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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Small Movements Can Make a Big Difference

Dec 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Ravi Prabhakar
Movement is essential for life. It plays a role in all of the vital processes of life, including breathing, eating, walking and speaking—even the beating of our hearts requires movement. In short, when movement stops, life ceases.

According to neuroscientist Dan Wolpert, “We have a brain for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to produce adaptable and complex movements… It’s really important to remember that sensory, memory and cognitive processes are all important, but they’re only important to either drive or suppress future movements. There can be no evolutionary advantage to laying down memories of childhood or perceiving the color of a rose if it doesn’t affect the way you’re going to move later in life.”

Brain Maps and Neuroplasticity

Early in the 20th century, it was discovered that each part of the body is mapped on the motor and sensory cortexes in the brain. But these maps change over time. The brain is “plastic”—it can learn new behaviors and adapt to new stimuli well into adulthood. Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself, writes that neuroplasticity represents “the most important alteration in our view of the brain since we first sketched out its basic anatomy.”

The nervous system is exquisitely attuned to movement; according to Dr. Doidge, precise, directed attention to movements stimulates neuroplasticity, which leads to physical changes in the brain. The brain’s capacity to form new connections and pathways has enormous implications for how we view ourselves and our ability to change, adapt and grow. 

Using Movement to Reprogram the Brain 

Moshe Feldenkrais, DS, a Ukrainian-Israeli engineer and physicist, proposed that, since brains are mainly preoccupied with movement, working with movement is the best way to improve the condition of the nervous system. His key insight was that slow, small movements, done with attention, can help fine-tune the functioning of the nervous system by engaging the mechanisms that underlie neuroplasticity. 

Over the span of 40 years, Feldenkrais developed the Feldenkrais Method, a system of self-improvement that uses movement and real-time awareness of body sensations to bring about healing. It addresses a broad range of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, strokes and other neurological challenges. His method was also very effective in changing longstanding habits and behavioral patterns involved in posture, chronic pain or overuse injuries.
People who suffer from back, shoulder, hip or neck pain can find relief by changing their habitual patterns and finding new ways to move. The method can even help people recover from injury and enhance artistic and athletic performance.

A Complex, Intelligent and Self-regulating System

Dr. Feldenkrais utilized a systems approach toward improvement, whereby the human body is viewed as a large, complex and intelligent system that is also self-regulating. As with all large systems, improving one part improves the running of the entire system. 

Movement is an incredibly complex task for the human nervous system. It involves controlling over 200 bones and 600 muscles in real time. The human body also has over 200 joints, providing enormous possibilities for movement. 

In this context, small changes make a big difference. For example, a minor improvement in the carriage of the head significantly reduces the load on the cervical spine and, in turn, requires subtle changes in the alignment of the entire spine as well as the orientation of the pelvis. These “small” changes can lead to better posture, greater longevity of the spine, easier gait, even greater confidence and overall well-being. 

Large changes to well-established patterns are often rejected by the body. Smaller changes, on the other hand, are easier for the system to integrate. Over time, these small changes add up to make a big impact.

A Short “Awareness Through Movement” Lesson

We constantly underestimate how much difference small movements can make to our well-being. Try the following and judge for yourself. It will take less than two minutes:
  1. Sit on a chair or stool of appropriate height with your feet flat on the floor. If your knees are higher than your hips, find a taller seat.
  2. Gently turn your head and neck to the right and come back to the middle. Turn only as far as it feels very comfortable and easy to do. Notice how far to the right you can see from the corner of your eyes. Do this a couple of times, each time returning back to your starting point. Remember how far to the right you were able to see. Do not strain or try too hard.
  3. Now, let your head and neck stay in the middle while you slowly move your left knee forward a couple of inches—as if to push something forward with your knee—and then come back to neutral. Keep both feet on the floor without moving them. You will feel something in your left hip joint. Do this small movement a few times.
  4. Now do the two movements together. Slide your left knee forward as you turn your head and neck to the right and notice how much further you are able to see now with the same amount of effort. 
How many degrees did you add to you rotation by including the small movement of the knee?

Now try this instead: slide your right knee forward as you turn your head and eyes to the right. What changed?

Which of the two ways of turning felt easier and more comfortable? Were you able to turn more using one way than the other?

In which daily activities can you incorporate this new way of turning?

Suggestions for Your Movement Practice

  • Pay attention to how you do what you do. Notice how much of your body you involve in the movement. Which part of your body comes to your attention? Where do you feel the restriction?
  • Find different ways of doing the same thing, whether it be getting down on the floor, getting up from the floor, sitting to watch your favorite show or spending time with your kids. Can you make small changes that makes these activities easier and more pleasurable to do? ❧

Ravi Prabhakar is a Feldenkrais practitioner offering private and group lessons in Atlanta. After spending 20 years in the corporate environment, an old knee injury and a passion to continue playing tennis led him to the Feldenkrais Method. Visit
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