With every foot step, every experience of the Earth through your foot; what sensory input are you taking in? What could you be missing out on? If there is a part of your foot that never makes proper contact with the Earth, with every step, is there potential you are you not realizing?
Today marks day four of having my first metatarsal head actually connect and receive input from the Earth at the appropriate time in my gait cycle. It’s a whole new world I wouldn’t have imagined would feel so different.
I mean, it’s just a tiny piece of bone that wasn’t reacting to the ground properly. What difference could a square inch make??
A hell of a lot, apparently.
Let’s talk more about human movement and how the quality of which is critical to maintain over the course of your dance career.
This post is also a reflection on movement and dance post-Anatomy in Motion. A course that may have changed my life a little.
MOVING WELL AS A HUMAN IS ESSENTIAL FOR MOVING WELL AS A DANCER
As a dancer I struggled constantly with the inability to control rolling to the outside of my feet. I never felt “grounded”. Balancing and turns were extremely difficult for me and my calves were always tight.
The filter through which Anatomy in Motion views and coaches back our right to experience natural human motion helped me to finally experience the full surface of my foot, something I could not before appreciate the benefits of fully.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and you can’t feel what you can’t feel.
This post will be interesting for you if:
a) You have an interest in what natural human movement really is
b) You like feet
c) You think gait analysis is sexy
d) You enjoy my long rambling stories about life, dance, and movement
e) You’ve been considering taking an AiM seminar (or have already)
AiM YOUR BRAIN IN A NEW DIRECTION: USE HUMAN MOVEMENT TO PERFORM BETTER AT DANCE
We’re often told that to dance better, we need to dance more. But what if it’s not more technique we need? Consider that learning to perform natural human movement more efficiently is all you need for huge technical gains.
I’ve just completed the Anatomy in Motion immersion course: Six days (full days, 8am-6pm days…) studying human movement with Gary Ward and Chris Sritharan. I’ve experienced my own anatomy in motion, and felt what the foot can do for human performance (see what I did there??)
“Human movement is trained, human motion is not… If you’re going to engage in a sport that is not natural human motion, just make sure you have a strategy to unwind it” ~Chris Sritharan
First, I’ll get the long rambling story portion of this post out of the way. You can skip through it if you like and scroll to the “information” part, I won’t be offended.
Brock is always on the cutting edge of movement therapies and other manual and therapeutic approaches to help his patients, and when he finds one that works for him, he enthusiastically lets everyone know about it.
This was in 2014. He had just completed the AiM course in New York and was raving about it, telling us how Gary’s book, What The Foot had changed his philosophy on movement, he was mind blown, and that we should all read it.
Being an idealistic, highly impressionable, idiot-trainer, still learning my calcaneus from anconeus, I tucked that bit of information into my back pocket for future processing.
At another NKT study group, while I and my knee pain were subject of investigation, Brock started messing around with my feet and wondering how the hell I was even able to walk on them.
Curious about what was driving his new foot obsession, I decided to book an appointment with Brock to talk about feet and AiM.
He watched me walk, told me my center of mass was shifted completely over one leg, shoved some wedges under my feet and got me to perform some weird lunge-type movements (which I now know to be “shift” phase of the flow motion model).
So began my dedicated quest for understanding and experiencing my body.
This is important. From that point I set an intention to establish a daily movement practice. It wasn’t perfect, but did it ever create an impact on my system.
It wasn’t because the exercises themselves helped me overcome my pain and challenges, it was my intention to commit myself to working on them daily.
What if you dedicated yourself to work on something every day for a year?
Over the course of the next year, I saw Brock twice more (both sessions combining acupuncture and integrating “shift” back into my gait cycle). The changes I experienced were ridiculous (but note I was also experimenting with DNS, breathing techniques, and generally trying to stress less).
Huge movement nerd that I am, I practiced “shift” every day. I made a commitment to work on it every day, and have been doing so since he taught it to me last winter. I only missed a few days of shift-practice, and these days were noticeably stiffer, lower energy, more frustrating.
My ability to perform “shift” became the gauge of my state of movement. Everyday I learned a little more from it. There were frustrations, and there were highs.
Dance became a safe activity again. I began to feel things in my body I’d never felt before. I felt elements of my dancing improve. I felt pain subside. I could point my feet better, back-bend without compression pain, balance better, and was turning well(ish) and more consistently for the first time in years.
Then I started teaching this movement to my clients (which has been referred to fondly- or dreadfully- as the “twisty lunge”).
