Enhanced Kinetic Patterning

Enhanced Kinetic Patterning is a way of moving and conditioning the body in a mindful way. It’s similar to Pilates, in that it works the body in very much the same way, using stretching and resistance training to tone and condition the fascia and muscles. One main difference is that EKP does not rely on equipment or even lying down on a mat. EKP just uses the ground and gravity for resistance training so you can do it anywhere you can stand or sit.

The purpose of EKP is to move in a better way. Not just when practicing, but when waiting for the bus, when carrying groceries, when playing sports. Ideally you will integrate this in all aspects of your everyday life. A direct result of this practice is thinking about moving in a better way: to be aware of your body and how it works, and be present in it. Both those aspects are worthwhile: as someone who spends hours and hours in front of computers, most of the time my mind is in my head and my hands. EKP takes me out of my head, and that’s good for me.

The core principles of EKP are: working from the ground up, through the core and (optionally) to your extremities; moving in multiple directions at once; keeping your body relaxed in balance and provide natural (gravity) resistance; and, moving “just enough”. That is: to neither overextend nor shrink down your movements, to be neither tense nor limp, but solid and “full”. It’s hard to describe, and best learned hands on with a competent instructor.

The “arm raising” movement (Liu He Ba Fa) is a good starter move when learning EKP. You’ve probably seen it as the opening move of Taiji forms. You move the arms forward, away from your body, and lower them by slowly letting gravity do the work. But when you look at it more closely, you’ll see it embodies all the core EKP principles. Let me walk you through it.

I start by standing. How to stand could be an article by itself. People have talked about holding the feet “shoulder width apart”, though that’s not a useful measure. All I can say here is, do what feels comfortable, and in particular make sure the knees aren’t turned too far in, or too far out. With practice, and by paying attention to what your body is telling you, you’ll discover the best way to stand.

Arms are relaxed at my sides, my chin is up and I’m looking straight ahead. My shoulders are rotated back just a little, and my chest is expanded as well, just a bit. The back is relaxed, with the neck pushed back a bit—an especially important point for anyone working with computers. This is the neutral, beginning stance for most of our moves. No part is expanded more than any other, no tension. Just quiet and aware.

The first move is to sink a bit. It’ll feel pretty close to sitting; however, your butt is not going back but straight down. Your body may involuntarily hunch down, but don’t give in to that reflex. Stay upright, stay open, just let your body weight sink just a little into your feet. Not your legs, your feet. You have to allow your body weight to rest on the ground. Your legs are there to support your body, your core is resting on your legs and the core is holding your arms in place.

To elevate your arms move them away from you, forward and palms down. Focus on extending the upper arms ( elbow to shoulder). Don’t think of it as raising the arms, that will make your body use your shoulders. Send your arms away—and since they’re hinged at the shoulders, they’ll naturally come up.

Here’s the secret to not involving your shoulders: as you press forward with your arms, press back with your shoulderblades—while keeping your torso upright, don’t hunch.

Keep your wrists bent down as far as is comfortable, to stretch the muscles, ligaments, skin and fascia in your arms and hands. You’ll feel tension there, but don’t overdo it.

As you lower your arms, flip your wrists so that your hands are palm forward as your arms come down: now you’ll feel the stretching on the underside of your arms. Bring your arms down, slowly and mindfully, as you sink your body again. Once your arms are down all the way, relax and release all tension.

Then start over.

This is only the most superficial look at the movement. There are many subtleties and refinements that only become obvious after practice and training with a good teacher, and that’s beyond the scope of this article.

A word about breathing: all of these movements are also breathing exercises, where you breathe in harmony with the movements. In general, breathe in when you go up or expand, and breathe out when you go down or compress. Ideally, you should breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. There are physiological and medical reasons for why this is beneficial, but there’s one very important intellectual reason: it keeps you focused. Deep, steady breaths both calm your mind and keep you anchored in your body. It’s so easy to just go through the motions while tuning out, but deep breaths, and breaths in time with the movement, will keep you grounded and focused.

There are so many subtleties to each movement, so many little variations and connections you can make. Always more to learn if you pay attention. That’s the beauty of this art, it will keep you intellectually and physically engaged for a lifetime. It takes commitment and work, but for me the benefits are absolutely worth it.