Today, it's estimated that over 11 million Americans actively practice yoga each year. Western medicine has documented many of the physical benefits: Regular participants exhibit greater strength, improved posture and higher lung capacity.
Practitioners also report a reduction in stress, greater ability to concentrate and improved flexibility as a result of the activity. Triathletes, in particular, recognize the value of yoga in correcting imbalances in muscles and clearing the head for training and racing.
How did such a beneficial form of exercise originate? We know that it existed at least 5,000 years ago, when the first written records appear. Some people believe that the poses are actually stylistic movements that mimic natural spontaneous movement of the human body.
Today, a small but growing community, in the U.S. and abroad, works to enable its members to generate spontaneous movement and achieve the same benefits of yoga and more.
What is Spontaneous Movement?
Our bodies independently generate many electrical impulses that create movement independent of our conscious thinking. Common examples include breathing, sneezing, digestion, and the pumping of blood through our heart. Less common, but well-documented examples include movement of the arms, legs and the face well after a person has passed away.
Western science focused on the properties of these electric currents beginning with Luigi Galvani's famous experiments that proved that dead frog legs would move when shocked with electricity. Medical studies continued throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, but slowly shifted towards physical and biochemical phenomenon.
Practitioners of spontaneous movement believe that, through a meditative process, people can release the energy stored in muscles. Participants experience their bodies "being moved" without willfully creating those movements.
This can result in benefits similar to what practitioners get from yoga. Many cultures and religions around the world, in fact, use similar patterns to generate unconscious movement. In the U.S., the Shaking Quakers stands out as a prominent historical example.
What are the steps to take if you want to see if spontaneous movement can help you?
First, approach the process with an open mind. Just like meditation or yoga, the activity requires you to free your mind and your inhibitions. If you haven't meditated or taken a yoga class, try one of them before you try spontaneous movement.
The ability to clear your mind and maintain awareness of your breath is key to achieving the level of relaxation needed for a meaningful experience. I have found a number of free meditation podcasts online that have been very helpful.
Second, find someone in your community who you trust to introduce you to the process. In my case, one of our friends and neighbors has worked extensively in the field and holds weekly group sessions. Laura Lutjen of 2beMoved graciously offered to spend individual time with me. She gave me an overview of the history, an explanation of the science, and a good sense of the range of experiences I could have.
Third, be patient and do not set immediate expectations too high. The process involves achieving a very deep state of relaxation coupled sometimes with active physical engagement with the instructor—weight on the back, the arms and the legs. Some people require multiple sessions to experience movement. I was lucky enough to generate activity in my first attempt.
For me, it felt like strong spasms in my legs and backs. I did not experience the euphoria that many report. However, I did feel much more relaxed and in tune with my body throughout the following day.
For those athletes who are looking for a close connection between mind and body, this practice offers a good alternative to yoga or other similar self-awareness activities.Bring your clear mind and sharp focus to your next triathlon.
Paul Tyler is founder of Triessential.com. Triessential offers an iPhone application that provides training tips and motivation every day throughout the entire year.
Learn more at www.be-moved.com.