept in mind to avoid the
self-consciousness and harm which come from a studied movement, not
to mention the very disagreeable impression such movements give to
all who appreciate their artificiality.
Motion in the human body, as well as music, is an art. An artist has
very aptly said that we should so move that if every muscle struck a
note, only harmony would result. Were it so the harmony would be
most exquisite, for the instrument is Nature's own. We see how far
we are from a realization of natural movement when we watch
carefully and note the muscular discords evident to our eyes at all
times. Even the average ballet dancing, which is supposed to be the
perfection of artistic movement, is merely a series of pirouettes
and gymnastic contortions, with the theatrical smile of a pretty
woman to throw the glare of a calcium light over the imperfections
and dazzle us. The average ballet girl is not adequately trained,
from the natural and artistic standpoint. If this is the case in
what should be the quintessence of natural, and so of artistic
movement, it is to a great degree owing to the absolute carelessness
in the selection of the muscles to be used in every movement of
Many exercises which lead to the freedom of the body are well known
in the letter--not in the spirit--through the so-called "Delsarte
system." if they had been followed with a broad appreciation of what
they were meant for and what they could lead to, before now students
would have realized to a far greater extent what power is possible
to the human body. But so much that is good and helpful in the
"Delsarte system" has been misused, and so much of what is
thoroughly artificial and unhealthy has been mixed with the useful,
that one hesitates now to mention Delsarte. Either he was a
wonderful genius whose thoughts and discoveries have been sadly
perverted, or the inconsistencies of his teachings were great enough
to limit the true power which certainly can be found in much that he
has left us.
Besides the exercises already described there are many others,
suited to individual needs, for gaining the freedom of each part of
the body and of the body as a whole.
It is not possible to describe them clearly enough to allow them to
be followed without a teacher, and to secure the desired result.
Indeed, there would be danger of unpleasant results from
misunderstanding. The object is so to stand that our muscles hold
us, with the natural balance given them, instead of trying, as most
of us do, to hold our muscles. In moving to gain this natural
equilibrium we allow our muscles to carry us forward, and when they
have contracted as far as is possible for one set, the antagonizing
muscles carry us back. So it is with the side-to-side poising from
the ankles, and the circular motion, which is a natural swinging of
the muscles to find their centre of equilibrium, having once been
started out of it. To stand for a moment and _think_ the feet heavy
is a great help in gaining the natural poising motions, but care
should always be taken to hold the chest well up. Indeed, we need
have no sense of effort in standing, except in raising the
chest,--and that must be as if it were pulled up outside by a button
in its centre, but there must be no strain in the effort
The result of the exercises taken to free the head is shown in the
power to toss the head lightly and easily, with the waist muscles,
from a dropped forward to an erect position. The head shows its
freedom then by the gentle swing of the neck muscles, which is
entirely involuntary and comes from the impetus given them in
tossing the head.
Tension in the muscles of the neck is often very difficult to
overcome; because, among other reasons, the sensations coming from
certain forms of nervous over-strain are very commonly referred to
the region of the base of the brain. It is not unusual to find the
back of the neck rigid in extreme tension, and whether the strain is
very severe or not, great care must be taken to free it by slow
degrees, and the motions should at first be practised only a few
minutes at a time. I can hardly warn readers too often against the
possibility of an unpleasant reaction, if the relaxing is practised
too long, or gained too rapidly.
Then should come exercises for freeing the arms; and these can be
taken sitting. Let the arms hang heavily at the sides; raise one arm
slowly, feeling the weight more and more distinctly, and only
contracting the shoulder muscles. It is well to raise it a few
inches, then drop it heavily and try again,--each time taking force
out of the lower muscles by thinking the arm heavy, and the motive
power in the shoulder. If the arm itself can rest heavily on some
one's hand while you are still raising it from the shoulder, that
proves that you have succeeded in withdrawing the useless tension.
Most arms feel stiff all the way along, when the owners raise them.
