Brains in Motion: Following our Brain's Dance

In a conversation with a group of coaches interested in the brain, a number of elegant metaphors emerged from thinking about the brain not as a collection of anatomical structures, but a system moving through time, creating, discovering, and dissolving patterns.

One of these was the dance -- the fluid, graceful movements of dancing.

And interestingly, "movement" applies to creating "movement" around areas of "stuckness" and to one of the core principles underlying how the brain operates -- constant, unending movement.

So what do we know about movement?

It comes naturally. We just move to accomplish what some intention. It's when we notice the movement itself (it hurts, we can't do what we want to) that we feel something is "wrong" or needs attention.

We learn movement habits and patterns so that we do things without thinking too much about them.

There are moments of elegant, natural movement. There are moments of awkwardness where we may just have some "wobble" or when we are trying to learn a different way to do things.

Dancing and movement generally can be made up of smooth fluid actions, each predictable leading to the next -- like walking across the room -- or it can include sudden bursts of movement that lead us to an unexpected place -- a leap from one spot from to another.

We can't force our bodies to do things they aren't structured to do. We have to work with ourselves "as we are" to create a beautifully choreographed collection of movements across time -- a dance.

Movement (and health) loves variety. Repeating the same movement is boring to watch and to do and can even create a less resilient (i.e., flexibility + stability) body. We want to be moving in different ways.

We can't not be moving. Even "standing still", our bodies are constantly adjusting to keep our balance. Even when "staring" at one thing, our eyes are making micro-movements that let us keep seeing what we're looking at. Without that ongoing movement, we can't see, we fall over, we lose our sense of where we are.

Movements alone are just "movements" (I moved my leg). Movements strung together in a meaningful way become a "dance" - maybe literally, maybe just to watch. (I saw a coffee barista in full top-speed flow one day that was totally dancing her way through coffee creations - no wasted movements, each leading to the next in a relaxed spontaneous-feeling way.)

Movement is made up of moments of stability and instability. We move from one place where we feel stable through a period of instability to get to the next stable place. Yet the interest and the beauty is not generally in the stable places but in the "getting there".

How does this fit with creating change in our lives?

Life is also all about creating Movement.

If you've been reading with your "metaphorical eye" open, then you've probably seen parallels all over the place.

Let's extract some of them and leave others as food for thought for you to share in your comments... ;-)

We can't not be moving.

And this is true of the brain as well.

The brain is a change-detector and a pattern-maker. It's always flowing from one pattern of network activity to the next pattern to the next pattern -- every moment has a different movement -- all connected across time.

Sounds like a dance, doesn't it?

Movements alone are just "movements". Movements strung together in a meaningful way become a "dance".

This is also true of the brain. When we look at brain images of "what parts are active", we are acting as if a photo of a dancer is capturing the feel and meaning of the dance.

The brain's activity, its resilience, its patterns are not fully reflected in one moment "photos" either.

As I see all the time in my neurofeedback work, the efficiency and resiliency of the brain is reflected in its  flow -- not in one frozen moment of time.

Importantly, there are times when our Movements are predictable, linear "steps" toward some intended goal and other times when we take unexpected leaps to somewhere we weren't even expecting or able to predict.

And that's the nonlinear nature of the brain: moments of aha's, unexpected distractions, new connections we didn't expect and weren't looking for...

As Deirdre Dawson put it in our call discussion, "You are the choreographer of your life!" (You can read more of Deirdre's creative thoughts at her blog In Motion!)

Movement is made up of moments of stability and instability.

I think this is one of the most important pieces. We (and our brains) prefer stability -- it's the physics of the thing -- energy flows to a place of greatest stability.

Yet as living systems that have energy coming in and going out all the time, we aren't always in a stable place.

And we don't want to be. To be in a permanently stable place is called dead.

So how can we capture the sense that the beauty of our lives, of the Dance, is also in the unstable places? In the moments of moving between one place that feels "safe" to another "safe" place?

These aren't necessarily the Problems, the Discomforts, or the Things To Be Removed, but the very places that give the life to our Dance.

For me, it's very real when I think of dancing the tango...the interesting bits, the bits that make it all worthwhile are all in the motion of the dance. There are times when I like to "rest" standing still(-ish), there are times when the music calls for standing without much movement -- and those can be beautiful times, but the real call of dancing is in the flow of the movement.

Yet, when I learned to dance tango, it was the other way around completely. I was afraid of not following what my partner led. I would get tense and anxious and apologize all over the place -- even warning a new partner I wasn't likely to follow very well. "Still" moments were a relief! A place where even I couldn't mess up! :-)

And I only learned to follow and discover the joy of the dance by letting go of "doing" each step, learning to feel how my partner's movements influenced my own and allowing my body to do what came naturally as a result.

Which brings to mind Judy Krings insightful reflection on our call -- "We need to learn to dance without counting the steps.

What experiences have influenced you learning to value the moments of relative instability -- the flow, the dance -- as well as the places of stability and rest?