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Training For Motion

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Sources: 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 c
ntractions, 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increasing extent, the contracting force, instead of being withdrawn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

daily life.

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."