Your arm must be raised until high overhead, the hand hanging from
the wrist and dropped into your lap or down at the side, letting the
elbow "give," so that the upper arm drops first, and then the fore
arm and hand,--like three heavy sand-bags sewed together. The arm
can be brought up to the level of the shoulder, and then round in
front and dropped. To prove its freedom, toss it with the shoulder
muscles from the side into the lap. Watch carefully that the arm
itself has no more tension than if it were a sand-bag hung at the
side, and could only be moved by the shoulder. After practising this
two or three times so that the arms are relaxed enough to make you
more sensitive to tension, one hundred times a day you will find
your arms held rigidly, while you are listening or talking or
walking. Every day you will grow more sensitive to the useless
tension, and every day gain new power to drop it. This is wherein
the real practice comes. An hour or two hours a day of relaxing
exercises will amount to nothing if at the same time we are not
careful to use the freedom gained, and to do everything more
naturally. It is often said, "But I cannot waste time watching all
day to see if I am using too much force." There is no need to watch;
having once started in the right direction, if you drop useless
muscular contraction every time you notice it, that is enough. It
will be as natural to do that as for a musician to correct a discord
which he has inadvertently made on the piano.
There are no motions so quieting, so helpful in the general freeing
of the body, as the motions of the spine. There are no motions more
difficult to describe, or which should be more carefully directed.
The habitual rigidity of the spine, as compared with its possible
freedom, is more noticeable in training, of course, than is that of
any other part of the body. Each vertebra should be so distinctly
independent of every other, as to make the spine as smoothly jointed
as the toy snakes, which, when we hold the tip of the tail in our
fingers, curve in all directions. Most of us have spinal columns
that more or less resemble ramrods. It is a surprise and delight to
find what can be accomplished, when the muscles of the spine and
back are free and under control. Of course the natural state of the
spine, as the seat of a great nervous centre, affects many muscles
of the body, and, on the other hand, the freedom of these muscles
reacts favorably upon the spine.
The legs are freed for standing and walking by shaking the foot free
from the ankle with the leg, swinging the fore leg from the upper
leg, and so freeing the muscles at the knee, and by standing on a
footstool and letting one leg hang off the stool a dead weight while
swinging it round from the hip. Greater freedom and ease of movement
can be gained by standing on the floor and swinging the leg from the
hip as high as possible. Be sure that the only effort for motion is
in the muscles of the hip. There are innumerable other motions to
free the legs, and often a great variety must be practised before
the freedom can be gained.
The muscles of the chest and waist are freed through a series of
motions, the result of which is shown in the ability to toss the
body lightly from the hips, as the head is tossed from the waist
muscles; and there follows the same gentle involuntary swing of the
muscles of the waist which surprises one so pleasantly in the neck
muscles after tossing the head, and gives a new realization of what
physical freedom is.
In tossing the body the motion must be successive, like running the
scale with the vertebrae.
In no motion should the muscles work _en masse._ The more perfect
the co-ordination of muscles in any movement, the more truly each
muscle holds its own individuality. This power of freedom in motion
should be worked for after once approaching the natural equilibrium.
If you rest on your left leg, it pushes your left hip a little
farther out, which causes your body to swerve slightly to the
right,--and, to keep the balance true, the head again tips to the
left a little. Now rise slowly and freely from that to standing on
both feet, with body and head erect; then drop on the right foot
with the body to left, and head to right. Here again, as in the
motions with the spine, there is a great difference in the way they
are practised. Their main object is to help the muscles to an
independent individual co-ordination, and there should be a new
sense of ease and freedom every time we practise it. Hold the chest
up, and push yourself erect with the ball of your free foot. The
more the weight is thought into the feet the freer the muscles are
for action, provided the chest is well raised. The forward and back
spinal motion should be taken standing also; and there is a gentle
circular motion of the entire body which proves the freedom of all
the muscles for natural movement, and is most restful in its result.
The study for free movement in the arms and legs should of course be
separate. The law that every part moves from something prior to it,
is illustrated exquisitely in the motion of the fingers from the
wrist. Here also the individuality of the muscles in their perfect
co-ordination is pleasantly illustrated. To gain ease of movement in
the fore arm, its motive power must seem to be in the upper arm; the
motive power for the entire arm must seem to be centred in the
shoulder. When through various exercises a natural co-ordination of
the muscles is gained, the arm can be moved in curves from the
shoulder, which remind one of a graceful snake; and the balance is
so true that the motion seems hardly more than a thought in the
amount of effort it takes. Great care should be given to freeing the
hands and fingers. Because the hand is in such constant
communication with the brain, the tension of the entire body often
seems to be reflected there. Sometimes it is even necessary to train
the hand to some extent in the earliest lessons.
