Now we know why it is important to move efficiently and to learn new movements or modify patterned ones. Although it is time-consuming, it is important to explore movements throughout life, not just as children learning to walk, ride a bike, or catch a ball. There are several good reasons why we should invest time and effort in the continued exploration of movement.
It feels good to learn something new. The main way babies learn is through their body, through physical experiences such as grasping, crawling, sitting, standing, walking, speaking, and so on. To an adult, it can be frustrating to learn a new skill, but look at the joyous surprise babies experience
When it comes to adult learning, we now know that with the correct input and environment, the brain will keep learning, making new neuronal connections, and changing the size and shape of the brain (neuroplasticity). Just 20 years ago we had a limited view of when the brain stops developing. Recent research into neuroplasticity indicates that the nervous system can learn to rewire much later in life than we thought possible, especially if there is a sense of fun around it.
To change the brain and nervous system, you need to learn through your body, as you did when you were young. You need to feel the joy of learning a new skill, no matter what your age. The nervous system thrives on learning; there is nothing healthier for it than to learn a new activity or way to perform it. We believe that one of the reasons so many people enjoy yoga is that they learn something new with their bodies. A new asana, something they didn’t think they could do. You can see the joy and pride when people leave the yoga studio after they have accomplished something previously beyond their limits, something they may have thought was outside of their abilities. The fun of learning something new is a key reason to put in the effort.
It’s Healthy to Challenge the Movement System
All three components of the movement system benefit from challenge. We know it is healthy for the nervous system to learn something new, but it is also great for the muscles and skeleton. The muscles get stronger and more flexible, which offsets the stiffness and weakness that comes from aging and inactivity. Yoga will work those muscles, and the flexibility and strength will come back. Yoga and movement are also good for the skeletal system. The bones become stronger when we put weight on them. With osteoporosis a concern in the Western world, strengthening the bones through yoga and movement is something that we should all do. The nervous system, the muscles, and the skeleton all need to be challenged through movement so that we can continue to grow and stay active.
It Decreases the Chance of Overuse Injuries
More and more adults are staying active into their later years. Whether that is through walking, hiking, playing golf, running, or any other activity that brings them joy, people want to stay active. Many of these activities, however, involve repetitive movements. If a person gets injured and only has one habitual way of doing repetitive movements, then he will keep bumping into the pain over and over again.
The movement system does not have an alternative solution to the movement problem. If, on the other hand, the person has played with and explored a variety of movements, the movement system has the flexibility to solve the problem. It can adjust the movement so that the pain is avoided or minimized. In later chapters we discuss how to prevent injuries and use movement variations to prevent repeated injuries.