Free movement is the concept of moving without rules. It doesn’t sound groundbreaking but it could be the antidote to our well-planned world.
Our lives are extraordinarily routine. Our work days are meticulously planned, our workouts follow a programme or are guided by a teacher at the front of the class. Even our social lives lack spontaneity, with our calendars and diaries filling up weeks – if not months – in advance.
Even if you think you’re a ‘go with the flow’ type of person, we live in a society that prioritises planning. So if we told you to stand in an empty room and just move your body without instruction, direction or planning, how would you feel? How many seconds in would you start panicking?
Well, that’s kind of what free movement is about. “I would describe it as moving with how you feel,” says yoga teacher and free movement coach Cat Meffan. ”For me, free movement is about having no structure.”
Meffan came to free movement as part of her yoga journey after learning that the practice was about so much more than the shapes you make on the mat. “I love the asana practice and I was always very fluid with my teaching,” she says. “We’d almost dance through my flows. Then the more I started to delve into the yamas and niyamas of yoga (principles of observing your life and goals) and finding out about what yoga was off of the mat, the more I realised that yoga postures aren’t the only way to get in touch with these emotions.”
What started as deconstructing her yoga practice to make them more spontaneous evolved into her dancing, jumping and flowing. “The more I went a little bit outside of the box of just yoga, I found other people were also talking about the concept of free movement,” she said.
What are the benefits of free movement?
Firstly, free movement is about relieving yourself of rules. While that may sound terrifying, Meffan insists it’s hugely beneficial (and necessary). “Free movement really allows people to tap out of their mind and let their body go wherever it wants to go. That really allows you to connect with how you feel on an energetic level and on a somatic, or body, level.
“Rather than living up in our head, which is what we do in many other forms of movement including yoga. We’re always thinking – thinking about moving from sun salutations to balance poses and thinking about how the postures look when we try and achieve a certain form or expression. There’s ego in there,” Meffan explains. “The beauty of free movement is that we’re allowed to let go of what’s happening up there and really feel what’s happening to the body.”
While free movement is all about relinquishing mental control, it actually puts you in charge via your body. “Free movement is fully yours. Yoga can be so excellent as we often need people to tell us what to do and give us what we need rather than what we want, but when a teacher has planned a sequence for us it’s never wholly personal. By doing free movement you get a sense of the totality of your whole body, your emotions and your physicality.”
This is especially important for women, she says. “So often we feel like we can’t move in a sensual or sexual way because of past experiences or the idea that this sort of movement is only ever allowed in like a club when you are wanting to draw attention to yourself,” she says. Removing the male gaze is liberating, as Meffan explains: “(It allows you to move) into your power can be really empowering for female and feminine energy.”
Plus, when you allow yourself to get really into the flowing movement, “it can be a really good cardio workout,” says Meffan. “I’ll be properly sweating from dancing and flowing to back to back Beyonce.”
5 steps to a free movement practice
The first rule is that there are no rules. But, if you’re rolling out your mat and feel awkward even shimmying your shoulders, how do you get into it?
Find the space
“The first thing I would say is roll up your mat and put it to one side. The yoga mat is wonderful but I think that it immediately confines us to a space and we can think that we need to stay within this little rectangle,” Meffan says.
Once the mat’s been consigned to the cupboard, make sure that you’re in an environment where you feel safe and relaxed. “I think that’s really important for free movement where you don’t feel that you’re being watched and you feel relaxed because you want it to be a personal practice and quite a sacred thing,” Meffan adds.
Get a playlist
Music has the power to set your comfort levels, so put on something that you know and love. “The thing is that a lot of people do free movement but unconsciously, like dancing along to music in the kitchen while you’re cooking. This just takes it to the next level: remove the cooking, go into a room and put those songs on,” instructs Meffan.
“I always start my feet about hip-width apart, I close my eyes and I just do a little checking in ceremony with myself. I put a hand on my heart and a hand on my belly and I take a few deep breaths,” says Meffan. “From there I might start to sway and build it up bit by bit.”
She encourages adding on just 2% of extra movement at a time. “It’s never too much to push yourself just 2% more, and if it’s really uncomfortable, it’s easy to revert back from 2%,” she says.
Meffan also encourages shaking out your hands at the beginning of the practice. “It’s a really nice, energetic way to get rid of toxic energy.”
Look and touch
“Being able to bounce around and feel things jiggle and watch things jiggle is extremely liberating,” Meffan says. “Of course we all have moments where we’re like, ‘oh that doesn’t look or feel great’. But in that moment I think about how much energy I have cultivated in my body and how epic it feels that I can let that feeling wash away,” she says.
Skin to skin contact can also be a particularly freeing part of free movement, according to Meffan. “I don’t mean necessarily touching your hip space, though that is extremely powerful, but literally just feeling your hands, your neck, your shoulders, and finding that sensual connection from yourself, without anyone else, is very freeing.”
Don’t correct yourself
Didn’t elegantly land a jump or tripped over your feet in the middle of a spin? Ignore it, says Meffan. She encourages you to be on the floor, in the air, around all corners of the room or wherever your body takes you. “Importantly, don’t move with symmetry,” she says. “In exercise, yoga or dancing, there’s an idea that whatever happens on one side has to happen on the other side. But shake that off in free movement. Remember, there’s no structure.”
Images: Pexels / Cat Meffan
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).