Article by Heinz Grill:
How does movement come about?
Any phenomenon where a spacial change occurs within a measurable unit of time is given the general term “movement”. The most varying forms of movement exist, for example political or physical, linear or arching movements etc. The phenomenon of movement always contains change with respect to a fixed point of reference. In general one speaks of locomotion, which leads this change in spacial conditions to become manifest.
When examining movement in the sense of artistic dance, yoga exercises or human movements in general, the simple discernment is certainly important that a physical body cannot change outwardly in its locality or spacial dimension without an additional impetus, or to express it even better, without an added force. The stone that falls down from the mountain through the force of gravity is brought into movement through a trigger from outside. It is the same with the human body, which must receive a supply of energy from outside so that it can set its so-called motor functions into action.
The various kinds of nerve impulses, whether deliberate or involuntary, i.e. whether they stem from conscious guidance or from an unconscious, autonomous reaction, deliver acetyl choline to the so-called neuromuscular junctions, at which the muscular impulses are stimulated and respond with movement. A physical body would be completely incapable of movement if it were not guided by these impulses, which approach it from outside and are transmitted by the various nerves. The muscles therefore do not figure at the beginning of a movement process, and even the nerve impulses, which transmit the initial stimuli with a burst of power even before the muscular action, do not yet explain the real phenomenon underlying movement in the first place. A bigger mystery, which escapes the eye and in the first place even escapes any empirical research, lies at the basis of every movement. The outer changes in space, which a physical human body accomplishes every day, are the expression of a greater, superior agency of forces, which occurs via the body and even via the consciousness-carrying nerves and brings about the phenomenon of human kinetics.
While the physical body displays a static structure through its earthly composition, its bones, tissues, fibres and many substances, the various so-called energetic processes, which are conveyed by means of human active wanting, bring about a truly active movement-life. The body would be pure body, condemned to gravity and immobility, were no breathing soul and no fluids, containing the activity of life forces, to animate it. Breathing precedes movement and depending on how powerful the floods of human desire are, the soul breathes into earthly existence with many mobile forms of expression.
Common explanatory models are not sufficient
The explanatory models used today to interpret movement in terms of its chemical and also physical interactions, begin with observations of the physical body and ultimately explain all phenomena within the reality that can be captured through the senses. So for example the book “Yoga Anatomy” by Leslie Kaminoff states on page 7:
“Breathing, the process of taking air into and expelling it from the lungs, is caused by a three-dimensional changing of shape in the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Defining breathing in this manner explains not only what it is but also how it is done. This has profound implications for yoga practice, because it can lead you to examine the supporting, shape-changing structure that occupies the back of the body’s two primary cavities – the spine.”
Yoga, but not only yoga, even orthodox medicine as well, certainly describe the phenomenon of movement in contexts, but only in contexts which concern the different systems of the body. Is breathing really caused by the three-dimensional distortion of the muscles adjacent to the breath? With every breath of air, it says, not only the diaphragm, ribcage and abdomen move, but the spine also changes. It can even be said that every small movement, whether it is a breath movement or a muscular movement of the limbs – always involves a subtle experiencing and resonance of the entire remaining body. The question, however, as to where movement originally comes from, and what soul-spiritual dimension underlies it, remains unconsidered in these interpretations, which are generally described as holistic models.
What role does the etheric body play in movement?
The human etheric body, which according to anthroposophy represents the next, more subtle member of the human being after the physical body, can open up a most significant perspective in explaining movement. What is the etheric body? What is the meaning of the etheric flowing, which is not visible with the eyes and yet is perceptible as a sensitive feeling of life within the body? The yogin speaks of prana and means the breathing with this word, which is composed of “pra”, meaning “forth”, and “an”, meaning “to blow” or “to breathe”. According to historic records, he connects the breath with the energetic processes taking place in the body. Breathing means movement and if one breathes well, then one can energise the body with the help of the breath and help it to accomplish the most astonishing movements. In relation to how the breath is used however, many different techniques exist and the most diverse wealth of experience has been gathered. The human etheric body is a kind of energy body, the prana body, if one wants to translate it simply, and it is influenced significantly by the way in which the rhythm and quality of the breathing proceed.