I saw that it helped one dancer improve her hip external rotation from about 20 degrees to 80 (dat turnout!). Another dancer expressed how after practicing the movement, she felt lighter on her feet and felt more space in her hips. I noticed that after performing the movement, another dancer I worked with was no longer collapsing into an everted foot while performing a lunge.
Then I finally got around to reading Gary’s book, What The Foot. It was a huge inspiration for the creation of Dance Stronger (and those who are enrolled in the current DS program will notice I included my “shift” obsession in the movement preparation as AiM lunges 1 through 4- my breakdown of the shift phase. I didn’t do it justice, and in the second edition I’m hoping to improve upon its instruction, now that I actually know what I’m doing… Sortof)
Of course, I wish everyone would read What The Foot. After reading it there is no gray area: You either believe in his philosophy or you don’t.
You better believe I followed his guidance and experimented with “dark zones” like intentionally pronating my feet, taking my knees inside my second toe into the forbidden land of valgus. I stopped using so many “stability” exercises. Let go of an element of control. And it felt good! I encourage you to experiment with the same.
But not everyone is as open as me. Why? For some people I imagine it comes down to money.
A chiropractor taking the course told us that since he started using AiM in his practice, his profit from orthotics decreased by about $25 000. That’s a pretty huge financial hit to take. But if you can teach people to support their feet, create their own orthotics through natural human movement, you don’t need to give them expensive orthotics or send them for surgeries.
For me, the decision was easy. I couldn’t read Gary’s book and NOT take his course.
His marketing is actually very clever-His book creates an irresistible information gap while simultaneously filtering out the non-believers who he doesn’t want to taking his course anyway. Well done, Mr. Ward. Well done.
Information gap: “When we come across something new that is not explained by our previous knowledge or experiences, an information gap is formed, and we have a desire to find the answer.”
~Dr. George Lowenstien
So having now experienced his six day seminar, I feel like I’ve received answers to the questions I didn’t know how to ask, like,
“what’s a talus?”
“what’s the difference between a pronated foot and an everted foot?”
“at what phase in the gait cycle does the right hip adduct and anteriorally tilt?”
“what does the big toes have in common with the C spine?”.
I can see in a new way the shapes the human body makes for which I have a map to interpret, called the Flow Motion Model.
I understand that the body has an incredible ability to heal itself in just one rep.
I learned the natural way the pelvis, ribcage, skull, forefoot, rearfoot, and all the body’s joints are meant to act together in movement, and see how dance has a way of unravelling our movement quality if left unchecked.
But more importantly, I felt it all in my system in the 6 days. This is why I feel experiential learning is so important. If you can’t feel it, do you really know it? That’s the difference between knowing something in theory, and really knowing it.
By the end of day 5 it felt like I was wearing someone else’s shoes. Like someone had stealthily slipped in arch-supporting orthotics while I wasn’t looking.
I can see now that people really CAN create their own orthotics through movement. Give the body a new experience that helps it to move more naturally and efficiently, and it will choose to keep that new way of moving.
Like upgrading to a new operating system.
AiMAZING IDEAS YOU CAN TAKE HOME
So what were some of the main take-aways from my AiM experience that you can use?
1) Dance is NOT natural human movement.
As Chris advises, if we’re going to do something unnatural with our bodies, like dance, we had better have a strategy to unwind it.
Some unnatural things we do as dancers (meaning, movements we’re trained to do that do that look really cool, but do not naturally occur in our gait cycle):
- Winging the foot
- Pulling up the arches standing turned-out
- Extending and flexing the whole spine segmentally
- Not using heel strike
- POINTE SHOES
- Chest (paradoxical) breathing
- That horrible foot stretcher thing
Not that these are “bad” ways of moving, but that they are trained through dance. They don’t naturally occur in human gait. If we don’t know how to get out of these patterns of moving, we lose efficiency, technique suffers, and maybe stuff starts to hurt.
2) The body is primarily a closed chain system, connected to the ground through out feet (or hands, or heads, or whatever else we decide to ambulate with).
Why would you train to improve foot mechanics with open-chain theraband exercises knowing that your feet were designed to respond to gravity bearing down on them and the earth beneath them?
Stop with the banded ankle strengthening exercises.
3) If you’re struggling at a specific skill, consider that you may not need extra coaching, but to master basic body mechanics.
Similar to what Gray Cook expresses in his book Movement. Is it a performance issue, or a movement issue?
4) In the gait cycle you only get one chance to pronate your foot, and one chance to anteriorally tilt your pelvis. And it all happens in less than a second.
This hit home for me. We often perceive pronation and anterior tilt as “bad” and we’re told to pull up our arches, tuck our butts under, and try not to look so weird while we’re doing it.
