moving downwards

Photo by Elijah G on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot about downwards movement recently. One reason is what I’ve been reading. Another is where I’m currently exploring in my movement practice.

And of course, a lot of people seem to think the world is going down in flames right now.

That’s a direction and a temperature (quite distinct from going up and getting colder).

I’ve also been experimenting recently with the techniques of master breather Wim Hof. 

(Here he is, explaining how he used intention and breath to consciously alter his vascular system to stay outside all night nearly naked in the snow.)

Each situation contains a distinct challenge and reveals to us deep truths about ourselves.

Including the situation where you’re moving downwards.

I’m currently reading Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin. I’m in the early goings, but he makes clear what the book is about: moving downwards – because that’s the direction that leads you to an encounter with your soul. (That’s quite distinct from exploring the movement upwards, the direction that humans have oriented towards in search of spirit since as far back as we know.)

Plotkin locates our lives here and now in the middle world – between what lies above and below. He points to psychotherapy as a means we use to move our egos forward. (He assigns no negative connotation to the word “ego” – it just means the self that must tend to our practical, day-to-day concerns.)

He notes that a desire to move upwards – to develop a relationship to something larger than ourselves – is fairly common. But we are rarely encouraged in life to travel downwards to see what is really going on in our individual depths.

For example, I don’t like bugs.

Yet, as a movement teacher, when I stop to think about what insects can do with all those joints (not to mention wings) why shouldn’t I be fascinated? What if I could get over my gut reaction to creepy crawlies? What might I learn by spending more time down where they live, trying to move a bit more like they do? 

So far I’ve learned one hell of a lot about my hip joints, I can tell you that much. 

And as I practice, I’m getting more familiar with the incredible resources of my knees, ankles, and feet as well. I’ve become intrigued with all the ways I can roll over the top of my foot and the new pathways that are opening as I learn how to do this safely.

I should get into nature more often than I do – wild, dirty, beautiful nature, away from the comfort and convenience of my human home. I was in the Virginia mountains in September and plan to return in the New Year. It will be colder than the last trip. Another opportunity to test what I’ve been learning from Wim Hof.

Last night I took 30 deep breaths, then held my breath as long as I could. Then I did it three more times. Then I went running in in my t-shirt. It was 32 degrees. Today it snowed, but then it rained, so maybe the ground won’t be so icy. A fresh invitation from the universe.

Wim Hof also recommends a 30 second cold shower. Then later, for 60 seconds, for 90 seconds, and up to two-and-half minutes. Longer and longer. Make it a regular thing. 

Yesterday, after my run, I stayed in for three minutes. I could barely believe I did it. I’ve always been a warm shower kind of guy. But somehow it gets easier each time. That changes my idea of what I’m capable of.

This is what Wim Hof talks about. Confront what’s difficult and move through it. You will discover incredible power in yourself. Bill Plotkin refers to this process as descent – moving in the direction of the soul, where the deeper truth of who you really are lives.

In my Feldenkrais training, I spent a lot of time studying upwards movements. I mostly associated moving downwards with collapsing. My caveman understanding was “up:good, down:bad

Insects don’t have this misunderstanding. Nor do cats and dogs for that matter.

These days, I’m fascinated by the kind of downwards movements that don’t involve collapse. It’s entirely possible to expand in every direction as you move downwards. 

(When you understand the movements of narrowing and widening your base of support – categories just as basic as moving right or left – you already know a good deal of what you need to know about moving both up and down.)

Bill Plotkin points to the possibility of integrating the movement of the three essential journeys of our lives; through the upper, middle, and lower worlds.

Which of these worlds do you spend most of your time in?

Perhaps you too have spent less time considering the world that lies below your surface. Maybe you are more attracted to the light than the dark.

But there is something to be learned by confronting what you usually avoid. As this year has proved, difficulty often comes looking for you first. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take preemptive action. You can practice. You can be calmer and more prepared when the day arrives that gives you no other choice.

Recently, by practicing moving downwards, I made a new discovery about my left knee. 

I often blame a soccer game in my past for the discomfort I feel there. But what I just learned proved to me that it wasn’t my history that was getting in my way. It was my continued avoidance of the problem in the present moment.

What I learned by practicing the movement of bending my knees – to squat or kneel on the floor – also made it easier for me to straighten my legs and move upwards into standing again.

In other words, moving downwards isn’t just about exploring the depths. Confronting difficulty isn’t simply denying yourself pleasure. The important thing about practicing downwards movement is that you are exploring a direction that we all too often leave out. You are making the larger picture more complete.

Call it soul craft or just call it getting to know your knees. Either way, there is a lesson to learn here. 

Life moves in every direction. Most of us also pay more attention to moving forwards than backwards. Too bad for us when something sneaks up from behind. And if we’re more focused on moving up than moving down? Too bad for us when things go down the drain.

Maybe you didn’t ask for 2020, but don’t deny it. Don’t just try to forget it, bury it, and put it behind you. This year revealed something about your strengths and weaknesses, your preferences and avoidances. If you ignore the lessons, life will probably serve them up again. 

But you can make another choice. 

What’s that thing in your world that gets uglier the longer you turn away from it? And what’s the beautiful thing that lies below it, still waiting to be discovered?

Two workshops to close out 2020 and reframe your movement practice.

Saturday, December 26: Reimagine Downward Dog

Sunday, December 27: Reimagine Tree Pose

Learn more