Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Emotional Movement Intelligence

When we stretch our fingers and we think about the sequence of actions that had to occur..., at the start we find the action of volition, a psychic action, then the transmission of this volition, a nerve action, then the contraction of the muscle, a muscular action, and finally the movement of the organ, a mechanical action. In what order should we study these events? A philosopher of the past, a Spinoziste, would not hesitate: follow the logical path; introduce the facts in the very order of their appearance. This is precisely the order our contemporary school rejects. The physiologists of today rethink the order of events by beginning with the crudest and most visible, and working up progressively to the most refined and obscure.
- E.J. Marey

Paul Ekman, a psychologist, has made a career in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He has found that facial expressions are pretty universally human. Anger, fear, joy, sadness, disgust, and surprise all have pretty specific facial muscle activity. If emotions show up distinctly in the muscles of the face, might they not be found throughout the rest of the body?

Are we ignorant to think that emotions don't play a role in our ability to move effectively and efficiently, or doing anything well?

We are comfortable making connections to the cause of a "bum" shoulder to faulty mechanics of the contralateral ankle joint. Why couldn't a habitual perception of the world, leading to a common emotion lead to a specific body posture. Charles Darwin published work on this topic back in 1872 in "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals"

So are stretching protocols (especially static stretching), but possibly any mobilization/ movement re-education, in some cases, potentially just beating one's head into a wall. Without changing perception of movement, there may, or will not, be any long-lasting change.

Working on movement patterns and mobility drills are a start and necessary, but changing the mind is where it needs to begin. If a person thinks they are "tight", then they will be "tight". Maybe not the idea of being "tight" but the "pressing" issue (stress) of the thought of being "tight". From Wikipedia: Stress can lead to symptoms include irritability, muscular tension, inability to concentrate and a variety of physical reactions, such as headaches and elevated heart rate (my additional note: also decrease in the ever-important measure of heart rate variability).

Yes, improving one's mobility/movement might lead to improved perceptions, but this is still relying on peripheral and environmental factors to change something that might be more successful when done in conjunction with working centrally and out.

Dare I say we need to dip a little into the psychology, as all the physical practice will get you only so far. Activation drills, static, dynamic stretching, mobility work might not do a whole lot for someone who is constantly under the stress response. Neurological "tightness" might be able to be remedied for brief periods by way of PNF or RNF type methods, but as soon as one's thoughts, attitudes, and perception of themselves and the world around them return, so will the habitually learned startle/stress patterns of neurohormonal activity. People have been building up their personal body schema's and emotional character for years and to think that just working from the bottom up for an hour or two a day is all there is, may be missing a primary component.

As stated in the opening quote by Marey, volitional action starts and ends in the brain in the motor cortex. But even before this there is an emotional component that leads to the motivation of the volitional movement. So if we are to truly follow the logical path of movement, then we need to start with the emotional motivation. As my good friend Frankie Faires says, "States before skills."

One's thoughts determine a lot in regards to the effectiveness of any training protocol, especially improved flexibility, mobility, or whatever you want to call it. Hell, everything could be just one huge placebo effect, but that might be taking it a little too far for now.

It all starts with the ability to manage stress, change perceptions and ultimately control the mind. This is what the greatest performers of all-time have always done and have the ability to do. As they say, "Success leaves clues".

Now I am not saying that the physical methods of training don't work, because they do. It's just that I have seen many cases where a client or athlete has put in the physical time to work on their movement, but has produced little to no change...

Just some things to think about...



Mark Young said...

Great stuff as usual!

I've actually read before that being fearful or depressed tends to lead to tightness of the anterior muscles of the core causing a flexed position.

Ultimately this could result in shortened abdominals and a kyphotic posture. Regardless of training and mobility measures, the underlying issue would continue to manifest itself in posture and performance.

I think you're on to something.

Mike T Nelson said...

Good stuff man, I love it.

As Frankie says "State before skills"

Lifestyle factors MUST be accounted for!

Mark--you are correct as you are referring to the startle response. Constant startle is bad news.

Rock on
Mike T Nelson
Extreme Human Performance

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Thanks Mark.

Yep, as Mike stated this would be a common posture in relation to startle or a depressed state.

Emotions are the "drivers".

Thanks for the comments Mike.

Putting Health Back into Fitness said...

Great post, Aaron, and one that i have given a lot of thought to in regards with my own clients and my own training.

I think we have reached a point in the current zeitgeist of health and fitness of a peak in "knowledge" about the body and how it works. The missing link is teaching/education and making the client/trainee part of the process. If the person isn't present and aware of their movement limitations, it doesn't matter what mobilizations or stretches one does. I really see this as a reaction to a crisis state, instead of a step in the direction of understanding the totality of the problem and cutting it off at the source; at the very least, a closer source than what is currently viewed.

Appreciate your posts,


jleeger said...

Fantastic post Aaron. Truly. This is absolutely critical.

There is no separation between mind and body. Our culture has pressed this myth for a long time, and it still holds, somehow, in spite of the fact that even "science" has shown it to be false.

Have someone smile, and their physiological stress markers will decrease. Have them frown, and they will increase.

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Thanks for the comments Charlie and Josh!

Well stated.