On Form and Formlessness in Movement

A client wrote me asking about form, what I thought of it, and how freedom of movement relates to keeping safe the neck, SI joints … anywhere, really.

My reply, if you’d like to read it, is below.

My two cents: good form is important—nay, essential!—as a TOOL to gain a greater awareness of your body. Its highest use is as a way to access knowing what you don’t know. You put yourself in a mini movement puzzle, and need to figure your way out, or rather in.

Its misuse is when we mistake medicine for good health, or in this case, good form for good awareness. If you take the medicine for too long, eventually it becomes a kind of poison (when you no longer need it). But use it for the tool that it is, and all is well.

My thinking around this has changed a lot in the past couple years. I used to feel much more like “Oh, the body knows what it’s doing, and just needs freedom to do it …” and while I do feel like there’s a deep truth there, another immediate truth is that I was trying complex difficult movements in, say, crossfit or even acro yoga, and having the reality stare me in the face that no, actually, I don’t know how to do this. I just don’t. Yet another chance to step back, way back, be humbled, let not even cageless freedom become its own cage, and … focus on form, as prescribed by a teacher or methodology.

And on the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of dudes who deadlift with a perfectly flat back, or so it looks to pretty much anyone from the outside, but have plenty of shearing/torsional forces in their spines while they’re lifting, i.e. misalignment but at a much subtler level, and come in with serious back pain. That, to me, speaks to having had a focus on form not as a tool to gain greater, new awareness of movement and the body, but as a “make my teacher happy and do it right” kind of mindset that’s, perhaps needless to say, very prevalent in our culture, and shows up as much in pilates as meditation as olympic lifting.

tl;dr find a great teacher, follow every word they say and, paradoxically, let that be an impetus into your own autonomy

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