Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why Practice Slow?

Below is an excerpt from an article which was posted at The Better Movement blog. The full article may be read here.

Why Slow Movement Builds Coordination

I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about the benefits of moving slowly for improving coordination. Of course, my two favorite movement practices, the Feldenkrais Method and Z-Health rely to a great extent on slow mindful movement as a primary means to develop coordination. Many people will look at very slow and gentle movements and think – how can these possibly do anything? Isn’t harder and faster better than slower and softer? This post is an answer to that question.

There are several excellent reasons to use slow and gentle movement as a means to develop coordination. Probably the most interesting reason (I’ll start with that one) is based on an obscure principle called the Weber Fechner rule. The Weber Fechner rule describes the relationship between the magnitude of a particular stimulus and the brain’s ability to sense differences in the amount of the stimulus. The basic rule is that as you increase the stimulus, the ability to tell a difference in the amount of the stimulus decreases. This is a very common sense idea. Imagine you are in a dark room with only one candle lit. It will be very easy to sense the difference when one additional candle is lit. But if you are in a room with two hundred candles, you will have no idea when an extra candle comes on.
This rule works for all varieties of sensory perception, including sensations of muscular effort. So, imagine you are holding a one pound potato in your hand while blindfolded. If a fly landed on the weight you would not know the difference, but if a little bird landed you would know. Now imagine holding a fifty pound potato. You wouldn’t be able to feel the little bird landing. It would have to be an eagle. The point is that when you increase the weight from one pound to fifty pounds, you become about fifty times less sensitive to changes in the amount of muscular force you are using to lift the weight.

Why do we care? Because if you want to make your movement more efficient, you have to be aware of when you are working too hard. If you slow down and thereby increase your ability to sense differences in muscular effort level, you increase the brain’s ability to sense and correct any potential excess and unnecessary effort. Imagine that every time you try to extend the hip, you are at the same time slightly contracting the hip flexors instead of relaxing them. This means that your muscles are cross-motivated – the flexors are fighting the extensors a little in their effort to extend the leg, making them work harder. You will be much better able to sense and inhibit this inefficient co-contraction by moving very slowly and easily. By contrast, if you move fast and hard, you will never be able to sense and correct the problem.


Zacky Chan said...

HOLY SCHNIKIES! I was just thinking about this the other day, and I've had my absolute best solo training sessions when I've slowed things down to painfully slow speeds. For a while I used to practice my tai chi set slow enough to make it last 40 minutes rather than 10 ... that's 4x slower, and about 100 fold more impactful to my training. By the end my shoulders are so relaxed, my weight has dropped down so I feel like a moving bell, and my mind is clear as Buddhists idealize about. I've done it with ba gua, and after doing such ridiculously slow movements my walking is so incredibly rooted and balanced. I'd like to return to that for a while. Great post.

walt said...

"...the brain’s ability to sense and correct any potential excess and unnecessary effort."

I love the smell of wu wei in the morning!

When asked the "secret" of tai chi, Cheng Man-ching replied, "Relax completely." I assume that was not just rhetoric, and that "excess and unnecessary effort" is a real hindrance.

And unless I'm alert, the "trying" serves to reify the part of me that messes up the practice.

Thanks for the post!

Rick Matz said...

For myself, I'm not so much interested in practicing slowly as I am in not being in any hurry.

Good words of advice I have received: slow down, relax and breathe.

Jim Roach Classical Tai Chi of Buffalo said...

Greetings Rick, I see students here talking about Tai Chi and doing it slowly. I think they leave something out. Here is a comment I left at Todd's Blog:

Best regards,
Jim R

Greetings Todd,

I think what you refer to is "external" movement alone, there is no mention of "internal" force (force that generates from the body core) whatsoever. In Classical Tai Chi there is "upper body turning", "half body", "quarter body", etc. All make primary use of the body core to move the extremities. I don't understand a leap in reasoning wherein one can talk about any movement and default it all as being internal.

When the playing speed of "external" Tai Chi movements changes or one would say "slows", the level of force will change. When the playing speed of "internal" slows the level of internal force of the movement will not change. It will in fact remain energized. For example: An external punch for instance has to re-energize, one has to continuously re-draw back the fist in order to punch. With a quarter body punch,this re-draw does not have to occur, the punch remains "energized" over and over again. This is one significant difference.

The word "movement" and hence all movement is covered by default. One may be on track to discuss external in this regard but not internal.

Here is an example of internal movement wherein the arm and core are used as a unit:

Best regards,
Jim R

Rick Matz said...

Slowness, by itself, is certainly rewarding; but by no means the whole proverbial enchilada.

Anonymous said...

In BGZ, The beginners focused on fixed frame. Then, some elevate themselves to the active frame w/ a faster pace. At the end, the few advanced themselves to the changing frame.