Want to run faster, get more endurance on the bike, and scamper up mountains with no problem? Here are six guidelines that will make it all easier than you ever imagined.
I gathered these from two decades of training and competing in martial arts, where I got to see what worked and didn't work, for a whole lot of people. Now I see people at yoga every day, and the same principles apply. We all have this wonderful human body. Even Michael Jordan! The same things just keep on working for all of us.
So here they are: six secrets that will get you moving easily and powerfully, without tiring, in everything you do:
1. Establish your breath-body connection.
Have a seat, and get comfortable. Now take a really long, deep breath. If you're comfortable and relaxed, your breath will move you. You'll sit a little taller on your breath in, and a little softer on your breath out. You can apply this to everything you do. From a comfortable and relaxed position, you can use every inhale to lift and strengthen your body, and every exhale to release tension and get yourself movable.
2. Lead from your belly.
Here's an experiment for you: Try standing with your feet apart by two feet. Keep your legs flexed and knees locked. Now swing your arms around just by moving your shoulders, while keeping your hips pointing straight forward.
Not fun at all, right?
Let it go! Take a deep breath. Relax your legs, put a little bend in your knees, and just let your arms hang easy. Now roll your belly and hips to point left, and right, and back left. Keep rolling side to side, letting your legs and arms just move how they want. You've movable, right from your middle, and the rest of your body just gets to go along for the ride!
Leading from your breath and your hips gives you a tireless source of movement, and is much stronger and more effective than leading movement from your hands and feet.
3. Move away from your goal, then toward it.
If you want to go forward, go back. If you want to go up, go down. If you want to go left, lean right.
Sounds a little silly, right?
It works! Let's try it in a plank. Get into the top of your push-up position, with both your hands and feet about shoulder-width apart. Take a deep breath to lift your hips and body a little higher. Exhale and put a little bend in your elbows and knees.
To move from a plank to a side plank on our right hand, first go left! Gently lean your hips to the left as you inhale. Then exhale back through center, and let your hips go right as you inhale and roll onto your right hand into a side plank.
Try it a few times, and give yourself lots freedom to make bigger and bigger rocking movements. Want to get on your left hand? Rock to the right, then roll left into your side plank.
Not convinced? You can try moving from plank to side planks with all your joints locked tight and body stiff as a board, no rocking whatsoever. You'll likely discover it's more fun to rock! You can use this in everything you do, to make it all easy and feel great.
4. Make friends with momentum. (If you fight movement, you'll lose!)
If you want to move a lot, first move a little to get your momentum going. Once you get your body moving freely from side to side, forward and back, up and down, it's much easier to go where you want to go.
Try this in a single leg forward bend, moving toward a Warrior 3. Start with one foot about four feet behind the other. Relax your legs, and put a good bend in both knees so your fingertips are comfortably on the ground, arms dropping straight down from your shoulders. Give your hips a wiggle and rock a little side to side, just to see that you're movable and relaxed. You always want to move from movable and relaxed! Now lean back into your back foot, then rock forward onto your front foot.
Suddenly you're in a Warrior 3 without even trying!
Do this a few times, with a good bend in your knees, walking your hands back and then forward to support this movement. Now add your breath to the mix, inhaling as you lean back, exhaling as you rock through center, and inhaling to pull you all the way forward onto your front foot. It's all just one easy continuous movement with your breath.
5. Between every strong movement, relax back to soft.
When you've got your breath-body connection working for you, this will happen automatically. Every inhale puts some strength into your body; every exhale softens you, even when you're doing the work.
Start at the top of your pushup, and relax everything you've got. Breathe lots, and give your hips a little wiggle around side to side. Make sure your body is happily movable, before you try to move. If it's not, take a deep breath, relax, and repeat. Now you're ready to move.
Take a big inhale to lift your body and hips (strong), exhale as your knees and then your body drop slowly to the ground (soft), inhale to lift to up dog (strong), exhale right here with a little bend in your elbows, hips rolling side to side, knees on the ground (soft), then inhale and pull your hips back up to plank (strong). You can use the same approach for pushups. Strong to inhale up, soft to exhale all the way down with a wiggle, then strong to inhale all the way back up.
When you use natural movement to your advantage, you give yourself a continually renewing and mobilizing source of energy. Moving becomes really easy and really fun this way.
6. Put joy in your movement.
When you're playing frisbee, or driving for the hoop, you don't need to think about any of these natural movement principles. When you're having fun, when you're playing happily in your body, your nature takes over. You don't have to think your yoga or your sport, you just feel it. You just do it.
The principles can be a help when we find ourselves in the middle of something new, unfamiliar, or less comfortable. But even here, put joy in it. Put joy in every single thing you do. Even the hard things. Keep them playful. Keep joy in being you, every move, everywhere. It's the #1 principle to move inspiringly as an athlete. And it's the #1 principle to move inspiringly in your life.
Ready to learn more? Here's a video to help you get started.