What Improv Theater Teaches Us About Mobility

Most of us make our way through life with an unnaturally high level of neuromuscular tension, let’s stop it.

I recently read an amazing book called Do/Improvise by Robert Poynton. He makes a compelling case for creative improvisation as a way of life, and what’s even more fascinating is that these same lessons can help you find massive benefit for your range of motion, quality of movement, and enjoyment in your training.

These “improv rules” are pretty simple: Notice more. Let go. Use everything.

Let’s unpack each.

Notice More

Body awareness gets a bad rap as woo-woo or superfluous, but it has a huge impact on how well you can move. The simple act of bringing conscious attention to your physical sensations has myriad benefits, ranging from reduction in pain, to improvement in motor control, and perceived sense of effort.

The fundamental benefit goes even deeper. Awareness creates space for choice. When you notice you’re cold, you can choose to put on a sweater. When you notice it’s getting dark out, you can choose to turn the lights on. When you are aware of your butt getting numb and your back aching, you can choose to move, or not.

But awareness gives you, as somatic educator Moshe Feldenkrais said, the dignity of choice. Whether you act on it or not is up to you. Awareness just gives you the opportunity to turn off autopilot and consciously find new and better ways of moving.

The simplest way to start noticing more in your body is to go through a “sensory scan.” Try this out: right here, right now, and notice what you can see. What can you feel? Hear? Taste? Smell? Which of these are easy to sense, and which are more unfamiliar? These physical sensations are how your brain makes sense of the world.

Let Go

It makes logical sense that holding onto excess tension is bad for mobility. But most of us make our way through life with an unnaturally high level of neuromuscular tension. Chronic stress, injury, trauma—each of these causes us to clench ourselves a bit more, and this has a nasty tendency to accumulate over time.

As you start to notice more in your body, it gets easier to let go of excess tension. Check in with your shoulders: are you hunching them up by your ears? How about your jaw? Are you clenching it? Are you holding your breath? As the hip kids say, let that shit go.

Keep in mind that this is not a one-and-done situation. It takes conscious effort to release excess tension (as well as addressing why we’re so tight in the first place).

Use Everything

This is a biggie for many of us. We don’t often move enough, or move all of our body parts as much as we should. A common example is training in shoes, which effectively locks a quarter of the bones in our body into a more-or-less fixed position.

Or we train without moving through the full range of motion of our joints, thus telling our bodies, “Nah, you don’t need to keep that range of motion anyway.” This only reinforces the vicious cycle of immobility. See, our bodies make specific adaptations to the demands we impose on them. If we fail to use all of ourselves in our full range of motion, it’s no wonder we struggle with mobility issues.

Notice more. Let go. Use everything. And revel in a body that works the way a body should.

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