Exercises for movement in the legs are to free the joints, so that
motions may follow one another as in the arm,--the foot from the
ankle; the lower leg from the upper leg; the upper leg from the hip;
and, as--in the arm, the free action of the joints in the leg comes
as we seem to centre the motive power in the hip. There is then the
same grace and ease of movement which we gain in the arm, simply
because the muscles have their natural equilibrium.
Thus the motive power of the body will seem to be gradually drawn to
an imaginary centre in the lower part of the trunk,--which simply
means withdrawing superfluous tension from every part. The exercise
to help establish this equilibrium is graceful, and not difficult if
we take it quietly and easily, using the mind to hold a balance
without effort. Raise the right arm diagonally forward, the left leg
diagonally back,--the arm must be high up, the foot just off the
floor, so that as far as possible you make a direct line from the
wrist to the ankle; in this attitude stretch all muscles across the
body from left to right slowly and steadily, then relax quite as.
slowly. Now, be sure your arm and leg are free from all tension, and
swing them very slowly, as if they were one piece, to as nearly a
horizontal position as they can reach; then slowly pivot round until
you bring your arm diagonally back and your leg diagonally forward;
still horizontal, pivot again to the starting point; then bring leg
down and arm up, always keeping them as in a line, until your foot
is again off the floor; then slowly lower your arm and let your foot
rest on the floor so that gradually your whole weight rests on that
leg, and the other is free to swing up and pivot with the opposite
arm. All this must be done slowly and without strain of any kind.
The motions which follow in sets are for the better daily working of
the body, as well as to establish its freedom. The first set is
called the "Big Rhythms," because it takes mainly the rhythmic
movement of the larger muscles of the body, and is meant, through
movements taken on one foot, to give a true balance in the poise of
the body as well as to make habitual the natural co-ordination in
the action of all the larger muscles. It is like practising a series
of big musical chords to accustom our ears to their harmonies. The
second set, named the "Little Rhythms,"--because that is a
convenient way of designating it,--is a series meant to include the
movement of all the smaller muscles as well as the large ones, and
is carried out even to the fingers. The third set is for spring and
rapid motion, especially in joints of arms and legs.
Of course having once found the body's natural freedom, the variety
of motions is as great as the variety of musical sounds and
combinations possible to an instrument which will respond to every
tone in the musical scale. It is in opening the way for this natural
motion that the exquisite possibilities in motion purely artistic
dawn upon us with ever-increasing light. And as in music it is the
sonata, the waltz, or the nocturne we must feel, not the mechanical
process of our own performance,--so in moving, it is the beautiful,
natural harmonies of the muscles, from the big rhythms to all the
smaller ones, that we must feel and make others feel, and not the
mere mechanical grace of our bodies; and we can move a sonata from
the first to the last, changing the time and holding the theme so
that the soul will be touched through the eye, as it is through the
ear now in music. But, according to the present state of the human
body, more than one generation will pass before we reach, or know
the beginning of, the highest artistic power of motion. If art is
Nature illuminated, one must have some slight appreciation and
experience. of Nature before attempting her illumination.
The set of motions mentioned can be only very inadequately described
in print. But although they are graceful, because they are natural,
the first idea in practising them is that they are a means to an
end, not an end in themselves. For in the big and little rhythms and
the springing motions, in practising them over and over again we are
establishing the habit of natural motion, and will carry it more and
more into everything we do.
If the work of the brain in muscular exercise were reduced to its
minimum, the consequent benefit from all exercise would greatly
A new movement can be learned with facility in proportion to the
power for dropping at the time all impressions of previous
movements. In training to take every motion easily, after a time the
brain-work is relieved, for we move with ease,--that is, with a
natural co-ordination of muscles, automatically,--in every known
motion; and we lessen very greatly the mental strain, in learning a
new movement, by gaining the power to relax entirely at first, and
then, out of a free body, choose the muscles needed, and so avoid
the nervous strain of useless muscular experiment.
So far as the mere muscular movement goes, the sensation is that of
being well oiled. As for instance, in a natural walk, where the
swinging muscles and the standing muscles act and rest in alternate
rhythmic action, the chest is held high, the side muscles free to
move in, harmony with the legs, and all the spring in the body
brought into play through inclining slightly forward and pushing
with the ball of the back foot, the arms swinging naturally without
tension. Walking with a free body is often one of the best forms of
rest, and in the varying forms of motion arranged for practice we
are enabled to realize, that "perfect harmony of action in the
entire man invigorates every part."
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Previous: Training For Rest