From a spiritual view, the human etheric body works according to the principle of weightlessness and of constant, inherent motion. Just as all energy is only freely available because it is in motion, so the flowing of the etheric, subtle element is available for life because it is active in the constant flow of a rising and falling. The physical body can rise out of gravity for moments by straightening up with its spine into the vertical line. But how does this straightening up really happen? First of all it is the etheric body which conveys the power for this straightening up against gravity. But how in a more precise sense does this etheric body bring about this straightening up?
The sensory nerves change the quality of the movement
The orthodox medical explanation commonly speaks of efferent nerves, the so-called motor-nerves, which transmit the movement impulses. Common opinion associates motor function with a movement proceeding from a centre out to the periphery and tends to over- emphasise the muscular systems in their execution of power. Very little consideration is given in this general theory to the sensory nerves or afferent tracts, which convey perception from the periphery to the central nervous system. While motor function at a first glance appears to be the visible executor of movement, perception and the sensitive systems, which actually outnumber the efferent or so-called motor nerves, are ignored.
The sensitive nerve impulse, or perception, which is transmitted from the periphery to the central nervous system, happens either consciously or unconsciously. If, in a yoga exercise for example, it is conducted very consciously, it represents a moment of calmness, or otherwise expressed, of motionlessness. Every consciously conducted thought and every moment of intentionally perceived sensory activity works like a restraint against the driving will. Silence comes about for a moment and the surroundings assume unnoticeably different proportions. The act of conscious, sensitive experiencing, with a clear, envisaged content and a perception, creates precisely the situation that one’s own physical body recedes and the spatial surroundings can be experienced anew. The inner space of the body centres, while the outer space comes forth as vastness. The conscious sensitive experiencing is comparable with a letting go of the physical body.
The principle of collection and expansion in movement
In the moving body of the ether there lives an infinite dying and becoming, or expressed differently, a constant collection and a new expansion. A movement always leads to a counter-movement and upon precise observation this is just as in the heart chamber into which the blood streams, stands still for a barely measurable moment and finally flows out again with the systole into a big movement. Out of the moment of stillness the movement emerges, or expressed differently, out of detachment, the energy is ignited which enables the movement.
The sensitive nerves are irreplaceable for movement because only these provide the basis which subsequently kindles the various subsequent chemical processes, and they enable the kind of weightlessness to occur which is actually essential for movement. For every movement – however vigorously it may have been trained in a fitness studio – a moment of letting go is always necessary, a moment of collection, of sensitivity, so that locomotion, the next change in position, can come into birth.
The art of movement
By studying these principles of the sensitive nerves, and training a movement not just in a purely mechanical way, the understanding can gradually be reached that the element of letting go, of freeing oneself from all physical fixedness, opens up the light and elegant art of movement. This is why free breath is also so important for a beautiful and light movement-life, for if the breath is fixed too strongly to the body, the expression of the individual yoga exercises often adopts a most physical heaviness. Dance, in which the breath remains light, and which is based on a careful choreography, in other words on a clear conception, usually expresses movements that are lighter than those where mechanical prerequisites dictate the breathing behaviour. Ultimately, however, the physical heaviness is also due to the one-sided, body-oriented notions that it is the muscles alone which set free the potential for strength and constitute a successful movement.
For movement with free breath, the exact mental pictures connected with the movement are indispensable because they create precisely those ether forces in a relationship to the tension and relaxation, which are necessary so that the body can take up its desired new formation with ease and against gravity. The moment of letting go and the moment of taking hold again are direct, imitated movement forms which the etheric body accomplishes naturally, and in the asana, in the physical exercise of yoga, these forms can attain their beautiful and free expression.
The moment of weightlessness in the movement
An exercise that is very difficult shows in a vivid way the moment of letting go and of collecting oneself again. The handstand, vrksasana, from the crow, bakasana, could perhaps be mastered through a lot of training. However those who devote themselves to a mental picture of how for moments they surrender the body to weightlessness and collect themselves anew at the end, will usually perfect the asana far quicker. At the same time, the activity of mental picturing gives the expression a kind of detachment from the body and a sensitive, open dimension of the senses remains present. The beauty of the movement is actually characterised by awareness and freedom from the body. The will remains calmly considered, and the activity becomes refined through sensitive, light awareness.
The handstand is a very difficult exercise. Easier exercises, like the sun prayer or even the still easier, simple movement forms can be done by every practitioner with this idea of free breath, of active picturing and finally of letting go and taking hold in the right way.
For further references to movement, you may like to look at the videos of the yoga exercises and also the picture-series for the headstand, fish, bow and sun prayer.