It takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless – Steven Sondheim
When we witness an expert performer in music or in sport the word “effortless” often springs to mind. However, most people are (hopefully) aware of the amount of work actually needed to reach this level of mastery. Therefor “effort-less” can necessarily not mean that something is “without effort”.
A seemingly “effortless” performance is indeed the result of a sophisticated physical and neurological coordination which creates a subtle fluctuation between tension and relaxation in the parts responsible for the movements and to master this coordination is at the true core of every excelling performance.
Excessive and static tension
In a body performing at a high level of function there is very little excessive tension present, each part of the body has just the necessary amount needed to perform the task.
A lot of us carry an excessive level of tension in certain parts of our bodies, both when we are performing tasks and when we are seemingly relaxed. Changing the tensional pattern of our body takes a long time, primarily because most of us are unaware of much of the tension present in our bodies. In our minds we have a tendency to think that:
TENSION = PAIN
so that when a part of our body is not performing as it should according to its design we may not necessarily attribute the lack of performance to excessive tension as long as it´s not causing us any pain. But the presence of tension is not necessarily visible only through pain but also in restricted movement, non-optimal coordination and affected performance.
Changing a pattern requires that we first become aware of it. Do a simple exercise: Stand on all fours and allow your stomach to relax and sink down like a hammock.
All the way…
Take some time (think a couple of minutes) to let your stomach completely give in to gravity. You will probably experience that what you thought were a full relaxation is just a fraction of the potential and that as the seconds pass you will sense more and more micro-releases in the tension in your belly.
Most of us spend an excessive amount of energy constantly sucking in our stomach, so much that when we are in a position where gravity naturally pulls our organs forward we have a problem releasing this tension because it has become a more or less constant and unconscious pattern.
But constant static tension also means restricted circulation and our abdominal region contains things that are dependent on good circulation in order to function properly.
Like your digestive- or reproductive organs.
A constant excess of tension makes it harder to relax but more importantly: it also leads to a limited ability to activate and relax your muscles at different degrees.
A healthier alternative is a constant fluctuating pattern of tension and relaxation where our muscles have the option of not only being in an on/off mode but rather cycling constantly through different degrees of tension/relaxation according to what is needed.
Keeping a steady frame with your partner while dancing the tango demands a whole range of different degrees of tension that allows you to respond according to the impulses you are receiving. If the muscles of your upper body are so tense and unresponsive that their only options are either on (rigid) or off (loose) there will be no options to choose from, and to just be told to “relax” your elbow or “keep a steady frame” just isn´t detailed enough information.
Coordination – using what is needed
When we want to make a movement we have multiple choices as to how to make our bodies perform that movement. If you intend to pick leafs of the ground in your garden you could use a crane to do the job, it would just not be very practical. Keeping your lower arms extended horizontally in front of you for several hours every day while typing on your computer requires a certain activation in your muscles but the coordination or distribution of workload between those muscles is decisive when it comes to how straining this activity will be for your body.
And you can switch the activity of typing with pretty much any other activity, like walking, dancing the tango or playing an instrument.
So why would we use more than we need?
Our muscles are controlled by our neurology. A motor unit consists of a nerve attaching to certain muscle fibres of a muscle. The greater amount of fibres it attaches to the “bigger” the movement the nerve controls. In what we call fine motor skills the motor units attache only to a few fibres and the amount of motor units working at the same time and (hopefully) in coordination is very great, on the opposite side of the scale we have large muscles where a single motor unit controls a great amount of fibres and make them all move at the same time giving a high degree of leverage and force with a lesser degree of coordination needed.
But having the neurological hardware to be able to move the different parts of a muscle independently to one another is not the same as actually being able to do this. Through lack of regular use muscles can become neurologically “lumped together” so that we are not able to differentiate between them any more and differentiation is the key to coordination: if I can’t differentiate between the different muscles in my body I am not able to make them to move independently of one another.
Coordination is the ability to decide what parts of a muscle to activate and how those parts are to move relative to each other and to other muscles of the body.
Some people have a natural tendency for good coordination but for most people the “default” coordination is a result of the sum total of how you have used your body up to this moment which is a highly individual matter for most of us.
Therefor training is sometimes needed.
Both Timani and Nutritious Movement as methods are all about coordination in order to achieve a more sustainable use of the body in order to increase performance and to take a step closer to the realm of the effortlessness we all can benefit from – whether we are experts or no.