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What Can We Learn from Sloths

What Can We Learn from Sloths

I was sitting at the kitchen table with my twelve-year-old daughter, talking about what I would write for this issue of Listen Share and Be Kind. Her suggestion was to write about sloths. Her reason was that they are very friendly, don’t hurt any other animals, and their slowness actually helps them survive. My first reaction was, no, I can’t do that. Sloths are not relevant to people’s health. But as I thought about it more, I began to see how sloths might be a good metaphor for an important concept in NeuroMovement, the movement method I teach.

Anat Baniel, the woman who used the Feldenkrais Method to help children, and later, created her own method based on the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, has nine concepts she calls the Nine Essentials: Movement with Attention, Slow, Variation, Subtlety, Enthusiasm, Flexible Goals, the Learning Switch, Imagination and Dreams, and Awareness. Sloths exemplify the concept of Slow.

Think about sloths for a moment. As my daughter says, they are enormously cute; they seem to smile all the time; they sleep about ten hours a day; and they move at an average speed of about ten feet per minute. In fact they move so slowly that a symbiotic algae grows on their fur and moths live on their bodies. Think what the world would be like if you could slow down to that speed. Think of the things you could observe both in the world around you and inside yourself.

Slow is not a concept that this culture currently values. As you well know, with technological advances, time seems to be shorter and we are called upon to do things faster and faster. There is a groundswell of interest in mindfulness of all kinds as a reaction to the high-speed pace of life. This is a great social movement allowing for self-reflection and learning. Rob Van Hyfte of Summit Mindfulness has a good article in this magazine about different mindfulness practices you can explore.

Mindfulness practice can certainly give you time to slow down. But the concept of Slow can also be used in the context of learning. In the work I do, I use movement to help people reorganize how they move. The brain’s main function is to organize movement. Over a course of a lifetime, you have learned to do things quickly and efficiently. Those neural pathways have been well developed. If you go to learn something new you have to get around those pathways somehow. That is where the idea of going slowly comes in.

If you do something fast, you will only do it the way you have always done it. The brain will follow the patterns it already knows. If you want to introduce a new skill or acquire a new understanding of something, moving slowly will help establish new neural pathways. In other words it will help you learn. If you don’t know how to do something it doesn’t exist for you.

Slowing down allows you to pay attention to what you are doing. It allows you to feel the small details of how you move. How do your feet move over the ground? How does your pelvis carry your upper body? How do your ribs move? Do they move independently from each other or as one piece? Where is your head in space? These are questions that you might be able to answer if you are going slowly as you learn a new physical skill. If you were going fast, you could not begin to pay attention to all of the parts.

I don’t know the quality of sloths attention. But, for us humans, we can use the idea of Slow to learn new ideas, new skills, and new behaviors. I offer classes in Dillon and in Breckenridge that use unusual movement and the Nine Essentials, especially Slow, to help students recover from injury, improve how they perform now, and learn new skills. One of my students has maintained and improved her abilities in the face of multiple sclerosis. These classes are not exercise classes but movement classes and are designed to allow you to pay attention and learn, kind of a mindfulness lesson with movement. We would love to have you join us.

David Singleton, ABM, teaches NeuroMovement classes weekly in Dillon and Breckenridge and is available for private Functional Synthesis lessons by appointment. He works with children with special needs, older adults, and high performers. He is the editor of Listen, Share, and Be Kind and is an alpine, and Telemark instructor at Arapahoe Basin., (970) 389-6480

Summit Movement Center

About David R. Singleton:

Using the body to speak to the brain, NeuroMovement benefits adults and children with injuries, neurologic disabilities, and helps high performing people improve their abilities. In either an individual or class setting, David uses unusual, gentle, slow movements to promote the most optimal learning and help you feel and move better. He is the editor of Listen, Share, and Be Kind and is a fully certified alpine and Telemark instructor at Arapahoe Basin.

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2018-03-15T16:32:18+00:00 By |