Movement Translation and Empathy

“Translation allows for otherwise separate entities to synapse and communicate.”

I have been a teacher for thirteen years and a movement therapist for five.  As I toggle through the two professions, an unlikely blend has taken place.  I find myself teaching those that come to see me for pain.  Instead of jogging laps, students lead spinal motion and stability drills.  All this interactive teaching and learning has evolved into a skill set of movement translation.  The goal is to deliver a framework in which users can utilize, expand upon, and collaborate in action-based language of expression. 

Movement is more than just doing.  It is bigger than the routine of exercise. Mindful movement is thinking and communicating, provoking mental excitement within the physical.    This self-coaching engages the user within the task instead of defining them by the completion of the task.  Analytic description, like any other skill, can be practiced and learned.  If you can infiltrate and distill what’s happening within your own body, you can re-create what works well and share the process with others.

The opportunity to give and receive direction is much more likely to happen internally than externally. Communication with the self lays out the how.  It creates an understanding out of disconnect.  Information between your brain and body can be relayed elsewhere, toward new inputs and outputs.  Translation is a transfer of thoughts and feelings via words.  

The dialogue is a constant one.  How do you get them to do what you want them to do?

Telling, without awareness, is just observational guessing.  To create context, you have to be able to relate to the ‘other’ in their current position.   If the person I’m working with is on their back, I’m on my back.  When I get stumped or can’t find the right language, I put myself through the move, analyze the sequence, and explain my findings.  My body picks up all the things my eyes miss.

All throughout, I ask them where they feel it.  I don’t goad them by asking ‘do you feel it in your ________ ?’ (hips, abs, butt, etc.).  It’s too easy for them to simply agree and end the searching.  If it’s been too long between questions, they ask me where they should feel it.  I always reply with ‘where DO you feel it’?  When teaching someone to trust themselves, I remind them that nobody is better than them at figuring out what’s going on within their own bodies.  I need them to be included in the process so we both can get things right.

The two girls laying side by side in the midsection of the video above are acting out this practice.  The one on the right is trying to feel out how she would get up so she can clarify instructions to the other.  Talking out how to walk and get on and off the ground is more difficult than one might think.  Familiar, automatic movements are the hardest to pin down.  It calls upon a special sense of self-attention that delineates what has been repeatedly ignored.

A day or so after ‘blind robot’ class, we began with large group crawling.  As they scurried across, I simply said, “Change”, and they had to adjust their means of locomotion.  Then I had them repeat this exercise blindfolded.  Glorious weirdness ensued when they couldn’t judge or be judged.  I had them memorize their last creation.  The final activity of the day was to verbally teach a blindfolded partner their unseen, completely made up version of crawling.  This went much faster and smoother than I expected.  Then I recognized the common thread:

It’s easier to create context when you come from the same place.

They all just finished significant practice in crawling. The movement was no longer foreign to them. They understood the pattern.  They performed the pattern. They developed their own adjustments.  They didn’t have to explain the crawling, only the modifications.  Since they created them, they had a knowing sense of ownership.  Expressive descriptions came with developmental control of the movement.  They were translating an extension of themselves.  What a sublime artistry to be encouraged and refined.

Language matters, even if it’s your own.  If you can translate what is happening, you’ll stop hesitating to stray from the plan, because you’ll be able to find meaning and value in everything you do.  You may even find yourself wandering on purpose.  Your ability to communicate with yourself is the highest form of physical literacy, allowing you to make connections, form understandings, and cultivate competency in a variety of actions.  Movement translation is a test of whether you know what you think you know, wherever you are on your journey.

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