By Chandler Stevens Breaking Muscle
If you want happy joints, you gotta get low.
As adults we may grudgingly get on the floor every once in a while, but for most of us the journey down to the floor and back up is not a pleasant one. And we certainly don’t think of it as therapeutic. But if you suffer from cranky joints and chronic tension, it may be just what your body needs.
In the natural movement method we spend a lot of time getting cozy with the ground. It’s not unusual to go through a few crawling variations, some rolls, and ground-based mobility drills all in one session. For those who are new to MovNat, this is quite an adjustment. You might meet the floor for the occasional Turkish get up or a bit of yoga, but a full class on the ground? It seems crazy.
The truth is: it’s a booster shot for your nervous system and musculoskeletal health.
Why You Should Get on the Floor
You probably don’t remember it well, but the floor is where you first developed motor control. We go through huge amounts of neural and musculoskeletal development in our infant and toddler years, and it’s all thanks to our relationship with the floor.1 From our earliest development, the ground serves as a constant source of support and stimulus. We can reap these same rewards once again later in life. Here are three reasons getting low will help you move and feel better.
1. The Ground Is a Mirror of Tension
When you make your way down to the ground, it’s hard to fake good posture. The firm surface makes it clear where you’re holding excess tension that you may not notice while standing and walking around. The floor provides an unfamiliar jolt to the nervous system and highlights just where you could use some release.
- Lie face up on the ground with knees comfortably bent.
- Pay attention to where you notice contact with the ground.
- Notice whether one side carries more weight than the other in the shoulders and hips.
- Tune in to the curves of the spine. Note their depth.
- Be aware of any areas that feel tense in this position.
If you’re not accustomed to this level of body awareness, you’ll probably get some pretty surprising feedback from this exercise. Go in with curiosity, and try to resist the temptation to “fix” things while you’re down there.
The crucial thing about this exercise is that any differences you feel on the ground exist in all of your upright movement as well. You just haven’t paid attention to them until now. The floor isn’t making you tense. It’s just revealing formerly hidden pockets of tension.
2. Added Stability
Moving on the floor provides a tremendous increase in stability thanks to additional points of contact. This stability sends a powerful message of safety to the nervous system. And when the nervous system feels safe, it gives you more room to play.
This is particularly useful in releasing chronically stiff muscles and finding increased mobility. You’re only as mobile as you are stable. By borrowing stability from the floor, you give the body the conditions it needs to let go of excess muscle tension.2
Try this exercise, the Figure-4 Sit, to unravel tight hips:
- Sit on the floor with one knee bent, resting on the ground. Arms can be behind you for support.
- Place the opposite foot flat on the floor (so the shin is upright), just in front of the lowered shin.
- Get tall here. You will likely feel more weight on your lowered hip.
- Shift your weight from one hip to the other, uncrossing and recrossing your legs.
By increasing the surface area in contact with the ground, you cue the body to let go of tension, particularly in the hips. When your hips feel the external support, they have less need to maintain tension and rigidity.
3. Limit Your Options
Getting ourselves down on the ground can be a powerful way to retrain dysfunctional motor patterns. Increased contact with the ground leads to a reduction in degrees of freedom, which decreases our chances of messing up.1
Take the six-point crawl for example. With so much ground contact, you limit the options for hands, knees, and feet. The “right” movement is favored, while options for “wrong” movement are limited.
- Stand up and go for a short walk.
- Pay attention to the relationship between arms and legs. Do the arms move? If so, do they move with the legs?
- Next make your way down to hands and knees.
- Go for a crawl. Notice the relationship between arms and legs here. Is it the same as walking? Or slightly different?
In crawling we tend to reinforce the pattern of contralateral movement – that syncing of opposite limbs. This pattern translates to walking and running, but we often lose it if we don’t actively practice it. Crawling is a great way to hone in on this pattern.
Make Friends With the Ground
In so many words: the ground is your friend. It’s the simplest, most ubiquitous tool we have for reestablishing baseline mobility and motor control. If your idea of groundwork is mowing the lawn or vacuuming, do yourself a favor – get low.
1.Shumway-Cook, A., and Woolacott, M. Motor Control: Translating Research Into Practice, 4th ed. 2012.
2. Weppler, CH., and Magnusson, SP. “Increasing Muscle Extensibility: A Matter of Increasing Length or Modifying Sensation?.” Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association. 2010.