The Immediacy of Felt Experience

[QS Admin]: We’re delighted to introduce a fantastic new author here at QS. John is a recovered couch potato turned recovering fitness addict who spent most of his childhood and teenage years sidelined by his chronically painful low back and feet. Today, he pursues practical studies in the manual, movement, and lifestyle therapies that have helped him most throughout his long-term recovery, and works with people of all ages to design scalable, measurable, and sustainable movement practices that support their unique lifestyles. We’re beyond excited to have him here, and we’re sure you’ll love his work. Take it away, John!

the immediacy of felt experience quitting sittingPeople in my life often ask me how they “should move.” I have (too) many answers to this question, ranging from simple to complex, general to specific, but I always start with this one:
Learn to feel again.
Why does this make sense at all? I’ll start at the highest level: by addressing Why Any Of This Matters.

Speaking for only myself (and perhaps those with whom I have jointly confided this observation), my ultimate ability to measure the usefulness of my health habits boils down to my ability to answer, “How good do I feel”? Even if my blood work comes back well, even if I am achieving some set of near-term fitness goals, and even if I can otherwise quantifiably statisfy any number of objective “success” measures, the ultimate question of “How am I feeling?” must still be addressed head-on before I can confirm that Any Of This Matters.

There’s no getting around the fact that my chief goal in any of this “health stuff” is to:

  1. Feel good now
  2. Feel good later
  3. Feel good now and later

The honest truth is that I have a hard time getting out of bed for anything less than Outcome Three.

And yet my most meaningful progress is nearly always incremental, and my gob-smacking, path-altering, truly watershed moments come only semiannually.  So if I want to have any fun at all, I must tend closely to the small wins that mark the trail up the mountain. I have to dial up the sensitivity of my Feel-Good Antenna to pick up on all the many fleeting, barely-buzzing sensory moments that in aggregate comprise the continuous (and endless – at least so far) “now moment” that I have come to identify as my conscious experience. I have necessarily made it a practice to take note of my quality of feeling: whether Good, Bad, or anything in between or beyond those clearest goalposts.

And to tie this back to Movement: recall that the quality of perceptual feedback determines the quality of movement skill (acquisition). We learn by experiencing the consequences of our movement choices, and this is true in a very literal way: our brains and other thinking parts are incessantly calculating the physical outcome of each and every step, toss, reach, fidget, shiver, nod, and blink we make, and then compares each forecast to its “actual”/perceived outcome. Your and my perceptions of our physical realities are the summation of our respective brains’ moment-to-moment interpretations of the (necessarily partial) information received from our proprioceptive (body parts in relation to space), interoceptive (body parts in relation to other body parts), vestibular (orientation and motion of the head), and visual systems.

And at least in the early stages of learning a new skill, long before that skill has become automatic and instead requires deliberate effort to reproduce, high degrees of conscious attention are needed to affect any meaningful changes at all. The greater the attention paid, the more useful the feedback, and the more meaningful the change in brain function (and form!) in service of the desired motor pathway.

A good mover is a good feeler, simply because feeling, and feeling constantly and thoroughly, is a key requisite to learning, to knowing, and to maintaining a chosen pattern long enough for it to become a focused skill.

HOME PLAY: Take a movement break after (or during!) the next stressful episode that arises during your week. Now, notice how you feel.

Leave this tab open, try the home play exercise, and let us know how it works for you in the comments.

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