“Hyper-focus”​ — The Kiss of Death to Spontaneous Movement

All people who teach movement know the importance of attention. Whether teaching acrobatics or martial arts, personal training, or just trying to help someone break certain habits of tension in the body, the teacher’s main goal is to help clients be in the moment and figure it out.

Teaching movement can be like a magnified version of watching someone’s learning process.  When I first started teaching group Pilates, I would give the class a direction, and just witness the array of interpretation that came back at me.  The movement would showme what the students heard and what they knew.  I saw their attempts to deliver — what came easy, what appeared confusing, and what had little to do with my direction. I’m still taken with this kind of transparent communication. It’s a vulnerable process, and because it’s the body, it truly is like  seeing people in their underwear.

In physical therapy, when I ask a patient to jump and they say, “I can’t,” or “I don’t know how,” and just moments later their movement shows them that they can do the exact same thing with ease… That’s learning, and it’s connection, and sometimes it can feel so spontaneous, that it’s confusing to the patient — like The Unbearable Lightness of Being. When I teach my own brother how to move differently or box with a better jab, afterwards he’ll often say, “you hypnotized me,” which I think is so clever. Because it does feel like that.  The lightness is like streamlining — like losing baggage— this lightness of becoming more efficient and less controlling. He is willing to redirect that way, but for some,  the hyperfocusing can be inhibitory, and can rob us of good movement and spontaneity.

I believe that hyperfocusing is plaguing our fitness industry and not doing our chronic pain population any favors. However, I see it everywhere — people really believing that “proper form” wins out over ease or pleasure or a feeling of connection in their bodies.  I’ll never forget when one of my first patients shouted at me “just because it feels right doesn’t mean it is!” before storming out of the office. How did we get here?

When It comes to movement, the primacy of our nervous system ought to win — our need for rest, connection, comfort, orientation, power, propulsion. The body is so much more than muscles and tendons, and focusing on one pinpoint area can’t teach you to move better. Knowing, as we do, the correlation between hyperfocusing and chronic pain, why do we persist? Are we trying to fix something by staring at it? As if, poking right at the painful spot will eventually make it go away?

Ever watch a group of people moving together, when they sync up and start to mirror one another?  That could be dance or socialization or marching.  It’s like suddenly the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  It’s resonance, and it has so many societal and spiritual implications — can cause war, or love— make or take down bridges or unite us under one sky. That’s when movement is it’s strongest- when there is no one point of attention, but a natural syncing of systems. It’s flow, it’s nature and function, and it can’t happen under constant scrutiny. That’s just not how it works.  Of course, don’t lose your head.  You’ll need that too.