This is the first of a series of posts that will touch on some simple tools to enhance basic movement.
For those of us who are interested in physical activity, from low to no-contact ones (like yoga and qigong) to regular-contact (boxing, grappling, etc.) we all benefit from the study of anatomy. At the beginning, having a gross idea of how muscles, bones and joints interact helps to create a mental model of the activity- as we progress, we overlay that (less abstract) mental model with direct experience of what does and doesn't 'work' for our bodies*- developing core mechanics and increasing mechanical efficiency. More than just improving technically, efficient movement means a reduced incidence of injuries and the capacity to train better and longer.
If you are lucky enough to study an art that inculcates core mechanics (spinal alignments, proper breathing, power generation, modes of connection and so on) this will be a rehash. For other folks, here are some suggestions of key things to look for (and develop awareness of) in your own practice- while generic enough for everyone from yogi/yogini to jujutsuka.
Keep knees 'stacked' over the toes
Keep elbows internally rotated (that is, down and spiraling toward your center, not up and out)
Keep the shoulders down
Avoid hyper-extension in all joints
Straight spine **
Are those so simple that they're dumb? Yes, kind of, but even if you 'know' them, are you at 100%? Is your chaturanga (plank) controlled or is your butt up and are your elbows close to your sides or flared-out? Are you hyper-extending your elbow on punches? As you move, are you rolling over the insides of your feet with your knees pointed out? Do you complete sword cuts with raised shoulders?
As with any kuden (verbal transmission) the power of these cues is in mindful practice- it is through repeated self-observation and correction that we can begin manifesting more naturally not just 'on the mat' but in the rest of life.
* This stipulation is important- moving in mechanically sound ways often feels like a reduction in power... really, it is a reduction in the need to employ overt physical strength.
**While there is a strong preference for tucking the hips (opening the mingmen) in most arts, the amount varies. When in doubt, consult your instructor.