But when you flip that story, and realize that it is a privilege to pronate and anterior tilt, that they only happen in 1 of 5 phases in the gait cycle, you see how precious they are. You don’t (and should not) need to avoid them, or feel bad for doing them, but earn back the right to use them, and learn the when, where and how these movement fit into human motion.
5) We can’t rely on other people to “fix” us, but the best therapists and trainers will give us tools so that we can fix ourselves.
It’s the only way, and the sooner you take ownership of your body, the sooner you can get on with life, improve your performance, and let go of chronic pain.
As therapists and trainers, we aren’t trying to give our clients and patients a “fix” for their pain, but create an experience for them to safely work through their challenges and feel that their body is incredibly hardwired for self-healing.
Commit to a daily practice that moves you a new direction.
6) A valgus knee is not an internally rotated knee that needs to be pushed out.
7) There is a scoliotic phase in the gait cycle. Even scoliosis is a natural human movement. You don’t need to judge a scoliotic curve as being bad, but it can become problematic to get stuck in it.
Don’t get attached to your structure. Wendy Whelan, a beautiful ballerina, has a scoliotic curve, but she’s learned how to work with it, not feel bad about it.
8) There is a difference between tension-based and compression-based pain.
Some pain exists because a muscle is too long and under tension (and feels pretty dang tight). Some pain is because of compression- A muscle too short. If you try to stretch tension-based pain, you’re asking for trouble.
It feels tight because it IS tight. Stretched taught. And you want to stretch it more? Good luck with that.
9) The sub-talar joint drives the bus.
You are the bus. Your STJ is the driver. If your talus is stuck in an inversion or eversion, you better believe your whole body will sort itself out above it in cheeky compensatory ways.
10) The toes are the “last line of defense”.
When your body is struggling with something and can’t figure it out, your toes will help you not to fall over. Got bunions and weird looking toes? Consider what might they have adapted to help you with?
My pinky toes have a clever way of making up for my inability to evert my forefoot. Thank goodness for my pinkies keeping me on my feet all these years!
11) You don’t need muscular effort to pronate.
The shape of the calcaneus is such that gravity pronates our foot effortlessly. Again, you DON’T need to do millions of banded pronation exercises to get a nice “winged” looking foot by strengthening the peroneals.
12) “Center is the Holy Grail”. We can keep striving to reach it, but like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we may never reach it. Like our chase for perfection in dance. We know we’ll never have it, but that doesn’t stop us from trying, and gives us something meaningful to work towards.
13) Dancers tend to adapt their bodies on top of their feet. While we were out for beers as a group one night, I asked Gary if there were any common things he noticed when he worked with dancers. Other than treating them as individuals on a case-by-case basis, he also said that he commonly sees that their feet aren’t compensating, but have adapted for dance, and that their bodies tend to adapt to what the feet have to do.
Something to consider before mobilizing or treating something that doesn’t need it. What’s adapted to what? What can be taught to move differently, and what needs to be shown how manually?
14) The abdomen is like the plantar fascia of the torso.
I was mind-blown by correlations we were shown between the different parts of the foot and the spine. There are 33 joints in the foot, and 33 joints in the spine.
The big toe and the cervical spine, for example have a functional connection. And in reflexology, the plantar surface of the foot is connected to various organs and structures. To feel these connections through the AiM movements and in the gait cycle was fascinating. Another thing you can’t truly say you know until you feel it in your own system.
15) If you’re having trouble accessing a movement, consider that it could be because you’re already stuck in it as a static posture.
Maybe you never get to a particular range of motion because you live there already. I was having trouble extending properly through my T spine not because I was stuck in flexion, but because I was already extendED! (something I’ve already written about HERE) That was a surprise for me. I imagine this is common for dancers, and is something I’ll keep looking out for, although there are no rules.
AiM has shown me some valuable exercises and ways of looking at movement that I am very excited explore and share with you. Thie philosophy of observing and working with human movement, gait, and feet will surely influence my writing, my training, and the next edition of Dance Stronger.
Hugely grateful to have been a part of this course. I will never look at a human body in the same way again. And I may just have developed a new, further, obsession with feet.
Thank you Gary and Chris for opening my mind (and sub-talar joint) and helping me to experience the world with a new set of feet
Oh and PS I met a DTP reader on the course and it was so cool! Shout-out to STEVE FROM ALBERTA! It was great to meet you 🙂 Cool to know another member of the DTP community that I can throw around AiM ideas with. If you’re a dancer in Edmonton(?) and want to see someone to help you improve your movement, combining AiM concepts, Pilates, and NKT, go see Steve. (If you’re reading this, Steve, please put your contact info in the comments!).